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An African lion in the Serengeti (Photograph by Sean Russell, Getty Images)

Why You Should Plan an African Safari…Now

From its wildebeests and mountain gorillas to its rhinos and elephants, Africa’s iconic animals now face a new and unexpected conservation crisis.

Despite the fact that the Serengeti is farther from the Ebola zone in West Africa than New York is from Fairbanks, Alaska, the fallout of the Ebola outbreak continues to wreak havoc—not just for people but also wildlife; not just in West Africa but also across the continent.

Travelers have canceled their safari plans in droves, dealing a blow to the ecotourism economy, which forms the backbone of wildlife conservation in parts of Africa such as Botswana and Tanzania. A poll of 500 Africa tour operators by the largest safari booking site reported declines as steep as 70 percent.

Poachers are filling the tourism void. “One of the few things standing in the way of the possible extinction of endangered [animals] is tourists who pay to see these majestic creatures in the wild,” says Mark Thornton, founder of a conservation-based outfitter and guide company.

The recent loss of Cecil the lion, who was allegedly lured outside Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park and killed by a trophy hunter, underscores that fact.

According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, almost a hundred elephants a day are killed for their ivory across the continent.

Come on, travelers: Africa needs us. Safari deals abound, with many world-class lodges offering reduced rates. Together we can turn the tide.

Costas Christ is on the sustainable travel beat at National Geographic. Follow him on Twitter @CostasChrist.