The prospect of seeing exotic animals in the wild is the reason many travelers long to visit far-off countries. But it's human interaction -- to varying degrees -- that's leading to the extinction of these very animals. If you weren't already aware of the crisis surrounding African elephants, the outpouring of grief over the recent poaching of the beloved Satao, one of the biggest elephants in the world, has made the situation clear.
Each year, at least 33,000 elephants are killed for ivory; a trade is primarily driven by a growing demand in Asia, particularly China. If the killing continues at this pace, the African elephant could be extinct within 10 years. You can help by boycotting products that contain ivory (it's illegal to sell it in the United States) and by supporting organizations such as Tsavo Trust, Save the Elephants, and the Elephant Crisis Fund. National Geographic also suggests contacting the Chinese Foreign Trade Management Department Economic Service to demand the country end its use of ivory. If you're planning to travel to Africa, one of the best ways to protect the elephants is by booking a safari that visits community wildlife conservancies. Those that do include Big Five Tours, Austin-Lehman Adventures, andBeyond, and National Geographic Expeditions.
Here are three other ways that the travel industry is helping to protect threatened species -- and how you can be a part of it.
Rhino Notching and Translocation with andBeyond
Also fuelled by the increasing demand for ivory, poaching of rhino is a growing problem throughout Africa. In 2013, there were 1,004 rhino found dead (although the actual number is probably much higher); in 2012, South Africa lost 668 rhinos, and, in November 2013, the western black rhino was declared extinct. Luxury travel operator andBeyond has a guest-funded program at their Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa that allows them to keep track of the rhinos to check on their wellbeing and protect them from poachers. Guests can participate in locating and darting a specific rhino from the air and join a team of conservationists while they capture data from the sleeping animal. An experience like this does not come cheap: The cost is around $3,600 for a white rhino, and a three-night minimum stay is required.
Additionally, through its Rhinos Without Borders program, andBeyond has announced that for 2015 they will translocate 100 rhino in an effort to conserve the species. The company will collaborate with Great Plains to provide a safe haven for the rhino through Botswana’s security system. Translocations like this will be fundamental to securing the ongoing survival of the species. Last year, in an anti-poaching effort, andBeyond successfully translocated six white rhino from Phinda Private Game Reserve in South Africa to the Okavango Delta in Botswana in the first ever private donation of animals to another country. The rhino have acclimated, and one has even given birth to a calf.
Partners in the Sky
For the past year, scientists at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute have been working with aviation and aerospace companies, including Airbus and United, to launch the Partners in the Sky program. The program aims to create a first-of-its-kind global animal tracking system to monitor the migratory activity of animals -- and could discover unknown migration routes, help better understand the spread of infectious diseases, combat poaching, and, ultimately, save species from extinction.
While migrations are common among more than 6,000 animal species, more than 90 percent of the globe’s wildlife is too small to track. For larger species like elephants, conservation-tracking technologies are prohibitively expensive. United Airlines will help to overcome these obstacles by mounting radio receiver antennae on its planes to pick up signals from smaller, cheaper animal tags. Partners in the Sky is working to get the tags down to a weight of just 0.15 gram, suitable for smaller creatures. United will then help to gather data as they cruise the lower atmosphere, tracking previously untrackable vanishing species like the American Wood Thrush or monarch butterfly. And, because of the low cost of the smaller devices, funds are freed up for bigger devices for bigger creatures.
Shark Tagging at the Westin Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale
Guests of The Westin Beach Resort & Spa, Fort Lauderdale have the opportunity to help scientists and researchers on a shark tagging expedition available during select weekends throughout the summer, beginning July 25-27. The expedition is a collaboration with Nova Southeastern University’s Oceanographic Center, the Guy Harvey Foundation, and the Guy Harvey Research Institute.
On the five-hour shark tagging expedition, participants help put fishing equipment together, bait hooks, and place gear in the water. Once a shark is caught and brought onto the boat by the research team, guests will be able to measure and tag the animal and collect samples before the shark is released safely back into the waters. A two-night shark tagging experience starts at $249 per night, and a portion of the proceeds benefiting the Oceanographic Center. Use the rate plan SHKTAG when booking.