Cat Among the Pigeons

Colin Bell and David Bristow’s recently published Africa’s Finest, a beautiful 400 page book that examines in some detail the eco credentials of lodges and camps in sub-Saharan Africa and the Indian Ocean, has given us all – luxury travel operators, outfitters, guides and owners – a veritable boot in the collective posterior.

Ostensibly a celebration of those lodges and camps that make the grade, and a manual for those ‘fence-sitting lodges’ with which to make said grade, Africa’s Finest is also an unblinking and wonderfully measured look at industry-wide negative practices, practices that continue to provide a platform for the kind of tourism that has for decades ignored signs that all is not well with wild Africa. Tourism of this sort, say Bell and Bristow, is hugely short sighted. It’s not ‘nature-based.’ It’s not sustainable. It’s a key player in the decline of Africa’s wildernesses.

None of this is new. Indeed, Bell himself has spent decades promoting the idea of wilderness as asset. Respected guide, founder of Wilderness Safaris and one of the chief thinkers behind Great Plains’s Conservation Tourism policies, he has been at the vanguard of a movement that has helped ensure that the likes of Botswana and Namibia lead the way in conservation orientated tourism.

However, for me, it’s the fact that Bell and Bristow’s philosophies are laid bare in something as magnificently coffee table friendly as Africa’s Finest. Not for them, on this occasion, the recesses of a back issue of Nature, or the ethos literature of this or that company. Africa’s Finest is both industry and client facing. It’s a good hearted luxury travel reference book. It’s a kite mark, a measure and eminently updateable – a real cat, with real teeth.

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