Eco-Tourism: warming souls and giving back
Travellers looking for more than a memorable vacation experience are turning to eco-tourism as a popular ‘feel good’ holiday option. Eco-tourism is defined as responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment and improves the well-being of local people. And it’s a popular pastime for many!
A heart-warming example: primates in their natural habitat
Of the variety of experiences on offer, a visit with our primate cousins - the gorillas in Rwanda and Uganda and the orangutans in Borneo and Sumatra - stand out as being very ‘feel good’ options.
Rwanda and Uganda’s Mountain Gorillas
Rwanda is well known for its mountain gorillas. First brought to international attention by the conservation efforts of Dian Fossey in the 1960s and 70s, Rwanda’s gorillas have featured in the film about her work - Gorillas in the Mist - and numerous documentaries.
The Volcanoes National Park in the northwest of Rwanda forms part of the Virunga Mountains, a chain of active and inactive volcanoes. Together with the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest in Uganda, around 40 km away, these are the only habitats on earth where mountain gorillas live.
To see the mountain gorillas, you need to buy a permit in advance of your visit from the Rwanda Tourism Board.
There are eight gorilla groups ranging in size from less than 10 individuals to over 40 open to tourists on the Rwandan side of the park. Less than 100 people get permits each day.
Almost half of the remaining mountain gorillas on earth inhabit the impenetrable Bwindi National Park. This makes Bwindi a very important region for tours in Uganda.
Borneo and Sumatra’s orangutans
For an adventure closer to home, a trip to South East Asia offers a glimpse of the life of the famed ‘People of the Forest’.
Orangutans are only found in Borneo and on the island of Sumatra. These are the only Great Ape species, apart from humans, surviving on this side of the world. Chimps, Bonobos and Gorillas never left Africa.
Tourists can experience a close encounter with semi-wild orangutans at rehabilitation centres and sanctuaries in Sarawak, Kalimantan and Sabah. The sanctuaries aim to return orphaned, injured or displaced Orangutans back in to the wild.
Observing free living wild orangutans whose very existence provides a living window into our not-so-distant forest-bound past can be a life-altering experience. We share 96% of the same genetic code and have a recent ancestor in common just 10-14 million years ago when our evolutionary paths ‘diverged’.
A percentage of all gorilla tourism income is returned to conservation and community building projects.
Orangutan tourism gives back to our tree living relatives while helping the local human communities find alternative sources of income.
As tourist numbers increase, there’s the potential for more donations and more support for the conservation work that’s being done in these areas. It also means the locals can see the tourism benefit from the primates and are more likely to focus on that than palm oil.
One of the spin off benefits from this is the conservation of rain forest habitats – which benefits us all.