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A recent report by the WWF showed that shockingly, wildlife populations have declined by as much as 60% since 1970. In this article we look at what role tourism has to play – and if indeed travel can be compatible – with conservation of endangered species. Read on for tips on how to support wildlife protection on your travels and for finding the best wildlife holidays that are responsible.
Can Travel Really Help Wildlife Protection?
Reading a recent BBC interview of one woman’s fight to save ‘the last place on earth’ I was struck. Not by her story of Sumatra: which is, after all, one of the last unexplored territories in our world. Instead I was struck by her response to the question, what can we do about the destruction Palm Oil plantations are causing there.
In our quest for ethical wildlife tourism options during our travels, our searches have often pulled up more problems than opportunities; resulting in us sometimes choosing to stay away – and giving the wildlife some space.
Rather than advising people to boycott palm oil and stay well away from Sumatra, her advice was more welcoming: “I would encourage people to experience more of places that are going extinct. Places like Sumatra, the Amazon, Madagascar… that are under tremendous threat from exploitation, including palm oil. If you come to the place and see how it is now… you would have a stronger connection to know what to do when it comes to palm oil and deforestation.” -Farwiza Farhan
And plenty of incentives to visit Sumatra exist. Fewer islands in the world boast such rich jungle and wildlife. It’s home to home to rhinos, elephants, orangutans, and the occasional, incredibly rare… Sumatran tiger.
It all begs the question: in order to help protect endangered wildlife, do we need to experience more with our own eyes?
Protecting Endangered Species: Final Call.
The Living Planet Report that was released by WWF at the beginning of November does not make for happy reading. Among the headlines: that 20% of the Amazon has disappeared over 50 years; populations of mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians have, on average, declined by 60% between 1970 and 2014.
While organisations like National Geographic are quick to point out that the report uses aggregations and is not a literal count: but rather an average of the levels of decreasing populations from different species, that does not make the reading less alarming.
With tourism sometimes worsening the situation for some of our favourite mammals around the world (elephants have had a particularly raw deal), we ask what role does tourism have to play in helping us protect – or at least minimise damage – to endangered animal populations.
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The possibilities in which tourism helps to improve wildlife protection are three-fold. Firstly tourism brings an economic incentive to drive conservation and wildlife protection up the political agenda, particularly in developing countries which are home to some of the richest remaining biodiversity. Secondly, tourism brings greater awareness to travellers of the precariousness of the survival for some of the world’s most incredible species. It also motivates travellers like us to *do something* to change our consumption and habits that may be damaging natural habitats for these animals after our return home. Last, but not least, wildlife tourism provides opportunities to engage & employ locals and bring them onside with conservation of predators and other wildlife that may be a perceived “threat” or “commodity” locally. Tourism can also help to provide training to locals in wildlife protection. For wildlife protection to be successful, it has been shown time over that locals must be involved.
Finding the Best Wildlife Holidays – That Support Conservation
We always recommend travelling with an expert guide and company that are properly trained in wildlife tours. Not only does that help keep you safe, but it lessons the likelihood of disruption to wildlife, too. Look out for companies such as Nature Trek who have clear Sustainable Tourism policies and care about appreciation of wildlife in its natural habitat.
To break down what travellers can do more of to support wildlife conservation, here are some tips that we travel by:
- Keep a Distance. Our number one principal for travel that involves seeing animals is this: “If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then the chances are it is cruel and the animal is suffering” – World Animal Protection. Although there is much debate as to the impact of riding different animals we recommend seeing animals in a way in which you have your space, and they have theirs. Separately. In the wild. On that note…
- Avoid Seeing Animals in Captivity wherever possible. Although some reputable zoos do play an important role in wildlife research, there are many zoos that unfortunately do not take care or simply have enough space to provide good conditions for their animals. We recommend sticking with seeing animals from a distance in the wild.
- Don’t Skimp when it comes to Wildlife Tours. Sometimes we need to save a few pennies on our travels (that’s ok) but activities involving wildlife are not the place to do it. Not only are training, quality equipment, and highly qualified guides expensive, but you also get what you pay for. It’s also no accident that some of the places with the best protected wildlife and conservation initiatives that involve tourism are also some of the most expensive places to visit. Visitor numbers are often limited, pushing up prices for permits.
- Don’t Leave Anything Behind. This covers the usual being responsible with your trash and avoiding plastic use completely, but also have a think about what you put into the earth. At glamping / camping sites in the wild waste water from showers often goes straight into the earth – along with all the toxins and chemicals in our beauty products and can contaminate water sources that wildlife depend on. Consider going organic- for the animals if not yourself – during such trips. We love the entire range of products at Guiltless Skin.
- Boycott Animal Souvenirs. It goes without saying (almost) that any souvenirs or products containing animal parts should be left well alone. Likewise taking shells, soil and any other seemingly small memories from nature can cause erosion of habitats.
- Respect and Enjoy. Perhaps the most important part – viewing wildlife (especially endangered species) comes with a responsibility: to respect them. And your fellow travellers. Keeping silent, following instructions given by your guide, and wearing subtle tones that blend in to your environment are part of the deal. If you don’t see anything, remember that can sometimes be a good thing (that animals have enough habitat to hide should they be feeling camera shy 🙂 ). Last but not least, enjoy: bathe in the moment, the magnificence of wildlife and our planet. For every picture we capture we try and take at least one memory with our naked eyes too.
Once home, reconsider: how can we do our bit to help ensure the beautiful animals in our world are still around for our children and grandchildren to enjoy? From reducing meat intake (meaning less wild land converted to farming), to researching into the source of the wood and paper you use, to avoiding palm oil… there are options for us all to do something.
After all… The world needs wildlife tourism. But that won’t work without wildlife.
What are your favourite ways to help with wildlife protection? What are your tips for seeing wildlife responsibly? Let us know in the comments below!
A Londoner by birth Ellie has lived in the UK, Netherlands, India and now Canada. Prior to blogging, she worked for 12 years in hospitality and online travel. Ellie started this blog during a sabbatical trip in 2015 around South Asia, to help conscious travellers find the best inspiration for their next sustainable trip. When not travelling, she is happiest with wine, pasta and a good (travel) book. Ellie is also Founder of Soul Travel Consulting which helps travel brands communicate their sustainability initiatives.