Safaris are often top of people’s wishlist of travel experiences. Seeing wild animals in their native habitat is close to the ultimate buzz. So why not try your hand at conservation and help secure a future for wild species.
We don’t often get the opportunity to step into David Attenborough’s shoes, but conservation travel companies put wildlife preservation at the heart of their itinerary. That means hard but rewarding work in some of the Earth’s most beautiful wild places.
In a former job I was lucky enough to travel to the Shamwari game reserve in South Africa to cover the Safari Vet School in its early beginnings. Seeing the ‘big five‘ in the African bush (elephant, buffalo, lion, leopard and rhino), as well as giraffe, zebra and 32 flavours of antelope, is the experience of a lifetime. One of the rewards of that trip was getting up before dawn to spend the day darting black impala for transport to another game reserve. There’s nothing to match the sheer drama and physical effort of bouncing around the rugged veld in a truck, racing to gather up the anaesthetised impala.
Wildlife Conservation is Difficult
Conservation is not easy. Species are integrally tied to the habitats where they live for food, shelter, camouflage and other advantages that keep them safe from predators and hunters. Human intervention causes huge problems. We are pushing at the edges of wildlife habitat constantly or actively cutting back the wild areas where they live. We hunt them for food, their skin or horns and other by-products used in the tourist trade or for medicine.
The World Wildlife Fund says the illegal trade worldwide is worth millions and millions of US dollars each year. The true volume is unknown – in the early 1990s it was calculated at $160 million per year – but what we do know is that wild species populations decreased by an average 40 per cent between 1970 and 2000, and that trend has continued. The Zoological Society of London says the trade is now estimated to be worth $10 billion each year and its impact on wildlife species ‘has reached unprecedented levels’.
Taking Part in Conservation Travel
Companies like the African Conservation Experience put conservation first. It is not just for veterinary or animal health students, it’s for career break adventurers, retirees and anyone with a passion for wildlife. People get experience working with individual species such as rhino or elephants, take part in marine conservation, wildlife research and management, or group field trips. Conservation is physically demanding work, but one of the most rewarding experiences you can imagine.
If like me you have a love of wildlife and travel, I’d highly recommend you take a look at some of the opportunities out there. You won’t only be rewarded with great memories and friendships, but the knowledge that the work you do contributes to species and habitat conservation. Check out these great snaps from ACE’s Instagram.
Updated the stats on illegal wildlife trade on 16 Jan 2017