A team of scientists has put together a list of the countries that are doing the most to help conserve wildlife in its natural habitat. Surprisingly, it’s not necessarily the richest countries that are doing the most … but instead, it's the ones who rely most on animal tourism and travel.

A lion hunting at Duba Plains in the Okavango Delta, Botswana.
Botswana is top at protecting its wildlife. by Brendon Cremer/500px

The researchers looked at 152 countries across the world and how much they were doing to preserve big animals in the wild. The southern African country of Botswana ranked highest of all, doing everything it can to protect its incredibly diverse wildlife, which includes one of the largest elephant populations on the continent.

The study ranked countries on whether they under or over-performed when it came to conservation. Overall, North and Central America performed best with 90% of the countries there rated as above average in safeguarding wildlife. Africa also fared well with 70% of the countries there ranking highly.

Reindeer in Jotunheimen, Norway.
Norway is the only country to make the top 10 best countries in conservation. Image by Martijn Smeets/Shutterstock

It was across the safari belt where much of the best work was being done, with Namibia, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe, all joining Botswana in the top five. The study in Global Ecology and Conservation said large animals – what they describe as mega-fauna – are of huge economic value to the places where they’re found.
“Countries such as Kenya, Botswana, and South Africa have successfully harnessed the appeal of large mammals to overseas visitors, and wildlife-based tourism now comprises significant proportions of their [economies],” they said.

Prayer flags, Bhutan
Bhutan is a bright spot in Asia for conservation. Image by Graeme Taylor/500px

The picture was not quite so rosy across Asia where a one-quarter of countries were classed as “major underperformers” on conservation. One bright spot there however, was Bhutan, the small landlocked country in the Himalayas which counts bears, tigers, rhinos, and leopards among its incredibly rich ecosystem. Bhutan has been lauded internationally for its approach to the environment, and is considered not just carbon neutral, but carbon negative because its emissions are offset by the vast forests that cover more than two thirds of its land.

Top Ten Countries for Conservation

Zebra and calves in Etosha National Park, Namibia.
Namibia is actively restoring the zebra population, among others. Image by Kerrin/500px

1. Botswana - They keep visitor numbers deliberately lower than they could so that they can manage the environmental impact of wilderness tours.
2. Namibia - It was the first African country to put protection of the environment in its constitution and they have been actively restoring populations of lions, cheetahs, black rhinos, zebras, and other large animals.
3. Tanzania - A third of this vast country is protected land spread across no less than fourteen national parks. A fifth of Africa’s large mammals can be found there.
4. Bhutan - The country’s constitution actually has written in it that at least 60% of the nation’s land must remain under forest cover. More than half the country is protected.
5. Zimbabwe - They have ten national parks, nine recreational parks, four botanical gardens, four safari areas, and three sanctuaries which together make up their system of “Parks and Wildlife Estate”.
6. Norway - The only European country in the top ten, Norway’s fjords and mountains are home to lynx, wolves, bears, and elk.
7. Central African Republic - Tropical forest covers more than a third of the country and is popular with travellers for its large population of gorillas.
8. Canada - Canada was one of the highest spenders on conservation and has more than forty national parks and park reserves, filled with bison, caribou, grizzlies, wolves, and polar bears.
9. Zambia - Just under a third of the country is given over to managing and conserving wildlife with 80% of trips taken there because of its nature and wilderness.
10. Rwanda - Tourism is one of the fastest growing industries in Rwanda, not least because it is home to one third of the world’s remaining mountain gorillas.

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