The question of how to save endangered animals is one that cannot wait. Yet unlike many aspects of sustainable tourism, this is a problem with a pleasant solution.
It’s amazing how much you think about space when do you don’t have any any more. When you’re cramped on a train. Pressed tight in a crowd.
Or peculiarly, when faced with such a wide expanse of natural space, of incredible beauty, that you cannot venture into unarmed.
Now, right now, as I’m typing this out in Kenya I’m overlooking such a magnificent expanse of land. Plucky acacia scratches at the red earth…and yet it’s not safe to step out alone.
This is lion country. And leopard. Rhinos, elephants and herds of angry buffalo.
I can’t see them. But they're there.
And it’s only a matter of space that keeps them from me (plus an armed and responsible team of rangers, my fluttering heart likes to say.)
But even these great creatures have problems of space.
Despite the hills and the mountains that lead from Sasaab to the lush green gardens at the foothills of the Aberdare mountains, space is a problem here in East Africa.
Space for a growing population. And space for the animals that every school child loves to name name.
The destruction of essential habitats is one way in which a species becomes endangered. Poaching is another.
Rhinos I knew were in trouble. Tigers too.
But elephants? And lions?
Both are predicted to become extinct by 2025. As in, five years from now.
Like the great space before me, it’s hard to take in.
The survival of these species matters more than just having cool things to look at. As shark conservationist Mike Rutzen explained, the survival of the animals at the top of the food chain reflects the health of the ecosystem beneath it.
In other words, we’re all in trouble without our sharp-toothed friends.
So, I’ve been asking experts across the world what we can do to help.
And here's the response.
"Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world." Nelson Mandela.
Which animals are endangered? What is their biggest threat? Why is that happening and what is the biggest intervention that would help?
Act Today: Sign up to at least one service to keep yourself better informed.
Spread the word with facts not just fuzzy feelings. It's one thing to teach, another to preach. In general, people don't respond well to lectures :-)
Act Today: Share the information you just learned. It's easier than ever before now in the era of social media. But talking to people works as well as it ever did.
Just don't buy the ivory or the tiger parts. There. Easy enough! But it's nowhere near as effective as the next part... And that's nowhere near as important as the 5th and final one. Are you ready?
Act Today: Do nothing! Feel good about it :-) OK, boycotts are a little strange and feel like a cheat but they're still worth mentioning.
Look, to get serious stuff done, you need serious people doing serious things. Things like lobbying governments, conducting robust research that spans decades, sharing said research in a peer-reviewed setting and implementing international agreements.
That's not so easy to do. But it is easy enough to donate to the organisations that do it on your behalf.
I'm building a robust list of international and hyperlocal groups (bearing in mind that no-one's perfect.) Check back soon for the update.
And now for the best part...
Act today: donate to an organisation because sometimes organised activity is necessary.
"It's all about the money, honey."
Look. It's so, so easy for someone sat comfortably in a luxury hotel to look at a cute looking animal and despair about the threat of extinction.
Just stop hunting! Just stop poaching!
But, clearly, the issue is a lot more complicated than that.
In many of the areas where animals are under threat, the local people are under threat too. And let's be honest, how many of us would choose between seeing our children starve or be sold vs breaking a law that protects endangered species.
That's why punitive legislation can only be part of the solution. Boycotts can only be part of the solution.
Did You Know?
At Giraffe Manor, giraffes swoop their heads through guest bedroom windows if they're curious. It's part of a project to save the critically endangered Rothschild giraffe.
Tying in with the whole premise of sustainable tourism, the aim should be to find a way of making it worth people's while to protect these animals here and now, not just in an abstract future they may never manage to reach.
And tourism is expertly placed to make it happen. It is the biggest industry on earth and directly, physically reaches into many of the areas affected.
Time and time again, I hear the same message: go on safari with reputable companies. Ones that treat the environment well, treat people well and treat the animals well.
In other words, make it clear to anyone who takes just the flitter of a passing interest that these animals are worth more alive than dead.
And that they, like everyone else…need space.
Act Today: Go on safari. But make it a reputable one.
Make animals more valuable alive than dead. The message remains the same, whether talking to safari tour operators, ecologists, locals or the WWF.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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