Wildlife travelling: travelling for wildlife
In 1988, a group of botanically-minded friends travelled to the Greek island of Crete for a week of tulips and orchids and endemic plants in the spring sunshine, led by the inimitable Dr Franklyn Perring, a founder of one Wildlife Trust, president of another and General Secretary of the then Royal Society for Nature Conservation.
That was the inaugural holiday for Wildlife Travel, a company set up by The Wildlife Trusts with the aim of raising money for nature conservation, alongside promoting eco-tourism and inspiring people about wildlife.
From tiny acorns… in the years since that first Wildlife Travel holiday, we have travelled with 347 different groups (and counting), to 47 countries on every continent on the planet except for Antarctica.
We have had close encounters with elephants, swum with penguins, been kept awake by singing nightingales and lulled to sleep by chorusing tree frogs; we have seen sunrise over the Amazon, drunk sundowners in the Okavango Delta and experienced the midnight sun in Iceland; we have enjoyed amazing displays of wild flowers from the Russian Arctic to the Cape of Good Hope; we have watched otters on Mull, gone rock pooling in Norfolk, seen great bustards on Salisbury Plain and found some of Britain’s rarest wild flowers on the Isles of Scilly; and we have made wonderful memories and very good friends along the way.
TRAVELLING FOR WILDLIFE
Eco-tourism is about much more than just travelling to see wildlife.
Eco-tourism is defined as ‘responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people’. As the detrimental effects of air travel are increasingly accepted, so we need to ensure even more that all our holidays provide positive gains to the local environments and communities that we visit.
For us, our conservation credentials aren’t just a case of ‘green wash’, they are central to the way we run our business.
As well as working with The Wildlife Trusts, we do our best to ensure that where ever possible we also contribute positively to the work of nature conservation organisations in the destination countries. Our holidays have visited vulture feeding projects in Spain and in the Balkans, contributed to research work and environmental education projects in the Galapagos and travelled with local conservationists in Portugal, Tasmania, Romania and Yorkshire, amongst many others.
One of the first wildlife holiday companies to off-set all our flights as a matter of course, we are keen to ensure that we do much more than ‘just’ off-set any damage that our flights cause. In recent years our flights have been mitigated through the World Land Trust’s work in reforestation and protection of high biodiversity forest in Ecuador, a country we have a long and happy history of visiting.
Travelling has an enormous potential to be a force for good. For some of the world’s most endangered wildlife, the key to their survival is ecotourism, ensuring that a healthy ecosystem has an economic value to the communities who live in and alongside it.
Take, for example, Madagascar. The world’s fifth largest island is famous for its endemic wildlife: around 85% of species found there are found nowhere else on the planet, including all 101 species of lemur. 90 species of lemur are threatened with extinction according to the most recent IUCN Red List assessment, making lemurs one of the most threatened groups of vertebrates.Madagascar is rich in wildlife, but it is amongst the poorest countries on the planet. More than 22 million people make the island their home: 9 out of 10 live on less than two dollars a day. For Madagascar, the two key economic opportunities are tourism and the extractive industries: logging and mining.
Madagascar has a wonderful network of national parks. When visiting Madagascar it is immediately obvious that the areas around the national parks are more prosperous than elsewhere: the presence of forest protects water resources and soils and ameliorates the local climate. The presence of tourists who have come primarily to see the lemurs ensures the local people have a good income. Conservation work around the national parks includes improvements to local infrastructure, provision of schools and health care systems. The national parks are key to an improved standard of living for the local communities and the survival of the wonderful wildlife.
The combination of a period of political instability and the world economic turndown saw visitor numbers fall by almost two thirds between 2007 and 2010, and almost immediately the rate of illegal mining, poaching within the national parks and deforestation rocketed.
Without the presence of tourists, and more importantly the flow of tourist dollars, Madagascar’s forests and their lemurs won’t survive.
Wildlife Travel will be visiting Madagascar in October 2015.
RAISING MONEY FOR WILDLIFE
All the profits we have distributed in our 26 years have been donated to The Wildlife Trusts to support their conservation work here in the UK, rather than being paid to individual shareholders.
Since 1988 we have raised more than £150,000 for nature conservation, and we are keen to raise much, much more. If you are a traveller, please consider joining one of our holidays. And spread the word! The more travellers, the more profitable we will become, and the more money we can raise for wildlife here and across the country.
For more information about the work of The Wildlife Trusts, visit www.wildlifetrusts.org
Photos copyright Philip Precey/Wildlife Travel