A few weeks ago a fellow travel blogger who is also a journalist called me up with some exciting news. Kenya Wildlife Service was looking for bloggers and press to cover the elephant census that they were going to conduct at the Amboseli National Park. As you can imagine I was super excited when she told me that she had been called up for the opportunity and was unavailable at that time, but had given my name and contacts to the KWS officer tasked with getting the people to cover the event.
Shortly after her call, the KWS Officer called me and explained that the census was to check the current elephant population in the park and was to last a period of about 10-15 days (cannot remember the exact figure). KWS wanted the census covered so that the public would know about it and in addition to that the people involved would also cover the different things the park has to offer visitors in addition to the high end lodges that offer accommodation near the park.
This I found super interesting as it was something that I wanted to cover, considering the current high levels of poaching that our elephant populations are facing throughout the parks in the country and so I felt that this would be a positive/breath of fresh air way of reporting on the elephant population to sensitize people on the importance of their survival. And in addition write about places where people can stay when going to Amboseli National Park.
So then I asked him the big question, how would expenses be covered? Here is where things got interesting. He told me that I would have to cover all expenses by myself! And when I asked him if KWS was going to help out in any way or meet my costs half way, he said the only bill they would foot was the entrance to the Park- entrance for Kenyans is Kshs 1,000. I could not believe it when he added that KWS only wanted press or bloggers who had financial backing/support either from the media house they work for or from their own pockets to foot their transport, food and accommodation (in the lodges that cost quite some coin by the way!) and then follow the rangers around still in their own transport (unless it was the moments when rangers used helicopters during the elephant census). Other than that was there anything else they were willing to subsidize or cater for if they wanted all the free publicity and the answer was maybe we could arrange for you to get space on the KWS bus from the headquarters in Nairobi and get taken to Amboseli. And then I was calmly told this exercise was targeting journos from big media houses that would easily cater for their expenses and not really for bloggers without any financial backing (read small timers). In short I got dismissed and did not really see the need to prolong the call, I thanked him and wished him all the best in finding people to cover the census.
First thing that ran through my mind after pausing to digest all this was What In The World (and that is me being diplomatic about what actually ran through my mind) ?!!!
My take on the situation:
- Heres the thing, Kenya Wildlife Service is not a poor government body so meeting ‘small timers costs would be peanuts for them (and I do not mean just gate costs and transport, they also have ‘bandas’ (small cabins) in all national parks that they would have offered at subsidized rates just for the covering of the census. In my opinion, why have people write about expensive lodges while they can give you free advertising for the accommodation that you already offer (at a much more affordable rate I am assuming)?
- If you want someone to come for a census that starts on Sunday, do not call them on Friday evening (thats what really happened, got the call at about 7pm friday evening). Advance notice is always a good thing for anyone expected to travel out into the wild.
- If you want someone to cover whatever it is that you are doing and give it major (free) publicity, have the decency to foot most if not some of the bills! Things do not work that way these days even for small timers like me :). Case in point, KWS should have a look at what South Africa tourism does when it invites press or bloggers to cover anything happening in their country- they go All Out and I mean All out! whether its accommodation, transport and general facilitation of everything including ample communication!
- Lastly, local and international tourists look at online reviews in this age of smart phones and digital media, so this may be something that KWS may consider looking at the next time they decide to dismiss people who do not come from a major media house.
The only thing I saw about the migration in the papers was an article that was less than half a page with a picture of two elephants stuck in the mud. With all respect to the journalist who wrote it, they could have done better and not made it sound so bland and technical an experience, they had a chance to see it and cover it well, but did not.
I really hope that the next time KWS has something exciting they want covered they will have strategized and organized it better!