Paul G. Allen is deeply invested in Africa, both for the love of wildlife and his sense of responsibility to protect Earth’s biodiversity. A focus on philanthropy and conservation reaches all of Allen’s investments, including the safari camp he owns in Zambia, which was just awarded the National Geographic World Legacy Award for Engaging Communities.
The company was recognized for the direct and tangible economic and social benefits it has on local livelihoods. The Bushcamp Company consists of the award winning Mfuwe Lodge, as well as six intimate and remote “bushcamps” located along the Luangwa and Kapamba rivers, giving visitors a unique and immersive safari experience. Incredible and diverse wildlife call the South Luangwa National Park home, there is even a herd of elephants that stroll through the lodge on their way to their favorite mango grove. Instead of keeping them out, Mfuwe Lodge has a wide corridor at reception to allow them to pass right through.
The Bushcamp Company received this World Legacy Award honor from National Geographic Travel due to their innovative approach to integrating tourism and community development, benefitting both Zambian tourism and the local community where the lodge operates. Andy Hogg, the longtime head of Bushcamp Company, has been spearheading these conservation and community efforts since 2000. With the support of Allen, Hogg began investing in two local primary schools; the funds covering everything teacher salaries and classroom construction to providing access to clean water, and offering field trip opportunities and game drives for the local students.
In 2010, The Bushcamp Company began a long-term project to improve the infrastructure for the area’s only secondary school, and to date have built classrooms, offices and dormitories. They also launched a school food program, giving school administrators one less expense to worry about in providing quality education. Most pupils in this remote area of Zambia walk up to 10 kilometers to reach school, and since these improvements one teacher reported a 40% increase in pupils’ ability to attend classes as well as increased engagement from students. The Bushcamp Company is the largest employer in the area, and employ almost 200 local people, many in management positions, and continue to focus on training and employing local people.
“We think it’s incredibly important to continue to recruit, train and employ from the community. So many of these words like ‘ecotourism’ are thrown around, but what you’re doing must go back into the community to make it truly sustainable,” said Hogg.
The Bushcamp Company also has a registered charity, which sponsors over 250 local school children, runs a tree-planting program, HIV and AIDS awareness for staff, and human-wildlife conflict mitigation for the surrounding area. Their most recent initiative is to ensure that the communities around Mfuwe Lodge have access to clean water, and have to-date drilled 15 boreholes to provide clean drinking water to over 200 local people each day. In order to help safeguard the wildlife and lands in the area for future generations, Hogg launched the “Luangwa Conservation and Community Fund” a wildlife conservation and community development initiative with support from both tourists and funders such as Paul Allen.
It is no wonder that the most recent announcement from the Great Elephant Census, a Paul G. Allen Project, to count how many savanna elephants remain in Africa, revealed stable elephant populations in Luangwa. In the 1970s and 1980s, the poaching crisis resulted in Zambia losing the majority of its elephant population and all of its black rhino population. According to Census results, conservation efforts in Luangwa are working, but Zambia’s natural heritage is still under threat. The Bushcamp Company supports the South Luangwa Conservation Society, the Zambian Carnivore Programme and the Zambia Wildlife Authority in their anti-poaching and conservation efforts in the Luangwa region. There is an ongoing, coordinated effort to leverage travel and tourism with conservation and community development; resulting in benefits for all. The Bushcamp Company is being recognized not just for their once-in-a-lifetime safari experiences, but because of their commitment to supporting their community.