9. Aug, 2018

The New Wilderness: super rich philanthropists start their own wildlife reserves

 Is it really possible to make investments in Africa,  not merely from resource extraction and sheer opportunism?  The term "millionaire" is taking on a new meaning in Africa.  Not all  Africa's new and emerging generation of millionaires are  just excited about money. They're also passionate about impact; they want to create value that touches and improves people's lives.  Some  idealists indeed believe that such initiatives are possible,  and they call it impact entrepreneurship: a new way of making money and doing good, at the same time. 

From another angle, an increasing list of millionaires, not necessarily from African origin,  also called ‘green philanthro-capitalists’ seem to follow the same ideology.  These very rich people  are not primarily interested in boosting economy and the profit principle but rather in saving  that what  is left of the  wilderness  on planet earth and its rapidly decreasing populations of wild animals.   They do so by buying large areas of wilderness.  Examples in Europe  are  Paul Lister a British furniture millionaire, called the ‘Wolfman’ who bought 90.000 ha  in Scotland (Alladale) to bring back the wolf  in the UK. Lister planted 800.000 trees and put down a fence to keep out the deer, that will return when a pack of wolves is able to keep their number in balance. Politicians and farmers however don't like his initiative that they consider too radical.  Similarly, HansJörg Wiess is an American  Swiss millionaire who purchased  200.000 ha woodlands  in Rumanian  Carpates to restore rivers, woods and landscapes threatened  by deforestation, and restoring it for ecotourism. 

Others have bought land in  African countries like  Tanzania, Botswana, and South-Africa.  For example,  former Puma marketeer Jochem Zeitz bought 10.000 ha at  the foot of Mount Kenya, called Segera Wildpark. Jochem is an idealist and Africa adept promoting his four Cs: ‘Conservation, Community, Culture and Commerce’, and restored cattle grazing among lions. Other examples are Paul Fentener van Vlissingen from Holland  who bought Marataba, South Africa, 23.000 ha adjacent to the 63.000 ha Marakela National Park, and Ed Zeeman and Anka Reijnen from Holland of the Foundation Morokuru South Africa running luxury holiday lodges in Madikwe game reserve. Then we have Paul Tudor Jones, an American  hedge fund millionaire who created  a wild park of 140.000 ha in Serengeti region in Tanzania. Combining low impact tourism with luxury  lodges.

Ecotourism in Africa  may help to protect wildlife but could also mean profit for local inhabitants because it brings in jobs like park rangers and hotel personnel. Investing  in wild life projects  is a pretty expensive affair with little profit for the investors: one hectare of land in South Africa might easily cost thousands of Euros, and to set up a decent park  one minimally  needs 10.000 ha. Which makes these projects only interesting for the very rich philanthropists not primarily interested in making profit.  Some advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages: better protection against poachers, faster action, large budgets with little bureaucracy, profiting from networking among the superrich philanthropists.  

Disadvantages: lack of knowledge of wildlife management, lack of long-term continuity, the risk of social discontent among the local population (neo-colonialism). Privatizing of national property, emphasis on touristic photogenic zones,  not most threatened areas.

Adapted from the Volkskrant August 9, 2018