The European Union has recently contributed R2,1 million towards the Kruger to Canyons (K2C) Birding Route, which forms part of a network of routes managed by BirdLife South Africa. Launched near the end of 2007, the K2C birding route is not only about tourism, but has also been designed as a conservation and community avitourism development project, with much focus being placed upon local communities and conservation initiatives. Community members are encouraged to take part in bird guide training programmes or by joining or starting tourism related businesses along the route.
BirdLife South Africa is an active partner and coordinates educational and conservation programmes which have resulted in activities like regular wetland clean-ups in Lulekani and Namakgale (just outside Phalaborwa), day trips to the Kruger National Park (KNP) for school children, competitions to build bird feeders and birdwatching days. Birdwatching is a surprisingly popular leisure activity across the world, with around 40 million birders in the United States alone.
"With more than 500 bird species in the region, good infrastructure and accommodation establishments, this corner of South Africa is the perfect location for visiting birders. Birding enthusiasts are known to be one of the higher-spending groups of tourists with one report estimating that 600 million US dollars are spent worldwide on birding activities each year," says Martin Taylor, local BirdLife representative.
Rio Tinto, owner of many mining operations both in Africa and across the globe, has been working with BirdLife International to inspire employees and engage communities in birding and environmental initiatives. The success of its Zululand Birding Route was the main inspiration for the K2C Birding Route.
The primary role of the route is to provide information to visiting birders, which it does through a variety of different mediums such as a web site (www.krugerbirding.co.za), route maps and a route brochure. The route is also represented at a number of domestic and international birding trade shows. There is also a growing network of Birder Friendly Establishments, endorsed by BirdLife South Africa, which as a requirement have an environmental management plan in place and actively support local community projects.
The route is co-funded by Rio Tinto's Palabora Mining Company. Martin is enthusiastic about the opportunities for the region. His favourite quote comes from last year's Global Ecotourism Conference, where Lelei Tuisamoa Lelaulu described ecotourism as "the largest voluntary transfer of capital from rich to poor in the history of the earth".