RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL

Wildlife travel is much more than simply seeing animals. It’s about slowing down to the natural ebb and flow of a wild place, taking time to understand what makes it tick. It’s about the small wonders that stop you in your tracks and the mighty landscapes that leave you feeling humbled. It’s about making a connection. And that, in essence, is what responsible travel is all about.

Only by bonding with the environment you’re visiting will you appreciate the importance of treading lightly and minimising your impact. You will also better understand how to make a positive contribution to wildlife conservation.

 

But this isn’t an isolated experience: just you and the great outdoors. Responsible travel is as deeply rooted in culture as it is in nature. Making a connection with local people, learning and sharing information, will not only enhance your wildlife holiday, but can also strengthen the vital links between community and conservation.

 

On this website there are numerous examples of how community-run lodges and other sustainable tourism projects not only support conservation efforts, but also give local people a financial incentive for safeguarding wildlife. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Rwanda where mountain gorilla tourism has made a huge difference to people living near Volcanoes National Park. Part of the revenue from gorilla tracking permits is channelled into community projects ranging from education to sanitation. Poachers now find employment as trackers, local livelihoods have diversified into everything from craft making to tour guiding, while lodges recruit staff from nearby villages. There’s an enormous sense of pride in the gorillas. Enough money spent by travellers remains in the pockets of local people for them to view the apes’ mountain stronghold as a wild refuge to be treasured and cared for – rather than something to be dug up and converted to farmland.

 

Without tourism, mountain gorillas would still be on a slippery slope towards extinction, rather than climbing steadily to over 1,000 individuals recorded in the latest censuses. There are countless other cases – from rhinos and tigers to whales and coral reefs – where tourism is joining the battle for conservation, if not being the ultimate guarantor of survival for an endangered species or habitat. 

 

When it comes to wildlife holidays, responsible tourism is not just an option – it should be considered an intrinsic part of the whole process.

Responsible Wildlife Travel Q&A

How does carbon offsetting work?


According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, ‘global atmospheric concentrations of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide have increased markedly as a result of human activities since 1750’. Carbon offsetting schemes allow you to offset greenhouse gas emissions by donating to various projects, from tree planting to renewable energy schemes. Although some conservation groups are concerned that carbon offsetting is being used as a smoke-screen to delay the urgent action needed to cut emissions and develop alternative energy solutions, it remains an important way of counterbalancing your carbon footprint. How does carbon offsetting work? For every tonne of CO2 you generate through a fossil fuel-burning activity such as flying, you pay for an equivalent tonne to be removed elsewhere through a ‘green’ initiative. There are numerous online carbon footprint calculators. Alternatively, book with a travel operator that supports a carbon offset provider. Where does my money go? As well as tree planting schemes, funds also go to climate-friendly technology projects, ranging from the provision of energy-efficient light bulbs and cookers in the developing world to large-scale renewable energy schemes such as wind farms. World Land Trust’s Carbon Balanced programme enables individuals and organisations to offset their residual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions through the protection and restoration of carbon-rich wildlife habitats in the tropics.




Should I swim with wild dolphins?


The Whale and Dolphin Conservation Societydoesn’t recommend wild dolphin swims. According to the charity, ‘it is very difficult to ensure that the encounter takes place on the dolphins’ terms and is not an intrusive or stressful experience.’ Reputable operators, however, insist that they do nothing to alter the cetacean’s natural behaviour and that it’s up to the dolphins if they want to approach and interact with people in the water. You should enter the water in a quiet, relaxed manner. Sound plays a crucial role in a cetacean’s life, so do not add your own noises to the complex medley of squeaks, clicks and whirrs that dolphins use during hunting and socializing. Snorkel at the surface, finning slowly and gently with your arms at your sides. Let the dolphins approach you. Never chase them or try to reach out and touch them. When free-diving, keep your actions smooth, slow and relaxed to avoid startling these powerful creatures.




Should I drive off-road?


All off-road drivers have a responsibility to choose routes with care. Not only is 4WD access to many national parks and conservation areas controlled by strict regulations, but some particularly fragile habitats, such as vegetated dunes, alpine meadows, wetlands, seasonal nesting areas and cryptobiotic soils (which form a living crust of lichen, moss, algae and micro organisms in some desert and tundra regions) are easily scarred by vehicle tracks and should be given a wide berth. The slower you drive the less environmental impact you’ll create in the form of erosion, dust and potential damage through accidents. Engage 4WD and use your low-range gearbox to maximize control. Stop frequently and scout ahead on foot for potential hazards. Where possible try to avoid mud where wheel spins can cause rutting. Ford rivers at designated points, make sure your vehicle is mechanically sound and check regularly for any leaks of oil, fuel or hydraulic fluids.




Should wilderness be sacred?


Purists would argue that wilderness areas should, by their very nature, be inviolate. Although no one in their right mind would advocate mass tourism to the world’s last wild frontiers, even the most eco-sensitive, small-scale tours leave human impressions. The fragile tundra of Arctic islands, for example, can become pockmarked with footprints by even a small cruiseship landing party, while some deserts have a similarly fragile crust. Any activity that potentially jeopardises the wilderness value of a region should be avoided. Needless to say, it doesn’t require much thought or effort to pack out refuse, stick to trails to minimize erosion and avoid contaminating water sources with waste. You can also choose a responsible operator. If Antarctica, the world’s greatest wilderness, is in your sights, be sure to book a trip with a member of the International Association of Antarctic Tour Operators (IAATO) which adheres to a strict environmental code.





Read the latest posts on Responsible Wildlife Travel

10 WAYS TO BE A RESPONSIBLE WILDLIFE TRAVELLER

When planning your wildlife holiday, read these 10 steps to minimise your impact on the environment, reduce your carbon emissions and support wildlife conservation and the livelihoods of local communities.

1. Cut your emissions

Plan an itinerary that minimises carbon emissions whenever possible. This might involve travelling by train, hiring a bike or booking a walking or canoeing tour rather than one that relies on vehicle transport. 

>> Visit the World Land Trust to find out more about offsetting your emissions. World Land Trust’s Carbon Balanced programme enables individuals and organisations to offset their residual greenhouse gas emissions through the protection and restoration of carbon-rich wildlife habitats in the tropics.

>> Visit seat61.com for worldwide train travel.

 

2. Check the small print

Choose wildlife travel operators that abide by a responsible travel policy (if they have one it will usually be posted on their website). All of the holiday operators listed on Wildlife Wishlist practise responsible travel, but it is also up to the individual traveller to make difference.

 

3. Keep it local

If travelling independently, try to use public transport, stay in locally owned accommodation, eat in local restaurants, buy local produce and hire local guides.

 

4. Cut out waste

Take biodegradable soap and shampoo and leave excess packaging, particularly plastics, at home. The countries you are visiting may not have the waste collection or recycling facilities to deal with it.

 

5. Get in touch

Find out if there are any local schools, charities or voluntary conservation organisations that you could include in your itinerary. If appropriate, take along some useful gifts or supplies.

>> stuffyourrucksack.com has a list of projects that could benefit from your support.

 

6. Learn the lingo

Practice some local words, even if it’s just to say ‘hello’, ‘thank you’ and ‘goodbye’. Respect local customs and dress codes and always ask permission before photographing people – including your wildlife tour guide. Once you get home, remember to honour any promises you’ve made to send photographs.

 

7. Avoid the crowds

Consider travelling out of season to relieve pressure on popular destinations, or visit a lesser-known alternative.

 

8. Take only photos

Resist the temptation to buy souvenirs made from animals or plants. Not only is it illegal to import or export many wildlife souvenirs, but their uncontrolled collection supports poaching and can have a devastating impact on local populations, upsetting the natural balance of entire ecosystems.

>> CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species bans international trade in around 900 species of animals and plants, and controls trade in a further 33,000 species. Several organisations, including WWF, TRAFFIC and the Smithsonian Institution have formed the Coalition Against Wildlife Trafficking.

>> According to the European Commission, the most commonly seized wildlife souvenirs are alligator and crocodile products, queen conch shells, coral jewellery and ornaments, boots, bags, belts, shoes and watch straps made from snake and lizard skins, traditional Asian medicines containing tiger bone, rhino horn, bear bile and musk, live plants such as cacti and orchids, shawls of shahtoosh (from the Tibetan antelope), turtles and tortoiseshell, elephant ivory, caviar, live or dead specimens of parrots, scorpions and reptiles and woodcarvings made from rare timber species.

 

9. Use water wisely

Water is a precious commodity in many countries. Treating your own water avoids the need to buy bottled water which can contribute to the build-up

of litter.

 

10. Don’t interfere

Avoid disturbing wildlife, damaging habitats or interfering with natural behaviour by feeding wild animals, getting too close or being too noisy. Leave plants and shells where you find them.

 

To fly or not to fly?

 

Flying is bad for the environment.​ If you need convincing, read the Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) report which provides compelling and sobering evidence. You may have already decided that many of the holidays on this website are ethically unjustifiable because they involve large amounts of greenhouse-gas-producing air travel. There is no denying that if you can keep your travel local and use less polluting forms of travel, such as trains, then you will have less impact on climate change. Throughout Wildlife Wishlist, we feature suggestions for 'slow travel' as often as we can (please send us your ideas).

 

We always urge you to carefully consider the impact of your carbon footprint and look for alternative, greener ways to travel where possible. If flying is the only realistic option, then offsetting the carbon generated by your flights is better than ignoring the issue. Whatever your views on carbon offsetting, the simple truth is that it does counterbalance your carbon footprint by funding schemes ranging from reforestation to clean energy. You can offset your emissions through the World Land Trust's Carbon Balanced programme – the carbon offsetting scheme recommended by Wildlife Wishlist. You can also visit www.chooseclimate.org/flying to see detailed information on the emissions for your proposed wildlife holiday, while www.co2balance.com compares emissions from various modes of travel.

Carbon offsetting by individual travellers is just one aspect of this complicated issue. If we demonise flying completely, we put at risk the livelihoods of millions of people who rely on ecotourism around the world – either directly through employment with lodges and tour operators, or indirectly through the partnerships these businesses have with local communities. Those who simply advocate 'stop flying' may unintentionally cause countless people to fall into unemployment or even poverty.

 

Tourist dollars also support wildlife conservation, through permits, park entry fees and the channelling of profits into everything from anti-poaching patrols to education and habitat restoration. You'll find countless examples on Wildlife Wishlist of environmentally responsible travel operators 'putting something back'. You have to ask yourself whether endangered species like the mountain gorilla and Bengal tiger would still be around today were it not for international tourism.

But, you might argue, what's the point of all this if runaway climate change (accelerated by growing air travel) leads to a collapse in biodiversity and other disaster events? People will settle on all sides of this argument – and there may come a time when flying is considered the 'new smoking'. Wildlife travellers, however, do have an opportunity to make a positive impact on places, people and wild animals. It comes with a responsibility to ensure that their environmental impact is minimised (through green travel, carbon offsetting etc).

 

But it should not be entirely down to the individual to make a difference. The price of a plane ticket should reflect the environmental cost of the flight. 

 

Airlines and governments urgently need to impose carbon taxes to fund greener, more efficient aviation technology, while increasing passenger duty to cut the forecasted growth of flights.

Responsible Travel: Anatomy of an Ecolodge

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Wildlife Wishlist was founded by zoologist, conservationist and award-winning travel writer and photographer William Gray. Sharing his passion for wildlife and recommendations for responsible travel, Will has spent around 30 years tracking down the world's best wildlife holiday experiences.

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