Where to see wildlife responsibly
By Martha Hales
Wildlife watching is often the highlight of exploring a new destination, and reveals so much more about your surroundings than simply passing through. Knowledgeable guides can shed new light on your experience when they share their detailed observations and wisdom of the environment, and you gain personal insight and a more tangible connection to a location by sharing it with wildlife for an extended period.
An interest in wildlife viewing suggests a love of the natural world and a desire to protect unique species and habitats for future generations to enjoy. As awareness of environmental concerns increases and the challenges we face as guardians of our planet are becoming ever more pressing, so the need to prioritise travelling responsibly intensifies. Generally, the most ethically sound way to see wildlife is in its natural habitat in the wild.
Consider yourselves a key part of the important struggle to protect and conserve the natural world. Your tourist cash brings with it the power of change, and where you spend it matters. One of the most significant threats to wildlife is habitat destruction, when land is cleared or inhabited in order for people with no other options to make a living. But if a better living can be made by conserving nature and attracting visitors to see it, habitat destruction will be reduced.
One of the key factors in successful conservation efforts is the involvement of local communities in initiatives, and this is a good indicator that authorities are approaching wildlife tourism responsibly. Visiting and understanding local communities is an important way to deepen your knowledge of your chosen destination, and often gives you the visitor a more balanced oversight of the local situation and all its complexities, as well as deepening your connection with your hosts and their culture.
There are other considerations to bear in mind when you enjoy a wildlife holiday, such as speaking up should a guide or driver bend the rules of distance and disturbance to get their party closer to the target wildlife; and the importance of avoiding any wildlife experience that doesn’t have a good reputation for animal well-being. With the on-the-ground knowledge of our trusted local experts to rely on, these are pitfalls that you are unlikely to come across, as they all promote responsible wildlife holidays and avoid activities which are ethically unsound.
Here are some of our favourite destinations where the wildlife viewing opportunities are fantastic, and which are known for their responsible travel credentials.
India is home to over 70% of the world’s wild tiger population, and many reserves use tourism as a powerful force in support of their conservation efforts. Protected areas such as Ranthambore National Park in Rajasthan, Bandhavgarh National Park in Madhya Pradesh and the Sundarbans Tiger Reserve in West Bengal are all administered by responsible authorities who place a strong emphasis on education and habitat protection. Highly qualified guides and rangers make your tiger safari into an educational experience, and can point out other exciting wildlife while you move around the parks, all of which are excellent for birdwatching.
In rapidly developing India these protected territories are also important for environmental reasons, reducing flood risks, and improving air quality. When travelling in India, never get involved with any tiger petting experiences as this kind of human interaction compromises the animal’s ability to be reintroduced into the wild.
A true front-runner in the responsible wildlife tourism rankings, the Galapagos Archipelago has been on the UNESCO world heritage list since 1978. The pristine environment and all the wildlife it contains are a finely balanced entity and careful management is key.
The authorities have established several well thought out strategies which help to ensure the wildlife is respected and protected, including a cap on the number and size of boats, with certain islands only visitable by the smaller craft.
Guides are compulsory and must be local - bringing that all important community involvement into the picture - and biosecurity measures have been implemented to eradicate the risk of invasive species arriving with visitors from overseas. Galapagos adventures are likely to bring you into contact with many famous endemic species, but the rule is to maintain a distance of two metres from any wildlife you come across.
A standout destination for its successful anti-poaching measures and sustainable tourism credentials, Nepal has a number of national parks and reserves where wildlife watching by paying guests is creating a positive impact which directly involves local communities. You can read more about their conservation and anti poaching initiatives here.
For the best opportunity to see large creatures in the wild, Nepal’s lowland parks are the best option. Chitwan National Park is the best known, and famously harbours a thriving population of Indian rhino, as well as an impressive range of birds, some shy Bengal tigers, and even leopards and jackals. Elephants, langurs and gharials (similar to crocodiles) are commonly seen, and you may also spot a sloth bear or an antelope.
Bardia National Park is another great wildlife destination, with the benefit of lower footfall and a more authentic wilderness experience. The habitat and roster of species is similar to Chitwan, with jungles and wetlands to discover, and statistically Bardia is the best place to see Bengal tigers in Nepal.
The call of the wild is strong in Africa, and with the most amazing wildlife living in some of the planet’s most beautiful wildernesses, it’s not surprising that for many people an African safari is the pinnacle of wildlife experiences. To safari responsibly, keep the local communities at the forefront of your mind when planning. Look for one of the ever-growing number of conservancies adjoining national parks, where community involvement is transforming the face of safari holidays for the better.
Conservancies are areas of land which are owned by local communities who have control over how they wish to manage the land. Some rent out their land to companies which run safaris or lodges, providing a reliable income that benefits all stakeholders, and some have built lodges to manage themselves. Spending time with communities learning a little about their ways of life and traditional heritage can add a really interesting and memorable angle to your trip, as well as making a positive impact on conservation of the fantastic wildlife. To find out more about the African safari options that TravelLocal offers, read our article on our favourite safari destinations.
The rare and endangered mountain gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda are a conservation success story, and arguably it is tourism that has enabled such success. Several groups of gorillas are habituated and permits to spend a precious hour in their company are issued on a very limited basis.
The cost of gorilla trekking is high, but the fee is carefully invested to ensure the gorilla population continues to grow. The low numbers of permits issued ensures that the gorillas are never over exposed to people, and much work is done to direct part of the funds raised back into local communities.
This investment has ensured that the population who would have once needed to encroach on the gorillas limited habitat can now survive and thrive without the need to do so. Rwanda and Uganda offer plenty of other enticing wildlife activities, and you can enjoy a traditional safari experience as well as taking part in gorilla trekking.
It’s all about the avian and marine fauna in the Falklands. There are huge colonies of birds in these islands, and very little human influence, meaning that the wildlife is rarely disturbed even by the keenest of observers. Visitors can enjoy the solitude of nature without many (or any!) fellow humans around to disturb the enjoyment of truly wild wildlife.
Whether you are interested in the huge numbers of sea birds, the five resident species of penguins, or indeed the numerous marine mammals that live on the shores, you can rest assured that the Falkland Islands put conservation at the top of its agenda.
To find out more you can drop in and have a look at the HQ of Falklands Conservation, a charitable body which oversees the many initiatives in and around the archipelago which have been set up to monitor various bird populations and safeguard their habitats. They also carry out vital research into, among other things, migratory whales who periodically visit the islands. You are encouraged to get close to the wildlife in the Falklands as long as you maintain a respectful distance.
Make it happen
Get your wildlife fix safe in the knowledge that you are keeping the best interests of the creatures and communities that have an involvement in your adventure right at the top of your priorities. Responsible, sustainable wildlife tourism plays a vital part in the conservation of species and their habitats all over the world, so you can book your next wildlife trip with peace of mind. To find out more and browse some sample itineraries, click on the links in the text above. To speak to someone in the TravelLocal office please call +44 (0)117 325 7898.