• Angola has had its own share of economic turmoil as a result of falling oil prices in the globe.

    In the third quarter of 2014, the Angolan crude was averaged $104. In the first two months of early 2016, the price had fallen to merely $30 per month.

    Last November, IMF announced that Angola’s oil revenues would fall below 15 percent of gross domestic revenue, down from 40 percent in 2011.

    In a bid to resuscitate its economy, the country is in talks with IMF to find solutions to the changing global environment.

    But Angola has also realized that overreliance on oil could affect is the future economy in addition to damaging its environment. As such, it has sought to invest in other sectors such ecotourism to drive growth as well as help in the fight against climate change.

    Speaking yesterday (June 5, 2016) at the celebrations of World Environment Day (WED), in Angola, Environment Minister Maria de Fátima Jardim said there is “need to look at ways to diversify our economy and participate in the progress of our future generations.”

    Angola was picked to host this year’s event for its commitment to combatting the illegal trade in wildlife. The Angolan President has also shown commitment to protecting the country’s elephants.

    Angola has played a key role in the illegal trade of wildlife treasures as it is used as a transit country for ivory, with carved goods coming over the border from the Democratic Republic of Congo for re-sale, largely to Asian nations.

    The southern African nation lost many of its elephants during the civil war between 1975-2002. While there are a few herds left, they face pressure from poachers- both those who seek to make a kill from ivory and poor communities that rely on bush meat to survive.

    A report released by United Nations Environment Program (UNEP)-INTERPOL on June 4, ahead of WED, indicated that the “value of environmental crime is 26 percent larger than previous estimates, at $91-258 billion today compared to $70-213 billion in 2014.”

    On top of Angola’s list of strategies to deal with the problem include: introducing tougher penalties for poaching; shutting down its domestic illegal markets; and looking to provide alternative livelihoods for those at the bottom of the illegal wildlife trade chain. Additionally, the country is also training former combatants to become wildlife rangers.

    “We have a big push to manage protected areas and create others for the benefit of our people,” said Abias Huongo, Director of Angola’s National Institute of Biodiversity. “For us to survive, other species need to survive. Together with the tourism ministry, we are exploring the potential of ecotourism to address the economic deficit with biodiversity.”

    Reinventing Cuando-Cubango for ecotourism

    As a major project to boost the economy, Angola has identified Cuando-Cubango, a key region for biodiversity, where new lodges are opening. One such lodge is Rio Cuebe which hosts a collection of endearing and edgy huts well-arranged along the leafy banks of a lazy river near Menongue.

    While the lodge is yet to receive many guests since it opened three years ago, UNEP Executive Director Achim Steiner believes this situation is about to begin changing.

    “Cuando-Cubango is a region that could provide an enormous opportunity for investment in terms of tourism: a unique area where in 20 years’ time the world will be paying thousands of dollars for an overnight stay.”

    According to Steiner, the overreliance on the fossil-fuel economy has had a negative impact on Angola but with diversification such as the notion of the green economy could make a huge difference in the country.

    The concept is also appreciated by Steve Boyes, a National Geographic Society explorer who believes Angola has a first-hand natural beauty that is yet to be explored. In their exploratory journey in the country, Boyes and his team discovered three new species of plant, six new species of fish and four new species of reptile – all unique to Angola.

    The Angolan government in collaboration with Boyes and his partner John Hilton are working to explore ecotourism opportunities.

    “We are talking about the largest undeveloped river basin on the planet,” Boyes said. “It’s an incredible opportunity for conservation, for tourism development. To me, it’s the biggest tourism and rural development opportunity in Africa in the last few decades.

    In order for it to succeed, however, Boyes believes there is a need for urgent measures to be put in place to conserve the wildlife. Moreover, villagers should be empowered to cease from killing animals for (bush) meat.

    “The scenic beauty and wildlife are all here. If we do it (conservation efforts) in five years’ time it would take thirty years to fix. If we do it now, it will take ten years to fix,” he said. “If we get 100 adventure travelers in on mountain bikes in, they (villagers) will earn far more money than they get off bush meat. There is a strong desire for a new beginning,” UNEP quoted Boyes as saying.

    This year’s WED theme- Go Wild for Life – calls each and every one to celebrate all those species under threat, by taking actions that safeguard them for future generations.

    “This can be about animals or plants that are threatened within your local area as well as at the national or global level - many local extinctions will eventually add up to a global extinction!

    Whoever you are, and wherever you live, show zero tolerance for the illegal trade in wildlife in word and deed, and make a difference,” UNEP suggests.

    Image credit: WED