Animal conservation in Africa has suffered several setbacks, prompting experts at an African tourism conference last week in Cape Town to warn about the cost to the travel industry.

"Obviously it’s negative," said the African Tourism Association’s MD Naledi Khabo, who spoke at the inaugural event organised by Airbnb.

Kenya was thrust into the conservation spotlight when an effort to move endangered black rhinos between national parks, launched with great fanfare in June, left 11 of the animals dead.

"It does impact the overall pan-African perception as well, which in turn has a negative impact on tourism," said Khabo.

The cost of environmental crime to developing countries is estimated to be more than $70bn a year.

Africa is at the epicentre of global poaching and trafficking of many species, with elephants coveted for their ivory tusks and rhinos sought for their horns, which are used in traditional Asian medicine.

Botswana, which has Africa’s largest elephant population, is on the frontline of the battle against the illicit ivory trade.

In SA, rangers have been forced to take extreme steps to protect the country’s safari endowment alongside an effort to prosecute the criminal bigwigs profiting from the lucrative trade.

Khabo praised SA’s anti-poaching successes which have included three high-profile arrests of kingpins.

"It’s critical that, on a policy level, the government and the tourism boards take a very aggressive approach and to have truly severe consequences for individuals who are found guilty," she said.

Kenya’s Tourism Minister Najib Balala said his country’s antipoaching efforts were also proving effective.

"The number of rhinos in terms of protection has gone up — over 1,200 rhinos we have in Kenya from almost 300 30 years ago. We have 35,000 elephants, 30 years ago we had only 16,000."

AFP