Conserving Indian Wildlife: Protecting the Future & Preserving the Past

Try to envision a world without wildlife. Due to the number of animals becoming endangered because of killings, trading, loss of habitat, deforestation and disease, chances are this thought may turn into a reality. However, thanks to concrete steps undertaken by governmental bodies and various individual organizations, it has also become a possibility, like never before, to conserve wildlife and prevent mass extinction.

Wildlife Conservation Efforts in India

India is an enchanting country profuse with wildlife. With so many species of flora and fauna, it becomes imperative to protect endangered wildlife as this is the heritage of this incredible country. Not only does the diversity of wildlife enhance the natural splendor of nature, but if it becomes extinct, will be a great loss to India as they also play an important role in supporting its living systems.

The government and various NGO’s have devised various strategies and started many projects to shield endangered species:

  • Project Tiger: The population of the tiger is certainly shrinking all over the world and with an objective to prevent the tigers from extinction; ‘Project Tiger’ was launched by the Indian government in the year 1973. The main idea behind launching such a project was to create the wildlife reserves in the various parts of the country where the tigers can be protected from the hunters and their numbers could be increased through breeding.
  • Project Elephant: The numbers of the Asian elephant are decreasing alarmingly and taking this situation into the account, the Government of India and Ministry of Environment and Forests started ‘Project Elephant’ in the year 1992. The main objective of initiating this project is to offer the necessary technical and monetary help to the various states to protect and increase the population of the elephants.
  • Wildlife Protection Act: The Wildlife Protection Act was formulated in the year 1972 and restricted hunting of the animals in the protected areas.

Creating National Parks and Wildlife Sanctuaries

Over the years, the government has created wildlife sanctuaries and national parks in India to conserve wildlife. The parks contain different species of flora and fauna that captivates the attention of the people. Some of the parks contain fencing that prevents poachers from entering and hunting the animals. Many tourists throng the sanctuaries to witness the wildlife playing and roaming freely without any fear. Some of the well-known parks and sanctuaries are as follows:

  • Sariska Wildlife Sanctuary, Rajasthan
  • Bandhavgarh National Park, Madhya Pradesh
  • Kanha National Park, Madhya Pradesh
  • Kaziranga National Park, Assam
  • Corbett National Park, Uttar Pradesh
  • Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary, Kerala

Therefore, best steps and plans must be employed to protect every species so that the next generation of Indians can cherish the natural heritage of their country in all its enchanting glory.

About the Author

Anshul is a wildlife enthusiast and blogger who likes to travel to different national parks and wildlife sanctuaries all over the globe.

A Billion Baby Turtles

If you’ve watched Animal Planet you know that odds are generally working against sea turtles.

From the moment an egg is deposited in a sandy nest on a tropical beach, to the first time a baby turtle touches the sea, to decades later when she returns as an adult to lay her own eggs on very same beach, life is an endless series of life-and-death challenges for a sea turtle.

Nature is stacked against survival, which is why a mother turtle lays thousands of eggs during her lifetime in order to simply replace herself. Predators include dozens of species of crabs, beetles, ants, birds, fish, and sharks. Jaguars, pigs, wild dogs, and raccoons are even on the list of turtle eaters.

For millions of years, sea turtles handled it all just fine.

Yet, when you add modern humans to the mix, the balance suddenly tipped towards oblivion. Over the past century all seven species of sea turtle and their eggs have been hunted, carved, and eaten to the point that many populations are considered vulnerable to extinction. Getting caught accidentally in fishing nets and on hooks just adds to their woes. Throw in plastic pollution, boat collisions, and runaway coastal development on their nesting beaches and you’ve got a situation requiring intervention on a global scale.

But this isn’t a bad news story. That’s because over the past several decades a massive global network of sea turtle scientists, advocates, conservationists, and even lawyers has evolved to work day and night to bring them back. These heroes have been literally working around the clock, saving one egg-—one baby turtle-—at a time. At other times they’ll invest months to rehabilitate a single adult animal before returning it to the ocean. Every turtle released into the ocean is a moment of joy for everyone involved. It never gets old.

Think about it—while you sleep tonight, thousands of scientists, technicians and volunteers are saving sea turtles on the beaches of the world.

These projects are run on “Turtle Time.” Slow, steady, and tenacious wins the race. It takes as long as twenty-five years for a turtle to reach maturity, and return on that turtle-y kind of investment can come slowly.

Turtle people are above all patient and hard working. Many projects have been steadily protecting turtles for more than thirty years. Their work is paying off. Some turtle populations are now on the rise after nose-diving to near extinction before that.

The Black Sea Turtle Project in Michoacan, Mexico celebrated its thirtieth anniversary this year and is experiencing its best season since its inception after watching the numbers of nesting female turtles bounce along the bottom of the graph for a decade.

Its sister project, Grupo Tortuguero, working to safeguard black turtles in feeding grounds a thousand miles away in Baja, is turning fifteen in January.

Turtle hunters and poachers in Mexico have had a change of heart and are now turtle protectors and guides. Everyone reports seeing more sea turtles in the ocean and on the beaches.

Now is not the time to let up, though. To get sea turtles back to their former abundance and to restore their ecological role in the ocean this is just half time.

We know exactly what to do. We just need to continue to execute the game plan.

Along with my friends Brad Nahill at SEEtheWILD and Fabien Cousteau at Plant a Fish, we came up with the idea of the Billion Baby Turtles, an initiative to help support groups working on the sea turtle front lines. To make a million more adult turtles we need a billion more baby turtles. It’s a one in a thousand situation out there, roughly speaking.

By creatively connecting individuals and small businesses with grassroots projects working to increase sea turtle production, we are helping overcome donor fatigue, burn out, and other second half challenges.

In the coming years we will collaborate widely to further expand the global sea turtle tribe, widen the base of donors through micro-philanthropy, and throw our support behind the men and women working for turtles on the front lines in their coastal communities around the world.

Forty years ago sea turtle pioneer, Dr. Archie Carr, described what it would take to save sea turtles.

“In the long run, marine turtles, like the seas themselves, will be saved only by wholehearted international cooperation at the government level. While waiting for it to materialize, the critical tactical needs seem to me to be three in number: more sanctuaries, more research, and a concerted effort by all impractical, visionary, starry-eyed, and anti-progressive organizations, all little old ladies in tennis shoes, and all persons able to see beyond the ends of their noses…”

That is almost legendary substance.

While high-level official negotiations continue, and the large agencies and organizations fight for pro-ocean and pro-turtle policies, why don’t we all do our small part for sea turtles?

A billion baby sea turtles?


Why don’t YOU lead one to the water?

Three Ecotourism Hot Spots in Malaysia: Dolphins, Marine Turtles, Elephants

This article was first published by our friends at WHL Group, who have agreed to its republication here. View original article on The Travel Word
By Oshin Chin

Malaysia is a hard-to-rival ecotourism destination. And now, through a combination of charismatic animal species and government programs to protect them, several areas of Malaysia have found a way to regulate and harness tourism as a positive force for animal conservation. Whether it’s dolphins, monkeys, turtles or elephants you’re hoping to encounter (and maybe even help), Malaysia is the place to be.

The Irrawaddy Dolphins of Sarawak

Sarawak, the largest state in Malaysia, is well regarded as a hot spot for Irrawaddy dolphins (known to locals as pesut). The Irrawaddy dolphins’ unusual features are its blunt, rounded head with a flexible neck, an indistinct and almost non-existent beak, a small triangular dorsal fin with a blunt tip and its long broad flippers. Irrawaddy dolphins usually swim in groups of two to six, but in Santubong and Buntal, larger groups of more than 30 have been sighted.

Since the Irrawaddy dolphin is a protected species in Sarawak, the local government has created dolphin-watching programs to control tourism and limit the number of visitors. Unfortunately, Irrawaddy dolphins are still facing great risk of extinction due to human encroachment. The biggest threat of all is entanglement in fishing nets. Dolphin-watching season runs from April to November, but due to unpredictable weather, sightings are not frequent. It is therefore best to combine a dolphin watching tour with a mangrove cruise that offers the opportunity to see a wide range of rare wildlife such as Borneo’s famed proboscis monkey.

The Marine Turtles of Talang-Satang National Park

Sarawak’s first marine national park, Talang-Satang, comprises four islands on the southeast coast of Sarawak. These four “Turtle Islands” are responsible for 95 percent of all the turtle landings in Sarawak. Talang-Satang National Park covers approximately 48,000 acres, including beautiful shallow reef areas surrounding the four islands. The park also includes a wildlife sanctuary, important nesting sites and fish-breeding areas, as well as rare species of hard and soft corals. Most importantly, though, it provides shelter and resting ground for sea turtles.

Marine turtles are amongst the world’s longest-living creatures with many reaching more than 100 years of age. Marine turtles will only start breeding at between 30 and 50 years of age and the females usually produce eggs only once every four or five years. They also do not lay eggs on just any beach. They will migrate back to their beach of birth, which sometimes can be more than 3,000 kilometres away. Their ability to find their way back to that particular beach, deftly navigating across an ocean world of deadly predators, is considered to be one of the greatest exploits in the animal kingdom.

The peak nesting season for turtles is from April to September. Due to the decline in turtle populations and deliberate poaching of turtles’ eggs, meat and shells, Sarawak Forestry has created a conservation program involving the local communities. As part of the project, turtle eggs are removed from the nests and placed in guarded hatcheries from which young hatchlings are released at night to reduce losses from predators.

In addition, some are tagged with radio tracking devices to learn more about their ecology and life cycle. Pulau Satang Besar, the largest of the four Turtle Islands, is open to visitors, but conservation takes top priority over tourism. In fact, parts of the island and surrounding sea are off-limit to visitors.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is situated in Pahang, 160 kilometres from Kuala Lumpur City. To get there, take the Karak Highway toward Lancang. Before reaching the elephant sanctuary, you pass through the Che’ Wong Orang Asli (aborigines) settlement, the last tribe of its kind in Malaysia.

Gandah Elephant Sanctuary was set up in 1989 and is managed by the Department of Wildlife and National Parks Malaysia. Its main objective is to continue locating, subduing and then relocating wild elephants to a bigger and safer jungle reserve when their natural habitat is being encroached upon by human development. It is estimated that only 1,200 wild Asian elephants are left in Malaysia, and Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary is the only conservation centre that provides safe sanctuary for these elephants rescued from all over the Malaysian Peninsula.

Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary also looks after orphaned elephants to ensure their continued survival. At present the sanctuary houses a number of elephants brought in from Thailand, India and Myanmar. These elephants are trained and used in the process of translocating wild elephants found in problem areas throughout Malaysia. The sanctuary strives to promote public awareness of the elephants’ plight in Malaysia and to educate the public on the importance of habitat and environmental preservation. Visitors are welcomed to join the elephant activities throughout the year and take part in one-of-a-kind adventures.

About the Author: Oshin Chin

Of Chinese descent and married to a Malay from Sarawak, Oshin and her husband have been living the nomadic life for ten years. They’ve resided in Australia, Holland, Malaysia, and currently call Brunei home. Oshin joined MegaBorneo four months ago where she works on media and PR. She’s always staying active with swimming, running, cycling, trekking, marathons, duathlons, and netball.

Australia is one of the world’s most diverse natural places!

The earth is a remarkable, exciting place, packed full of animals and plants. It is estimated that the world has 5,400+ mammals, 10.000+ species of birds, 10,000+ reptiles (and growing), 7,300+ amphibians, 950,000+ insects and around 310,000 species of higher plants.

But did you know that most of these can be found in 12 countries? These 12 are the Mega-diverse Nations (1).

12 megadiverse nations


Australia (where you can play online pokies at brands like Fair go casino), Brazil, China, Colombia, Congo (DR Congo), Ecuador, India, Indonesia, Madagascar, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru together hold 60-70% of the world’s species.

Many of these nations are home to a host of endemic species – that is, species that occur nowhere else. Australia is home to 210 endemic mammals (5% of the world’s total), 355 endemic birds, 616+ endemic reptiles (nearly 10% of the world’s total reptiles) and 14,458 endemic plants.

Unfortunately, many of these countries are also on the UN list of the worst forest-clearing nations (2).

Worst nations for deforestation


The worst land-clearing nations on earth are, in order (in bold are the countries that are also the mega-diverse nations):

Brazil, Indonesia, Sudan, Zambia, Mexico, Australia, Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Zimbabwe, Argentina, Peru, Cote d’Ivoire, Malaysia, Cameroon, Venezuela, Colombia, Bolivia, Ecuador and Angola.

Aussies, unlike most of these countries, we are a developed wealthy economy. Why are we still cutting down forest that is home to a world-class fauna and flora diversity?



Photo Story: Twelve Scenes from Patagonia’s Most Threatened Terrain

Aysén is Chile’s third-largest region, about the size of Tennessee, and the most sparsely populated. It’s among the most remote and undisturbed areas of Patagonia, and could be changed forever by the largest hydroelectric project in the history of Chile. This is not just another forest. This is the largest river in Chile. These are among the most powerful rapids on the planet. These are the wildest and most pristine rivers within the wildest and most pristine area left on earth.

If the five proposed dams are built along the Baker and Pascua rivers, about 15,000 acres of these Patagonian lands will be underwater, gone. A 400-foot-wide swath will be cut across 1,500 miles – equal to the west coast of the United States. The 200-foot-tall transmission lines will bisect 64 communities and 14 protected areas. Once in place, the transmission lines will provide incentive to build even more dams to produce greater energy at lower cost.

There are a lot of numbers involved in this discussion. But the most telling evidence is seen in pictures like these twelve scenes below, courtesy of iLCP (The International League of Conservation Photographers), taken for their RAVE campaign to show just what will be lost forever if the dams are built.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
1. The site of the headwaters of the Rio Pascua where 3 dams are proposed. Before the rapids, the river widens, framing a lake with a view of Mt. Krueger and the Genelas (Twin) peaks in the distance. A tiny tributary winds its way toward the Kreuger range and the main stem of the rive

Juan Jose Soto (age 4) playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins
2. Juan Jose Soto, age 4, playing in the icy glacial waters of Lake O’Higgins. The dams will flood the entire area, and the spot where Juan is playing will be lost.

3. These flamingos native to the Chilean Aysén region are among the many species threatened by the dams’ impending presence. P

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
4. The last remaining Gaucho, Erasmus Betancur ‘Beta’ Casanova, and his family herd the sheep and cattle that feed the staff at what was once one of the largest ranches in Chilean Patagonia. It’s now becoming the new Patagonia National Park, the creation of which involves removing fences and most of the animals from the property to allow these grasslands to heal. With an influx of tourists and employees of the dam, Beta’s waning future seems clear.

Rio Pascua headwaters
5. At these headwaters of Rio Pascua, lanky Cohiue trees hang over the gorge.

Chilean hydropower story on Baker and Pascua rivers.
6. Here in the tiny town of Tortel, residents can cut the remaining cypress forest for fire wood, or as seen here, they can collect the plentiful, renewable resource of drift wood from the many beaches just a short boat ride away. Most people spend at least 1 day a week making the trip to a beach by boat, harvesting wood to heat and cook with. This isn’t a way of life “born necessarily of ‘eco-awareness’ but just the simple fact that their families have lived and tended small subsistence farms here for generations.”

glacier lake
7. Looking out between Lake Colonia and Cachet One, where glacial melting will rapidly increase if the area receives more water from the dam’s flooding

8. One of five dams will be built here, where the Rio Baker splits through and feeds the rocky valley into the horizon.

Peter Hartmann, activist
9. Peter Hartmann, activist leader, standing above massive rapids. “The biggest problem is that [the project] implies destroying everything, taking everything out of the region without leaving much behind…These projects are immense, on a scale that is absolutely unmanageable for this region. They’re unmanageable because this region is very fragile, ecologically, geologically as well as culturally. For example, in the area where they want to build the HidroAysén mega-project, there are as many people living there as the company is going to need to build the dams. So imagine what that means – practically doubling the area’s population.”

lake, Patagonia
10. Aysen’s Lake General Carrera possesses a blueness matched only by the sky reflecting above.

Tortel, Chile
11. 500 people live around the port and town of Tortel, Chile, at the delta of the Baker River, downriver of where the proposed HydroAysen dams would be. Such a huge development will bring a large, rapid influx of new people, threatening the slow and peaceful way of life they maintain. There is little fishing in these waters, and boats are mostly used for transporting goods.

Sunset in Patagonia
12. The sun sets over Aysén, taking one last glimpse before nightfall. Photo: Jeff Foott/ iLCP

The expedition team included Pulitzer Prize winner and National Geographic photographer Jack Dykinga, two-time World Press winner and Prince’s Rainforest Project Award winner Daniel Beltra, award-winning filmmaker and photographer Jeff Foott, award-winning photographer Bridget Besaw, and Emmy-winning videographer Edgar Boyles.

SEEtheWILD: Empowering travelers to become wildlife heroes

EEtheWILD – Protect Endangered Wildlife Through Conservation Travel

SEEtheWILD offers meaningful adventure vacations that help protect endangered species across the globe. After three years of successful conservation tourism projects focused on protecting sea turtles through, Dr. Wallace J. Nichols and Brad Nahill formed SEEtheWILD to support a wider variety of destinations and endangered species. Since 2008, SEE Turtles has generated more than $200,000 for local turtle conservation programs in Costa Rica, Baja Mexico and Trinidad.

SEEtheWild currently offers various adventures featuring opportunities to view and help protect Wild Cats, Bears, Birds, Turtles, Sharks, and Whales. SEEtheWILD and SEE Turtles are non-profit projects of the Ocean Foundation.

Interview with Brad Nahill, Co-Founder & Director

What makes SEEtheWILD unique?

SEEtheWILD is the world’s first wildlife conservation travel website. It’s the only place travelers can go to find wildlife tours and volunteer expeditions that have been evaluated by conservationists and contribute directly towards the protection of wild animals. For every trip booked through the site, at least 5 percent of the trip cost will go towards local conservation organizations, which is five times higher than the standard set by organizations like 1% For the Planet.

Tell us about what you aim to achieve through SEEtheWILD.

Our primary goal is to increase the amount of funding from tourism that goes to wildlife conservation efforts. Nature tourism generates billions of dollars for companies and governments around the world while species go extinct and non-profits struggle for funding. We also want to encourage travelers to become ambassadors for conservation when they return home by using their voice, buying habits, and spare time to advocate and volunteer for animals.

How do you think wildlife conservation travel benefits the traveler?

Seeing a wild animal in its natural habitat can be one of the most inspiring experiences in life. Hearing the shrill call of the elephant or watching an enormous whale glide by inspire emotions that no zoo or aquarium can recreate. This type of travel can help to assure travelers that their favorite animals will be there the next time they visit and that their grandchildren can have the same opportunity. Wildlife conservation travel also aims to educate people on the threats that animals face and empowers them to contribute towards ending those threats.

How are the SEEtheWILD operators selected?

We developed a list of criteria that we use to determine which tour operators truly support wildlife conservation, including strong financial support, carbon reduction, emphasis on local businesses and guides, and low impact lodging. Every operator listed on has gone through a comprehensive application process. We started with five US-based operators and non-profits who have demonstrated industry leading practices: Earthwatch Institute, Wildland Adventures, Maple Leaf Adventures, Reefs to Rockies, and Geographic Expeditions. Eventually we will expand to include operators and non-profits based outside of the US. You can learn more about our partnerships with travel organizations here.

How are the ‘benefiting organizations’ – or the conservation projects to which 5% of the tour price is donated – selected?

All of the benefiting organizations are connected with specific wildlife tours or volunteer programs. These organizations must be conducting conservation work on the focus species of the tour in the destination. In many cases, we work with our operator partners to support organizations that they trust. Where there aren’t any current established relationships, we search out the most effective local organizations with the help of our colleagues in the conservation community.

Brad Nahill has worked in sea turtle conservation and ecotourism for over 10 years. While living in Costa Rica, he worked with four sea turtle nesting beaches and worked with or consulted for several ecotourism companies, including EcoTeach and Costa Rican Adventures. He helped to found the EcoTeach Foundation and worked with Rare on a project building community-based ecotourism enterprises in World Heritage sites. As co-founder of SEE Turtles and SEEtheWILD, he leads marketing efforts, including working with tour operators, giving educational presentations, fundraising,and developing promotional materials.

How children benefit from an ecotourism experience

Just because you are going on a family vacation doesn’t mean that learning should take a break too. Ecotourism is full of what educators call teachable moments or, more definitively, unplanned opportunities to explain a concept that has unintentionally captured a child’s interest.

Whether it is touring the rainforests of the Amazon, observing blue footed boobies throughout the Galapagos Islands, or understanding the water issues that surround the Okavango Delta in Botswana, ecotourism is a vacation experience that provides boundless opportunities to teach younger generations about the fragility of ecosystems and the significance of heritage.

Who among us has not witnessed the common occurrence while visiting the local zoo, going hiking through the wilderness, or even watching a local artistic exhibit of younger children looking with absolute wonder and amazement at the spectacle of music, art, flora or fauna? There is delight followed by an onslaught of illuminating questions about people and the natural world.

These teachable moments mark milestones for a child’s personal growth and development. And, the value system that is at the core of ecotourism can be a positive influence on all age groups, not just the very young.

Specifically, children can benefit from an ecotourism vacation because the experience offers an opportunity for:

  • Instruction about indigenous wildlife – ecotours are not only small group tours that allow for up-close-and-personal views of nature, but ones that are generally led by a naturalist that have been trained to understand plants, birds, insects and animals of the region and their relationships to ecosystems, thereby bringing education alive.
  • Increased awareness about environmental degradation – an important component of ecotourism is to inform tourists about ways to minimize waste, soil erosion, air and water pollution so as not to disturb the environment – lessons that no doubt will stay with children.
  • Involvement with conservation efforts – whether it’s helping to record sea turtle activity in Greece or understand the destructive role of invasive plant species in the wilderness, ecotourism allows for deep knowledge of the fragility of the natural world.
  • Focus on the depletion of natural resources – whether its learning about how an eco-lodge harnessed solar or wind power for their operations or how countries are implementing renewable bio-energy to power engines, ecotourism teaches how the impact of tourism is affecting sustainable land development, public transportation choices, and how other countries are using low-carbon technologies today.
  • Exposure to cultural experiences – from tasting new foods to learning phrases in a foreign language, ecotourism interprets cultural traditions and experiences that provide long-lasting impressions about the world.
  • Inspiration for a life’s passion – while snorkeling through a coral reef or observing animals in their natural habitat in Africa, ecotourism sparks the imagination to dream about a career or even find a solution to an environmental problem

Ecotourism even offers opportunities to incorporate your family vacation with your child’s science, social studies, foreign language, even art and music lesson plans. One of the most helpful and free resources available now is on the Rainforest Alliance site, which offers a Kindergarten – 8th Grade curriculum guide.

One example lesson plan for a Kindergarten student is entitled Biodiversity which challenges children to think about the diversity of local flora and fauna in local forests versus tropical forests as they classify insect and tree species, while the 8th Grade lesson plan entitled Guatemala’s Changing Forest has children learning about the Maya Biosphere Reserve by analyzing maps and determining recent changes in forest cover.

Dedication to the cause of the environment and its preservation can have a long-lasting impact on the way our younger generations feel more connected to ecosystems as well as view social involvement and economic success. Not only will children establish a deeper, longer-lasting connection with the region they are visiting during an ecotour, they will learn more about how they can make a more positive impact on the world.

Irene Lane is the founder & president of Greenloons, a company dedicated to providing nature enthusiasts and wildlife conservationists worldwide with trusted information about responsible, sustainable, and certified ecotourism travel vacations and volunteer conservation efforts both in the U.S. and internationally. For more information, see:

Tourism and Biophilia: Protecting the world’s remaining natural habitats

As disparate as the subjects of tourism and biophilia would seem, it is apparent that in my life and countless others, they are indeed closely connected. Biophilia is a term created by my environmental hero, Edward O. Wilson, to describe the innate affinity, fascination, and awe that we humans have for other species. Judging from the rates that we visit our zoos and wildlife parks, it must be a common affliction. Yet today, many of us spend our vacations traveling to natural environments not knowing the effect tourism has on the habitats of the very species we set out to see.

According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) Sustainable Consumption and Production Branch, tourism impacts the environment in three main ways: depletion of natural resources, pollution, and physical impacts, and that nature tourism is growing at an annual rate of 10-12 %, with most of the expansion happening in the world’s remaining natural areas. One can conclude that tourism has an impact on the future of all other species. I might add our own species to that list.

I saw firsthand the importance of reconciling tourism and biophilia recently during an excursion to Kalimantan (Indo-Borneo) at the conclusion of my consultancy on the island of Java, Indonesia. I stayed at an ecolodge called Samboja in East Kalimantan, which also happens to be the location of the Wanariset Orangutan Reintroduction Center and Samboja Lestari project founded by Dr. Willie Smits.

The former is the largest primate rehabilitation program in the world. To orangutans – approx. 30,000 left – clinging to their last island home in a nation rampant with deforestation and illegal logging, it is a matter of survival of their species. Ecotourism is not yet common to this remote equatorial island but Samboja is a reason to believe that it can have a significant impact. The lodge attracts naturalists from all over the world, from birdwatchers and hikers, to botanists and city dwellers.

Many visitors volunteer for weeks, providing assistance with the various labor intensive tasks of the reforestation program. They pay a premium to stay there, and understand that their tourist dollars help provide funding for a seriously endangered fellow mammal. The general manager of the lodge, Jan Burrows, greeted his guests, including me, with the admonition, “go to bed early; turn your lights off at night, and be quiet. You are guests of the orangutans.” As I thought about those words, I realized that it seemed to me like good advice for all properties bordering natural habitats.

Samboja Lodge is about a one-hour drive from the main airport in Balikpapan, the capital city. The paved road ends several miles before Samboja, and the tropical setting is unmistakable as you near the Samboja Lestari compound. The ecolodge is mostly built from local natural materials, including its impressive roof from a local sugar palm fiber. Its structure is so nestled into the natural setting that it is barely visible from only a few meters away and sunlight drips slowly through the dense vegetation onto its facade. Due to its tropical setting, the open dining and lounge areas offer unbelievable sights of a rainforest landscape.

The 24 rooms all have abundant views of the jungle setting, which is the reforestation project, and all offer spectacular natural sightseeing. My room was luxurious with a king size bed and extended height ceilings that I shared with a gecko for the night. Water was to be spared as noted in a sign near the bathroom so I limited my showers to several minutes in total.

The premium tower rooms located above mine provided views of the six islands that host the orangutans in their various stages of rehabilitation. The observation tower, one level up from the rooms, peered slightly over the jungle canopy and offered stunning topical views but at a distance also revealed signs of forest clearing.

Kalimantan is irreversibly creating orangutan orphans by cutting teak, mahogany, ramin and meranti at illegal rates estimated as high as 75%. While most of the wood is cut and burned for fuel wood or for government sponsored palm oil plantations, some is sent to other nations, and some ultimately is turned into furniture that ends up in hospitality applications. No teak headboard from Kalimantan could ever be priced high enough to warrant exterminating orangutans from the wild.

Any manufacturer that does not pay attention to its chain of supply may be complicit to the devastation of a habitat like that in Kalimantan. Samboja is one of the few examples in Indonesia where native minds have realized the potential of ecotourism. My guide, Firdaus Yamani, of Borneo Discovery Tours, explained that ecotourism is still as incomprehensible to the majority of the natives as is the notion of irreplaceable biodiversity. In fact, many Indonesians have yet to realize the value of the wood that gets cut.

On my last day at the lodge, I took an early morning guided hike through the jungles of Samboja. This excursion took me on a bridge between the tiny islands and brought me to an emotional confrontation with an orangutan that was on one of the islands designated for impending release. Her wide, curious eyes bespoke wisdom we could sense and her movements were most human-like, as that of a young girl watching an intruder from the porch.

But this was no porch. This is the last island of her existence; her last hope; a final reminder for me of the importance of ecotourism to the few remaining natural places of the world. And while orangutans only occupy a small portion of Kalimantan as solitary nomadic creatures, the third largest island in the world, unoccupied space is essential to their survival.

Edward O. Wilson said in his autobiography, Naturalist, “Earth, in the dazzling variety of its life, is still a little-known planet.” As we revisit some of the remaining biologically diverse and unchanged habitats of our little-known planet, we must support those ecotourism projects that have the most positive effect on local habitats, and realize that our affinity for other species should directly influence how we build in these fragile environments. Ecotourism can become a powerful ally in the preservation of our remaining natural habitats and in the growth of sustainable hospitality worldwide.

About the Author: David Mahood is the V.P. of Sustainable Hospitality, NEWH, and the principal of Olive Designs. He is a sustainable manufacturing consultant to the hospitality industry and lecturer on the topic of sustainable hospitality and a contributor to publications dedicated to sustainable furnishings. He also serves as the co-chair of the standards committee of the Sustainable Furniture Council, and is a sponsor of the Nexus Green Building Resource Center, located in Boston, MA.