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Interpreting tourism in Tanzania

Brent Liddle of Haines Junction is about to set off for Tanzania to help build a world-class elephant interpretive centre. "Not that I know a lot about elephants," he said with a chuckle.

Brent Liddle of Haines Junction is about to set off for Tanzania to help build a world-class elephant interpretive centre.

“Not that I know a lot about elephants,” he said with a chuckle. “But I know a lot about developing visitor centres.”

Liddle, who has worked for Kluane National Park for most of his career, has been travelling around the world ever since he retired in 2002, “helping other people tell their stories.”

“It is storytelling,” Liddle said of interpretive work. “It’s laying out their story in nice, bite-size chunks. It could be as simple as a brochure or as complex as a visitor centre. You have to choose your words carefully and figure out exactly what you want to say.”

It may sound simple, but Liddle has put his skills to good use, helping in places like the Galapagos Islands, Zambia and Tibet. In the last case, he did interpretive work for Mount Everest.

“Wouldn’t you think that working with the highest mountain in the world, the main storylines would be obvious? But it’s sort of surprising that people don’t think in those terms: to take a storyline as big as Mount Everest - no pun intended - and think, well, it’s the highest ecosystem in the world, it’s the highest mountain in the world, it’s one of the most amazing cultures in the world and sort of map that all out so when people visit they catch the essence of the storyline. And they walk away with some understanding and appreciation of what the area’s all about, and hopefully develop some kind of stewardship. That they feel concerned about this area and its future and what we can do to help it be protected or preserved or presented.”

When it comes to Africa’s world-renowned parks, there’s much to be learned about conservation efforts and relationships with surrounding communities, said Bruce Downie of Whitehorse. He’s the founder and executive director of Kesho Trust, the non-profit that is bringing Liddle and other Yukon volunteers to Tanzania.

“In Africa, there is a very, very difficult relationship between the two,” he said. “The national parks are basically fortresses that are for the rich. Generally, you’re paying $500, $600 even $1,000 a night, per person to stay in these places, and yet right across the line people are starving to death.”

In places like Tanzania, the animals can provide a main source for food. Meanwhile, great migration hotbeds like the Ngorongoro Crater are protected and patrolled so rich tourists can take photos.

The main goal for Kesho Trust is to help ensure the tourism industry better supports the local communities, said Downie.

“We have to put it back into the local context. It’s not just about the animals,” he said. “These people have been living with these animals for centuries. They are part of the picture as well, and if there are going to be tourists coming then those people have to also benefit.

“It’s the same as here, it’s no different. If everyone just came and gawked, and then left, and there was no benefit to the territory, We wouldn’t want them traipsing through. But we benefit by them traipsing through because they leave things behind.”

Attractions like the tourist-focused elephant interpretive centre Liddle is helping develop on the main highway to Serengeti National Park will help create lasting benefits for the local communities by way of jobs and visitor awareness, said Downie.

During his visit from October to early December, Liddle will also help map out a children’s environmental educational centre in Saadani National Park, just north of Dar es Salaam, the country’s commercial capital.

“It’s environmental education and community development,” said Downie of the future centres. “You have to link things practically for people on the ground if it’s going to be meaningful. You can’t do environmental education as a nice little thing, you have to do environmental education with a practical outcome, and that means some link to livelihoods, because that’s what it’s all about. People are struggling.

“There’s jobs, but there’s also the awareness that visitors need to take away with them and become engaged and not just take their experience as a tick off their (bucket) list. Typically, if tourists want to become more engaged, they can.

“And even when they go back home they can still be engaged with the people and that makes a big difference. We’re trying to get people ... to begin to see beyond just them and the lion they’re watching out of the truck, because their impact in Tanzania is huge, and it goes well beyond the park.”

Kesho Trust is run by volunteers and sustained by fundraising. The next event to help the organization is a celebrity chefs’ cooking competition, to be held in Dawson City at the KIAC Ballroom Friday, September 14. Doors open at 7 p.m. Tickets are $20.

Contact Roxanne Stasyszyn at