Finding the balance
Rafiki is striving to achieve an equilibrium between conservation of the lower Savegre Valley and the development of local communities that settled the area. Through passive land management, sustainable business, employment opportunity and education, we hope to create a viable economy that will insure a healthy future for the residents of the lower Savegre Valley. Rafiki believes tourism can define the Lower Savegre Valley as a place of interest. As sustainable tourism is fortified, it has become an alternative solution to the agricultural industries that are responsible for the demise of the forests and their connectivity to the biological corridors that pass through the Savegre Valley.
Rafiki Safari Lodge sits on over 840 acres of lowland tropical forest. The specific location of our reserve links two biological corridors critical to the connectivity of the some of most important national parks on the Pacific slope of Costa Rica. Biological Corridors are essential for the survival of species and insure genetic diversity of the flora and fauna of Costa Rica. Learn more about the biological corridor "Paso de la Danta" at http://www.asanacr.org.
The Amazing Savegre Valley
The Savegre River starts in the National Park of Los Quetzales on the slopes of Cerro de la Muerte, one of the the tallest peaks in Costa Rica.The river descends over 10,000ft from a pristine cloud forest to a nearly unscathed lowland tropical forest in only 25km kilometers. The Savegre River is then joined by the Rio Division, where it makes its way down to the Pacific Ocean to the National Park of Playa El Rey.
The Savegre Valley boasts 113 mammal species, 53 out of 75 endemic bird species, and over 20% of the total plant species of Costa Rica. This ecosystem is composed of 62% Primary Forest, and is the only intact altitudinal corridor in the country of Costa Rica.
Rafiki is located along the lower Savegre River. The reserve is part of a very small area that lacks formal protection. The area was previously known for forestry, and any of the farms in the area were logged and now show steep clear cuts used for cattle grazing and bean farms. Rafiki represents a healthy forested pathway for any wildlife trying to go south from Parque Nacional Los Quetzales to Corcovado National Park.
As of 2017 Rafiki is proud of its participation in establishing the Saverge Valley as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. This remarkable achievement highlights the importance of the Savegre in Costa Rica. Not only for the flora and Fauna, but also for the human contribution that has allowed the valley to remain so robust.
Corcovado National Park
Considered to be the most biologically diverse place on the plant, Corcovado is one of the last places to appreciate an inact Meso American Tropical Forest. The Osa Peninsula keeps the park safe from disturbance, which has allowed the flora and fauna to thrive in its primary state. One of the major threats that face this park is the fact that it is being cut off from the rest of Costa Rica. This threathens the genentic diversity of life within the park. There are only two routes that connect Corcovado to the Mesoamerican corridor, one is the Amistad-Osa Biological Corridor that connects Corcovado to Parque Nacioal La Amistad. Unfortunately this corridor is a primarily used by the pinapple industry asnd is unlikely to be viable for any plant of animal that wants to pass through. The other corridor is called the Paso de La Danta which connects Corcovado with the Savegre Valley and the big wilderness areas leading to the largest conserved area in central America known as La Amistad International Peace Park. This is the corridor that Rafiki wishes to fortify.
Paso De La Danta
The Biological corridor Paso De La Danta forms the coastal mountain range connecting the Savegre Valley to the Osa Peninsula and the Corcovado National Park.This corridor is privately owned by locals and foreigners,all trying to utilize their land in order to make a living. Mixed development threathens the connectivity of the corridor and mission of Paso de La Danta is to manage development is such a way that both animals and humans can share the land and preserve it for future generations.
The original settlers of the lower Savegre Valley were lured into the lowland tropical forest in search of precious hard woods in the 1950's. Rosewood, Purple Heart and many other old growth trees were cut down. Once the best wood was removed, the land was the slashed and burned. With the money from the wood, the land owner could then invest in cattle to sustain his family. With fences in place, the person could then get a title on the land. As time went on, more people entered the valley, the forests started disappearing at an alarming rate. Infrastructure improved and many people found work in removing the wood from the mountain sides. Furthermore, cattling ranching was booming with the demand of beef from the United States. In the beginning of the 1990's Costa Rica had one of the fastest rates of deforestation in the world. The model threatened to permanently destroy the welfare of the ecosystem.
Fortunately, things were changing. Ecotourism started to rival the income produced by the other industries in the country and the government responded. In 1996, a ban was placed on cutting native woods and clear cutting existing forests. This was an amazing achievment and the current state of Costa Rica's ecosystems are healthier than they have been in many years.
This change did not come without a price. The drastic shift in the lumber industry left the people of the Savegre almost instantly without work. The towns collapsed, infrastucture was abandoned, and severe flooding left the village of Santo Domingo on its knees. Families that had settled in the town had only the house they lived in, and had no place to go. To make ends meet, the people were forced to feed their families by fishing in the river, hunting animals, and illegally cutting wood out of the forest. These pressures are less severe than the clear cutting of the past, but they made it very difficult for wildlife to thrive.
Addressing The Issue
Upon arriving into the Savegre Valley in 1999, the Boshoff family quickly realized that in order to achieve their goals of conservation, the local people would have to shift their perception of the forests around them. Since laws prohibit people from altering the forest, those who own forest have no means of making an income from their land. Therefore the only way for locals to benefit from their land is to utilize an industry that does directly impact the forest. Tourism is one of few industries that can achieve this goal.
From the beginning, Rafiki Safari Lodge has involved the community in the construction, maintenance, and operation of the lodge. What started off as laborers chopping pastures and carrying constructing materials has evolved into a full hotel staff, naturalist guides, mechanics, and hotel management. Rafiki provides female employment, job training, and full healthcare benefits to it employees.
The major impact that stable income has done for the village has been in education. When Rafiki opened in 2002, Santo Domingo had one school house and provided rudimentary elementary education for 1st through 6th grade. Today the school has a pre-school, grade school, and newly constructed high school. Giving their kids the ability to seek higher education allows them to become conscious of the situation of their village and the environment. Family bonds are strong in Costa Rica, making it hard for kids to live far away from their parents. If opportunities for educated labor exist in the Santo Domingo, the economy will continue to grow. If tourism can provide that opportunity, the people that depend on tourism will be more likey to protect the forest.
A Plan For The Future
Rafiki plans to keep its commitment to the connectivtity of the biological corridors of the Savegre, being the northern most border of "Paso de La Danta" Rafiki has joined forces with ASANA, the organization responsible for the welfare of the corridor. Rafiki wants to illustrate a model to other investors within the corridor who may be able to create their own parks, sanctuaries, or reserves. If our model is shown to be viable, perhaps other forest can be similarily saved. We feel that being recognized a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve will only reinforce the efforts Rafiki has started. The local community, the government now have a pledge to the world to sustain and improve on what has made the Savegre Valley so special.
We will also continue to expand employment opportunity. Currently Rafiki Safari lodge employs about 18 people from Santo Domingo. There are now 2 other local establishments that are attracting local tourism in the area. With the addition of our Tapir Project, Rafiki will need many more hands on deck. Along with direct employment, the animal project will attract more tourists into the valley leaving opportunity for other people to start restaurants, hotels, tour companies, and more. Santo Domingo is less than 1 hour away from Manuel Antonio, the most visited park in Costa Rica. The Savegre River offers travelers an opportunity to enjoy the cleanest rivers in Central America, explore intact tropical forests, and hopefully see the largest land mammal in Central and South America in ist natural habit. Tourism may not be able to single handedly save the valley, but giving time so that the locals can appreciate the rescources that surround them before they disappear is at least a good start!
Trails for Conservation
Trail building was one of Franklin D Roosevelts best tools to employ people after the great depression. The foundations of that time continue throughout the United States and every year, thousands of miles of new trails are built through out the United States. Mountain Biking and trail running are becoming extremely popular. The wonderful thing about trails is that (if built and maintained correctly) they are ecologically friendly and provide affordable recreation to its users.
Costa Rica is having major issues finding employment in a rural villages, we have tons of beautiful land to explore, but no way to get there... Let's build some trails!
Since the decree of the UNESCO Biosphere was signed last year, Expansion of sustainable land use is a hot topic. Biological corridors and National Parks are wonderful for the ecology, but as mentioned throughout this page, in many cases, the situation stagnates human development. Finding initiatives that give jobs to locals without destroying forests is tricky business. One model has shown to be very effective. In the highlands of one of the tributaries of the Savegre, a few land owners decided to build networks of bike trails. There are no laws against building them and many locals had the skill set to make it happen. The topography of Providencia loaned itself well to downhill biking and currently the trails are one of the major sources of revenue for the village. The restaurants, hotels, and taxi services are delighted by the thrill seeking bikers that come on the weekend to try their luck on some of the steepest trails in the world of biking! The fame has reached all the way to the heart of Mountain biking. This year over 300 Canadians are staged to participate in a 5 day Endure race. The event promises to bring thousands of dollars into a community that has beens struggling to find a place in the new eco-friendly Costa Rica.
Rafiki sees this as an opportunity. Our property has over 800 acres of forest. Currently the majority is inaccessible. Although we have built hiking trails around the lodge for our guests. wWe have found the task of building trails daunting. Biking provides a new perspective. Bikers can go further, and with the rapidly evolving technology, they are able to navigate terrain than a decade ago would have been impossible. There are even electric mountain bikes to allow a broader audience into the sport.
We believe building trails for running, biking, and hiking will attract more local families to participate in recreation of the park. The process of building trails employs locals who have a tremendous capacity for the type of work required. Furthermore, if successful, our neighbors may also engage the industry, giving a new facet for visitors of the lower Savegre.
The initiative is being undertaken cautiously. We do not want to overwhelm the ecology and we are currently experimenting trail designs. Lautjie Boshoff is a former professional trail builder. His passion for biking matches his love for the forest and designing trails. We are excited to announce that our first biking trail has been completed. We are currently accepting donations for expansion of the bike Park. The funds will be used to hire are permanent trial builder from the village. It will be the first of such jobs offered in the valley, but if the project continues to gain momentum, we hope there will be entire crews.