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Abercrombie & Kent’s Geoffrey Kent on Cecil the Lion’s legacy

The co-founder of the luxury travel company is enlisting his powerful friends to help abolish Africa’s game hunting tourism industry.

The killing of Cecil the lion was the final straw. After a career trying to bring more sustainable tourism to developing nations, Abercrombie & Kent co-founder Geoffrey Kent wants to lead a philanthropic mission to end game hunting tourism in Africa for good.

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He’s beginning to formulate the Trophy Shot campaign, which will find ways to integrate sustainable tourism practices into local economies, enabling them to make the same money from tourists shooting with cameras, not guns. And professional game hunters can garner the same thrill of the hunt, but with a prize photo as their reward.

A sign posted on the door at River Bluff Dental on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 in Bloomington, Minn. River Bluff Dental owner Dr. Walter Palmer has gotten criticism over the sport killing of a beloved lion in Zimbabwe named “Cecil.”Photo: Renee Jones Schneider, Minneapolis Star Tribune, TNS via Getty Images

“The whole concept is to stop professional hunting and create ecotourism which goes to the communities,” says Kent. ‘I got this into my head to take action after the Cecil the lion incident in July. I just want to lead the charge. You need somebody to talk to the world and work out an alternative to professional hunting. You can’t just say you can’t do something. You have to work out an [economic] alternative, which is sustainable tourism where the community makes the same amount of money, but in the end. you shoot with a camera, not with a gun.”

Kent certainly has the ear of the global elite. He’s long associated with movie stars, power brokers, and royalty, like Prince Charles, Jeff Katzenberg (who wrote the forward for his new book), and Bill Gates (whose Africa trip inspired the Bill & Melina Gates Foundation to help developing nations).

Kent is using the tour for first book, Safari: A Memoir of a Worldwide Travel Pioneer (Harper Collins) chronicling his travels with the rich and famous, as a platform to promote his idea. Kent, 73, grew up in Kenya and started his luxury safari company in 1962, while pushing for greater wildlife protection.

Geoffrey Kent at his book signing

In the early 1990s, Kent worked with Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni to set aside Bwindi Impenetrable Forest as a reserve to protect the mountain gorillas. In association with park authorities, he pioneered a program to habituate select gorilla families to the presence of humans, allowing small groups of visitors, with a naturalist guide, to observe a band of gorillas in their natural habitat for an hour each day. He built the park’s first luxury camp, and last year A&K guests spent more than $1 million on gorilla tracking permits. “The local community now, having earned nothing, makes about $16 million a year,” he says.

Kent hopes to have a more comprehensive plan for Trophy Shot next year. He’s currently meeting with the World Travel & Tourism Council, which he co-founded, to find ways to rally tourism boards and industry leaders to join in. He’s getting support from media mogul Ted Turner, Kenya Wildlife Service chairman and paleoanthropologist Richard Leakey, and Columbia University economist Jeffrey Sachs. Local Abercrombie & Kent offices would manage the campaign in their countries.

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“Two countries have successful models—Kenya stopped trophy hunting in 1977, and Botswana stopped last year,” says Kent. “So it’s happened and those countries have done very well. We’re hoping to use those to establish sustainable tourism in other parts as well.”

About the author

Susan Karlin is an award-winning journalist in Los Angeles, covering the nexus of science, technology, and arts, with a fondness for sci-fi and comics. She's a regular contributor to Fast Company, NPR, and IEEE Spectrum, and has written for Newsweek, Forbes, Wired, Scientific American, Discover, NY and London Times, and BBC Radio.

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