How You Can Help Save Endangered Destinations

Earlier this year, I told you about several destinations you should see before they disappear. Climate change, environmental destruction and a number of other issues were all threatening to ruin these travel sites, and in some cases (such as The Maldives) wipe them right off the map.

A lot of you responded with feelings of sadness and helplessness about the travel treasures we face losing. Some of you weren’t content to sit by and let these endangered destinations die – you wanted to know what you could do to save them. So to help you do just that, I’ve put together a list of resources and organizations where you can get involved and make a difference.

Fight Climate Change

When it comes to problems that are destroying our environment, climate change is a biggie. Two examples I gave you before were the melting snowcaps at Jungfrau, Switzerland, and the rising sea levels in The Maldives, but of course there are countless other victims, including Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and the flora and fauna in the Amazon rainforest.

One organization that has been tackling the problems caused by climate change is the Environmental Defense Fund. The charity pushes for clean energy policies and legislation that will lower carbon emissions. They also work with big companies to lessen their impact on the environment, and encourage other countries around the world to cap carbon pollution as well. If you want to support the cause, you can become a member of the organization, donate funds, sign petitions, or lobby your senator to take action.

Adopt A Polar Bear

Polar bears are dwindling in number fast as their icy home shrinks more and more every year. These creatures not only play an important role in the marine food chain but also in the culture and economy of people living in the arctic region.

The World Wildlife Fund is one of several groups working to save these animals from extinction. They do things like monitor polar bear populations, protect the animals from bears, and prevent oil and gas drilling in the local habitat. If you want to help save this animal from extinction you can get involved by writing a letter to congress or adopting a polar bear for as little as $25.

Conserve Important Art

When we think about travel sites that are disappearing, we don’t normally think of art. But many significant artworks around the world are in fact crumbling away – Da Vinci’s “Last Supper,” which I mentioned in my prior article, is among the more famous of them. In the Italian city of Venice, thousands of paintings are under threat. The city is home to the highest concentration of historic architecture in the world, but rising waters, sea salt and industrial pollution are pummeling the cultural treasures.

Organizations such as Save Venice have been helping to preserve the city’s landmarks and restore its artwork, and to date, they’ve tackled more than 400 projects. Those looking to get involved can become a member of the non-profit organization, make a donation, or choose a specific restoration project to adopt.

Save The Rainforests

Deforestation has been wiping out the planet’s rainforests at an alarming rate. Last time, I talked about the plight of Madagascar’s rainforest, which has shriveled to less than 20 percent of its original size.

The Wildlife Conservation Society has stepped in to try and stop further destruction of the country’s natural landscape. They’re teaching locals how to grow rice without slashing and burning the forest, creating tree nurseries and promoting ecotourism so locals have ways of earning a living without resorting to things like illegal logging. If you want to contribute, you can become a member of the WCS (which includes free access to a number of New York City’s zoos) or make a donation.

Preserve World Heritage Sites

Of the hundreds of travel sites that have been given World Heritage site status, 38 of them are considered to be in danger. Natural disasters, war and even out of control tourism have all taken a toll and threaten to obliterate these historical sites. If you have cash to contribute, the World Monument Fund is a good place to start. They’ve partnered with local communities and governments in more than 90 countries to save and restore cultural treasures.

However, if you really want to get your hands dirty and do something, then you might consider volunteering at a World Heritage center. There are volunteer projects across the globe, including diving along the Great Barrier Reef to help threatened coral, conserving the Medina of Fez in Morocco, and restoring archaeological sites in Tanzania, to name a few. If you want to take part, you need to apply well in advance and you will have to share some of the travel costs. But the good news is you don’t need any experience to get involved.

[Photo credit: Flickr users Peter Blanchard; Travel Manitoba; cowman345; Frank Vassen; Fighting Irish 1977]

New National Park In The Congo Will Protect Lowland Gorillas

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) is hailing the creation of a new national park in the Republic of Congo as a major step towards protecting western lowland gorillas. The park, which was officially created on December 28 of last year, is believed to be the home of more than 15,000 of the creatures, which have been on the “critically endangered” list for many years.

Located in the northern region of the country, the Ntokou-Pikounda National Park spreads out over 1765 square miles. The interior of the forest is said to be so dense that explorer J. Michael Fay, who spent 455 days walking across the region back in 1999, once called it a “green abyss.” The lush rainforest is the perfect place for the gorillas to make their home, however, and they share the new preserve with an estimated 8000 elephants and nearly a thousand chimpanzees – two other species who face extinction as well.

Because the park is still so new, there isn’t a significant tourism infrastructure built up around the destination just yet. But the region is home to a number of small villages and towns, which hope to see a boost to the local economies in the future. Tourism dollars have been used effectively in nearby Rwanda and Uganda to not only improve conditions for the people that live there, but also fund conservation efforts for gorillas and other animals.

When the WCS visited the Republic of Congo back in 2008 they were surprised to find a population of 125,000 gorillas living in remote regions there. But the species continues to come under threat from increased deforestation, illegal poaching and the Ebola virus, which has been known to decimate gorilla populations. The creation of this new park should help ensure that the lowland gorillas that live there will have a measure of protection for the future.

[Photo Credit: Fred Hsu via WikiMedia]

Saving elephants in Chad

Central Africa is one of the last regions with a sizable population of African elephant, but their numbers are only a fraction of what they used to be. In Zakouma National Park in Chad there are an estimated 600 elephants. Twenty years ago there were 40,000.

Zakouma takes up 3,000 square kilometers of savanna in southern Chad and has populations of elephants, giraffes, lions, cranes, and other animals. It’s the number one tourist destination in the country and the government is trying to preserve the wildlife for the sake of the tourist industry

Nomadic tribes passing through the region hunt the elephants with AK-47s. Ivory sells for about $40 a kilo in Chad, a country where the average annual income is $530. In other words, one good tusk is worth a year’s wages. The ivory is exported to more developed nations for jewelry or folk medicines, especially China.

Armed guards patrol the park, but it’s a huge area to cover and poachers won’t hesitate to murder them if they get in the way. Ten guards have been killed defending the elephants. Now there are about seventy guards in the park and they’ve been given new training and weapons. The Wildlife Conservation Society helps out by monitoring the elephant populations, and giving monetary support and air reconnaissance. Like the Giraffe Conservation Foundation in Niger, an NGO and the government of a developing country are working together to save some of Africa’s most amazing wildlife. I hope they succeed. My four-year-old loves elephants and I want them to still be around when he’s my age.

Photos of the park and conservation efforts can be seen here.

Safaris in Kenya hurt by drought

Safaris in Kenya are being impacted by a three year drought that has dessicated the landscape and killed many animals.

In Samburu National Reserve, elephants are dying for lack of food and other species such a zebra and crocodiles are also suffering. Some are moving out of the area and away from visitor’s eyes in search of water. Local herders are hurting too as they have to search harder to find forage for their herds. This has led to increased poaching as locals struggle to feed their families.

The arid grassland of Samburu National Reserve does not have sufficient ground water to handle a long-term drought and much of the land has dried up and become sand. As one of Kenya’s lesser-known reserves, it usually offers abundant wildlife and a less crowded safari experience. Safaris are still taking place, but visitors will be getting a hard lesson in the fragility of the environment along with their pictures of beautiful animals.

Kenyan safari lets travelers become lion researchers

An African safari is a seminal travel experience. Early morning game drives, amazing wildlife, beautiful sunsets over the savannah, they’re all part of the experience. But tour operator Gamewatchers Safaris is offering something even more unique with a new option for travelers to take part in actual lion research while on their vacation in Kenya.

The nine-day adventure begins with a trip to Joy’s Camp, where famous naturalist and author Joy Adamson did research of her own with her equally famous lioness pal Elsa. Adamson’s story became a world wide phenomenon thanks to the book and film Born Free, and visitors will have the opportunity to wander the same territory, while helping modern day researchers track radio collared lions and observe their behavior. They’ll actually have the opportunity to interact with scientists and conservationists as they go about their work, while getting an upclose look at these beautiful predators. And after seven days in Joy’s Camp, it’s off too the Maasai Mara, on the northern Serengeti, where travelers will spend another three days at Porini Camp, observing more lions, as well as plenty of other wildlife, such as zebras, elephants, and wildebeest.

Over the past twenty years, the lion population in Africa has declined by an estimated 30-50%, and scientists have struggled to understand exactly why. While on this safari, travelers will have an opportunity to contribute to the research being done to solve this mystery, and perhaps even begin to turn the trend around. Besides helping to conduct research however, 5% of the cost of the trip will also be donated to the research program being conducted by Ecotourism at it’s best, with travelers giving something back to ensure that future generations can enjoy the same experiences.