The 7 Summits Africa Challenge and a look at WWF Conservation in Uganda.

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Go Places digital 7Summits

Have you heard of the incredible 7 Summits Africa Challenge?  

Set to achieve a world record, the goal is for 7 mountaineers to summit 7 mountains in Africa over a period of 7 weeks, and for 7 essential causes. With the routing taking the team crossing five East African countries, Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo between 4 November and 20 December 2017. By now they are well on their way and I wanted to spread the word about their bravery and inspiration.

The team is made up of 9 mountaineers, environmentalists and journalists who summited their first peak, Mt. Nyiragongo in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Climbing this active volcano, their aim was to raise awareness of The Unsung Heroes: the Virunga National Park’s rangers, who risk their lives to protect the endangered mountain gorillas and other animals in the vast park.

Other mountains in the challenge are Mt Kilimanjaro, Mt Kenya, Mt Stanley & Mt Speke, Mt Meru and Mt Karisimbi with a combined altitude gain of 16 000m. In-between climbs they are visiting Unesco World Heritage Sites and key national parks with the simple mission of raising awareness of crucial causes that affect the mountains and their surrounding natural environment, people, animals and gorillas to melting glaciers.

“The hard truth is that conservation requires money – lots of it – and the best way to get this much-needed revenue for conservation is through responsible tourism,” explains Carel Verhoef, one of the expedition leaders and a director of the title sponsor Great Migration Camps.

Whilst climbing they are showcasing the added wildlife experience you can enjoy whilst in the mountains and on the continent, as well as how wonderful EastAfrica is for adventure tourism.  All aspects of the expedition, including the attractions, are being broadcast live on a daily basis and generating incredible content that is being shared with a global audience via Youtube and Facebook Live, directly from the mountains using a smartphone and satellite data.

The team is currently in Uganda and has begun climbing Mt Speke, their 4th mountain in the 7 Summits Africa Challenge. They are expected to summit Mt Speke on Sunday and thereafter begin their trek to Mt Stanley, also in the Rwenzoris mountain range. Supporting their work they interviewed David Dulli from WWF Uganda on the importance of conservation through tourism and how the 7 Summits Africa Challenge is aligned to this.

Meet the man protecting Uganda’s natural wealth

Uganda is rich in wildlife, mountains, forests, verdant national parks and natural resources. But this wealth is under threat from rapidly growing populations, development and businesses vying for the country’s resources. David Dulli, country director for World Wildlife Fund (WWF) Uganda, is at the helm of it all. Rebekah Funk spoke to him about the issues facing Uganda, and what role tourism has to play in conservation efforts.

What are some of your biggest concerns about wildlife conservation in Africa?

I am most concerned when I see human encroachment in remote areas; when I see some of the weak policies to counteract those activities; when I see weak institutions. That worries me a lot, particularly when I put it in context with an increasing population — 3.5% in the Albertine Rift and a country average of 3%, which is really high. It makes me feel that if something is not done, we are going to lose everything. In 100 years there will be nothing to talk about — no elephants…destruction of important ecosystems like the Rwenzori Mountains [where the 7 Summits Africa team will climb two peaks over the coming week: Mt. Speke and Mt. Stanley]. All this spectacular natural heritage will be devastated and it will be hard to believe we lived on this planet and did these things.

What is WWF Uganda doing to promote conservation, education and sustainable tourism and business in a local context?

WWF Uganda is working through three programmes to implement our five-year strategic plan: the first programme is forest and biodiversity; the second, fresh water; and the third, climate, energy and extractives. In implementing those programmes we integrate — as much as possible — the social and economic development issues, rights based approach and education for sustainable development. We also work with government to strengthen and enforce implementation of policies and regulations. We also engage in policy analysis and development. 

Our role in the recent past has shifted to support civil society than to do projects ourselves. For the last few years, we have moved from running programmes ourselves on the ground, to strengthening and empowering local voices to manage their affairs rather than looking to WWF as an international organisation to do it for them.

How do you convince big business, particularly those in the fossil fuel industry, to have a mind towards conservation?

In Uganda, there was a discovery of oil that’s estimated to produce more than 20 billion barrels of oil over the next 20 years. This attracts infrastructure development and socio-economic and environmental impacts that are important to tackle. For example the launch of [$3.55 billion-crude export] pipeline that runs from Uganda up to Tanga in Tanzania. This 1,445km crude oil export pipeline will pass through a number of important ecosystems.

Additionally the oil fields in Uganda are located in the Albertine Rift which is a hotspot biodiversity conservation area in Africa. There are also overlaps of these oil fields with protected areas such as Murchison Falls National Park, Queen Elizabeth National Park and other central forest reserves. It is a focus of WWF to work with oil companies to mitigate the potential social-economic and environmental impacts of the oil industry. 

Our approach has been non-confrontational but constructive engagement, with science and information. Through this, we have managed to mobilise civil society organisations at a national level, which are now carrying out advocacy at a local level. We are also working with community and cultural groups within the areas where oil exploration activities are taking place to ensure they know their rights, roles and demands. And we are also empowering them on how to engage with government and oil companies.

We also realise oil and gas exploration is happening along the border of Congo as well, and this cross-border aspect is very important to WWF. Virunga National Park and Rwenzoris are World Heritage Sites, Ramsar sites and national parks, all related to the water systems of the Nile and the Congo Basin. If oil and gas exploration and extraction is happening in the Queen Elizabeth conservation area, how would this effect Virunga, the oldest national park in Africa? Both Uganda and DRC are signatories to the UNESCO World Heritage Convention and are obliged not to be engaged in activities that endanger a cross border world heritage site. We are undertaking a study to inform the advocacy work that we should engage into with the government of Uganda.

The 7 Summits Africa Challenge team aims to promote East Africa’s adventure and eco-tourism opportunities because they believe tourism plays a key role in conservation. Can you talk a little about sustainable tourism as a conservation tool?

Out of all the livelihood projects we have run, the end result is that these activities are still resourced consumptive in some way. But when you look at tourism, you could say the level of resource consumption is much less. Tourism is a very competitive land-use option as compared to productive activities like agriculture. Therefore if we are to pursue sustainable development, the best option is to go for sustainable tourism which is less dependent on resource off-takes.

Our current goal in the Rwenzori Mountains, for example, is to develop sustainable financing for the park and the communities surrounding it, so it’s cool that the 7 Summits team is going to climb two of the peaks in the park (Mt. Speke and Mt. Stanley). In addition, we have worked with the government and other stakeholders in the private sector, and developed a new brand manual and a marketing strategy for the Rwenzori as a unique destination: a high-altitude park with alpine wetlands, high biodiversity (Albertine Rift and Rwenzori endemics), connected to a network of protected areas with various tourism experiences.

We shall be launching this new brand early next year — our prediction is that, if it’s done well, the park will be as competitive as other mountain national parks such as Kilimanjaro or Mt. Kenya. We need to attract more visitors, to tell them how to get there, and what’s unique that they can’t see elsewhere. Tourism and working with the private sector is key: private-public partnerships. What we’re seeing here with the 7 Summits Africa expedition is a good example. We should be able to have private sector engagement that improves the visibility and creates thriving national parks, full of visitors.

From WWF’s perspective, we’ll raise as much funds as possible for the parks to manage these areas, to ensure communities are working in harmony and benefitting economically, to empower these communities to be involved in decision making and show their culture to the world, and to increase international awareness and investment in preserving these important areas. 

Meet 7 Summits Africa Challenge the team

  • Sibusiso Vilane – South African adventurer and motivational speaker, author of the book To the Top from Nowhere. An adventurer, marathon runner, mountaineer and expedition leader.
  • Carel Verhoef – 7 Summits Africa concept creator. The anchor from Great Migration Camps LiveReviews pushing live experience content across Africa (or looking for lions).
  • Ake Lindstrom – East Africa’s most experienced mountaineer is 7SA ”mountain-man” having lead countless Kilimanjaro summits and providing logistics support to the expedition.
  • Sally Grierson – Hiker & lover of mountains – retired physiotherapist. Part of the team that successfully summited Kilimanjaro with the first female Quadriplegic – Chaeli Mycroft.
  • Jessica Flint – New York-based editor & writer, currently a senior features editor. This journalist/conservationist will be writing a book on the expedition.
  • Jacques van Tonder – Videographer on #Maralive and #Kenyalive. Cameraman by trade, doccie film-maker by design and everything #tech inbetween. Documenting the expedition.
  • Patrick Thomas – An Editor and Publishing Consultant, Patrick will be writing the book with Jessica. He is excited translate the story of the first #7Summits Africa as it emerges – as a group and an adventure, for USA audiences.
  • Thommo Hart – Lover of African Adventures and adventurers, Thommo will be an expedition photographer to capture in front and behind the climbers.
  • Gabriele Brown – Climbing Kilimanjaro after her husband passed away was a life-changing trip full of inspiration, love, hardship, endurance and the irrepressible nature of the human spirit. Gabi is now an 8 time Kili veteran.

 The Essential Details:

  • Learn more about the 7 Summits Africa Challenge and what is driving them and Great Migration Camps to make this dream come true, and keep an eye on their social media channels where they are posting content daily: Facebook, Twitter and Instagram
  • Follow these hashtags: #7summitsafrica and #7summitschallenge. 
  • Find the full expedition itinerary and stay in touch with them here: 2017 Expedition Itinerary.
  • I’m being kept up to date on the teams’ progress by Melany Bendix of Bonzai Media, do connect with her for any media-related information:

NOTE: Credit for pic of the team walking: Go Places Digital.

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