South Africa Sees Nearly 20 Percent Increase In Tourism In 2012

Earlier this week South African Minister of Tourism Marthinus van Schalkwyk told a diverse crowd that gathered at AMARIDIAN, a prestigious New York gallery, that his country is on pace to break previous records for international arrivals. The Minister said that there has been a 19.2% increase in tourism overall since the start of the year, putting arrival numbers well ahead of the record set back in 2010.

In the U.S., to help promote South Africa’s evolving art and music scene, van Schalkwyk couldn’t help but be pleased with the current state of tourism in his nation. These impressive numbers will help the country reach some very important milestones in the years ahead. South Africa has set a goal for itself of attracting 15 million visitors by 2020 while also increasing revenues to $75 billion per year and creating 225,000 new jobs.

Having visited South Africa myself, it is easy to understand why it is such a popular destination. The country truly has something to offer travelers of all types. Cape Town and Johannesburg are two very modern cities with thriving nightlife, amazing culinary options and luxurious accommodations. The country’s outstanding wine region is a quiet escape from the hustle and bustle of metropolitan life, while the year-round beaches are amongst the best in the world.

Of course, for the truly adventurous traveler, South Africa has plenty to offer as well. Kruger National Park is a legendary safari destination and hiking trails abound throughout the Western Cape. Adrenaline junkies can enjoy everything from bungee jumping and mountain biking to whitewater rafting and shark diving, with just about everything in between.

Knowing my love for Africa, I’m regularly asked by friends where I would recommend they travel on their first visit to the continent. It is difficult not to recommend South Africa simply because it has such diverse experiences to offer visitors. As a one-stop destination, SA is a country that really does have it all.

[Photo credit: Warrickball via Wikimedia]

Poacher killed by Cape buffalo in South Africa

A man suspected of being a poacher was killed inside Kruger National Park in South Africa last week after coming face-to-face with an angry Cape buffalo. The unnamed 35-year-old, along with two companions, entered the famous park after dark where they managed to stumble across the fearsome beast. While the other two men managed to escape without injury, their friend was trampled to death.

Weighing in excess of 1500 pounds, and standing over a meter in height at the shoulder, the Cape buffalo is well known for its foul disposition. That combination of size and temperament can make them extremely dangerous when startled or threatened, and more than 200 human deaths are attributed to the species each year. That number makes them one of the most dangerous creatures in all of Africa, where they are considered to be amongst the “Big 5” of safari animals.

What exactly the three men were doing inside the national park after dark is unclear, although officials believe they were there to poach animals of some kind. Poaching has become a major problem for South Africa, where rhinos are being killed at a record pace in order to harvest their horns. Prized for their use in traditional medicines in Asia, those horns are then sold on the black market for as much as $100,000.

Ivory poaching is also a significant problem across the continent, where elephants are rapidly disappearing as well. Officials in Cameroon recently announced that more than 200 of the creatures have already been killed in that country this year alone.

[Photo credit: Ikiwaner via Wikimedia]

Signs indicating locations of rhinos being removed from Kruger National Park

In an attempt to thwart the efforts of illegal rhino poachers in South Africa, wildlife officials at Kruger National Park have announced that they will no longer employ the use of signs that indicated where the animals can be found. Previously, safari guides and camp leaders used maps and colored pins to mark the location of recently spotted animals so that tourists could get the opportunity to see the endangered creatures in the wild. Officials now believe that those same signs were being used by poachers to track the animals as well.

As we’ve mentioned before on Gadling, rhinos are becoming increasingly rare throughout Africa, and have been recently declared extinct in some parts of the continent. Poachers seek out the animals to obtain their distinct horns, which are then sold on the black market in Asia, where they are used in traditional medicines. Because of their demand in that part of the world, rhino horns can now be valued at as much as $100,000, which has spurred a string of robberies from museums in Europe recently as well.

South Africa has done its best to crack down on the poachers by imposing stiffer jail sentences and sending more anti-poaching units into the field. Despite those efforts however, the problem continues to get worse. As of last week, 405 rhinos had been killed in the country this year alone, up from 333 last year. Of those, 229 were killed in Kruger, which is amongst the top safari destinations in all of Africa.

Without the signs to guide the way, tourists will just have to keep their eyes peeled in order to spot a rhino, which can be rather elusive in their natural habitat. Still, I don’t think anyone will argue against doing away with the signs if it means we can make the poacher’s job just a little bit more challenging.

[Photo Credit: Ikiwaner via WikiMedia]

Win a travel photography scholarship to South Africa

The National Geographic Channel and are giving one aspiring photographer the chance of a lifetime. They’ve jointly launched a new contest that will award the winner a photography scholarship that will send them off on assignment in South Africa with wildlife photographer Jason Edwards. While on photo safari they’ll have the opportunity to hone their craft and upon their return, they’ll have their work published on the Nat Geo Channel website.

The contest is open to anyone 18 years or older living in any country on the planet. All entrants should be non-professional photographers with a keen eye and adventurous spirit who are looking to learn new skills and improve their photography. It is recommended that they also have a good level of physical fitness and a desire to pursue a career in travel photography.

To enter the contest you must first shoot a series of photos that tell a story of some place that you’ve visited. That place can be down the block or on the other side of the globe, it’s completely up to you. Pick the five photos that best convey your story and write a short caption for each. Then, fill out this online form, including the 300 word essay about yourself and why you should win. The same page allows you to upload your photos and create an online gallery of the images as well. The entries will be judged on originality, ability to tell a story through images, and technique.

The winner will go “on assignment” for eight days in South Africa in early 2012. While there, they’ll work alongside Edwards shooting the landscapes and wildlife of Kruger National Park, while receiving instructions on setting up shots, composing images, and other photographic techniques. The recipient of this travel photography scholarship will also be required to keep a daily journal of their experiences, which they’ll upload to World Nomads upon their return to share with others.

Once the trip is over, Edwards will continue to work with the scholarship recipient during the editing phase, helping them to select their best images, advising on color correcting the photos, and preparing them for submission to the National Geographic Channel website, where they’ll be displayed alongside some of the best photography in the world.

The deadline for entering the contest is November 8th. For further information, checkout the Video FAQ, which is found here.

Having just visited Kruger a few months back, I can tell you that is a wildly beautiful place with amazing opportunities to take great photos. The concentration of animals there is spectacular, and the chance to work with a professional Nat Geo photographer there sounds fantastic.

Poachers claiming South African rhinos at record pace

According to a new report from the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), poachers in South Africa have been killing rhinos at an alarming rate this year. The WWF says that 193 rhinos have already been claimed by poachers in 2011, which is far ahead of 2010, when 333 rhinos were killed during the entire year.

South Africa has the highest population of rhinos in the world, with more than 19,400 white rhinos and another 1600+ black rhinos calling the country home. Of those, 12,000 white rhinos live inside Kruger National Park, which shares a 186-mile border with Mozambique. Many poachers sneak across the border from that country, often stalking their prey with high powered rifles and helicopters, and then slip back before authorities even know they’ve been there.

Most poachers are looking to harvest the horns of rhinos, which are made up of keratin, the same material that is in our hair or fingernails. Many cultures believe that the horn has special healing properties, and it is often used in traditional medicines throughout the world. In recent years, there has been a spike in demand for rhino horns in Asia, despite the fact that it is illegal to kill the creatures. As a result, the price for a horn has gone up and poachers have been more active.
South Africa takes the threat of poaching very seriously, and this year alone there have been 123 arrests for the crime. They have also instituted harsher penalties for those who are convicted as well, including higher fines and longer jail terms. So far those measures don’t seem to be much of a deterrent. There have even been a number of poachers killed in shootouts with park rangers this year as well, and yet they still continue to kill the animals and harvest their much coveted horns.

Earlier this year I had the opportunity to visit Kruger National Park, where I not only ran into a group of anti-poaching park rangers, I had the chance to chat with locals about the issue. They were all greatly concerned about the brutal attacks on the wildlife there, and expressed their outrage that foreigners were crossing the border to kill the rhinos. They also were unsure exactly what could be done to prevent it from happening, as it seems impossible to be able to patrol the border on a constant basis. Now, just a few months later, the rhinos of Kruger are being killed off at the rate of more than one per day.