Archive for the ‘Africa’ category

Saving Gorillas and providing Healthcare in Uganda

September 18, 2009

Note from Robert:  I’ve always been fascinated by observing animals in the wild, without zoos or cages.  There is something about it that is truly breathtaking and inspirational, and I first realized that while visiting the amazing Elephant Seal rookerie at Piedras Blancas beach near Hearst Castle in San Simeon, California.    In fact, I had planned vacations around this for many years out, from kayaking with killer whales in the Pacific Northwest to one of my ultimate eco-adventure vacations, an African safari in Kenya.

Yesterday I found the article below through the Mongabay news service, which I found interesting.  Protecting gorillas and providing basic healthcare to local villagers that neighbor the gorillas natural habitat might be related.  Fascinating.  Let me know what you think about this article in the comments below.

How can bringing healthcare to local villagers in Uganda help save the Critically Endangered mountain gorilla? The answer lies in our genetics, says Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka, wildlife veterinarian and director ofConservation through Public Health (CTPH).

“Because we share 98.4% genetic material with gorillas we can easily transmit diseases to each other.” Therefore, explains Kalema-Zikusoka “our efforts to protect the gorillas will always be undermined by the poor public health of the people who they share a habitat with. In order to effectively improve the health of the gorillas we needed to also improve the health of the people, which will not only directly reduced the health threat to gorillas through improvement of public health practices, but also improved community attitudes toward wildlife conservation.”

This is CTPH’s mission in a nut shell: save wildlife by improving local human health and hygiene. It’s a win-win concept that so far has been ignored by major conservation organizations.

Kalema-Zikusoka at Hard edge between the forest.

It was an outbreak of scabies skin disease outbreak among the mountain gorillas, which killed an infant gorilla and sickened the whole group, that led Kalema-Zikusoka to establish CTPH. When the disease was eventually linked to the neighbouring human villages, Kalema-Zikusoka saw a way to both help gorillas and people. Now CTPH provides health services and education in hygene to local people while monitoring gorilla health.

“Park staff collect fecal samples from gorillas every week and when they range outside the park,” Kalema-Zikusoka says. “Results from the fecal analysis are shared with the livestock and human health sectors to be able to better detect disease transmission at the human/wildlife/livestock interface.”

Yet since its inception, CTPH has moved far beyond monitoring health of both groups for possible disease. They have worked long and hard to give the local people a better life, including education and economic opportunities. CTPH has begun a program to encourage family planning (Uganda has one of the world’s highest population growth rates); they have built a telecentre so locals can have access to the Internet and therefore the wider world; they have begun computer courses at the center; and the organization has promoted ecotourism in the area as an alternative to poaching.

CTPH’s successes have not always been easy. Kalema-Zikusoka says that one of the difficult tasks has been receiving funding for an organization that straddles the line between public health and conservation.

“Sometimes when we go to human health donors they say that we are animal people or when we ask conservation donors for funds to support community public health they say that this is public health not conservation,” she says.

Examining gorilla fecal sample. Photo courtesy of CTPH.

Yet CTPH has largely overcome this confusion. “We have made great progress in explaining this approach and received support from donors who see CTPH as a cutting edge approach to promoting wildlife conservation and integrated conservation and development initiatives (ICDs).”

It is clear that CTPH is beginning to be recognized for its innovative and effective approach: Dr. Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka won the Whitley Gold Award for grassroots nature conservation, i.e. the ‘Green Oscars’, this year.

In a September interview with, Kalema-Zikusoka spoke about winning the Whitley, combining public health and conservation, and the importance to conservation of providing education and technology to local communities.

Kalema-Zikusoka will be presenting at the upcoming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 3rd.


Mongabay: What is your background?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: I am a wildlife veterinarian with public health field research experience in and around protected areas in Africa. I started my career with wildlife, when reviving a wildlife club, the Kibuli Secondary School Wildlife Club, at high school in Uganda in 1988, which focused on conservation education and had not been functioning for many years. This experience made me want to become a vet who works with wildlife. In 1996 I became the first veterinarian in the Uganda Wildlife Authority, and set up the veterinary department. During this time I led a team that investigated the first scabies skin disease outbreak in mountain gorillas traced to people living around the park. This was another turning point in my life where I felt that I also needed to improve the public health status of communities bordering protected areas who are important stewards of wildlife.

Mongabay: Most people wouldn’t necessarily link public health concerns with conservation. What is the connection?

Infant mountain gorilla dead from scabies. Photo courtesy of CTPH.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: I got involved in public health when investigating a scabies skin disease outbreak in mountain gorillas of Bwindi Impenetrable National Park, which resulted in the death of an infant and sickness in the rest of the group that only recovered with Ivermectin anti-parasitic treatment. The outbreak was eventually traced to people living around the park who have inadequate health care, hygiene practices, and information on diseases that can spread between animals and people (zoonoses). Because we share 98.4% genetic material with gorillas we can easily transmit diseases to each other. This made me realise that our efforts to protect the gorillas will always be undermined by the poor public health of the people who they share a habitat with. In order to effectively improve the health of the gorillas we needed to also improve the health of the people, which will not only directly reduced the health threat to gorillas through improvement of public health practices, but also improved community attitudes toward wildlife conservation. In particular the communities around Bwindi and other great ape protected areas—where there is ecotourism—benefit directly from having healthy gorillas. When we conducted health education workshops on the risks of human and gorilla disease transmission, we found that the communities that were benefiting from tourism through job creation, revenue sharing and small businesses, were very willing to listen to what we had to say, because they saw that if they are healthy and hygienic this will contribute to sustaining the gorilla populations, and a source of income from gorilla ecotourism.

Mongabay: How has your training as a vet impacted your work with your organization Conservation through Public Health (CTPH)?

Signs of mountain gorillas: banana crop destroyed by the mountain gorilla. Photo courtesy of CTPH.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: My training as a vet has impacted my work at CTPH, where the programs are designed around a background of veterinary medicine and conservation medicine. We have three integrated programs: wildlife health monitoring, human public health and information, education and communication. In the wildlife health monitoring program I have the opportunity to implement what I was not able to as UWA vet where my main job was to attend to emergencies with sick wildlife and disease outbreak, and did not leave me enough time to set up long term systems to monitor health of the wildlife and establish an early warning system for disease outbreaks. My veterinary training has enabled CTPH to set up a disease monitoring and surveillance system where park staff collect fecal samples from gorillas every week and when they range outside the park. Results from the fecal analysis are shared with the livestock and human health sectors to be able to better detect disease transmission at the human/wildlife/livestock interface. My veterinary training also enables us to carry out wildlife interventions, such as immobilizations and post-mortems when the need arises.

Mongabay: The public is aware of many examples of diseases passing from humans, but what are some examples of diseases passing from humans to animals, such as gorillas?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: Examples of diseases passing from humans to great apes are scabies passing from local community members to gorillas in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and respiratory viruses passing from researchers to chimpanzees in the Tai Forest in Ivory Coast.

Mongabay: Much of your work has been with gorillas (and the people living near them)—have you also worked with other species?

Health sign posts from CTPH. Photo courtesy of CTPH.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: I have also worked with other species, particularly when I was the veterinary officer for Uganda Wildlife Authority dealing with animal emergencies, disease outbreaks, translocations and reintroductions and problem animals. The mandate of CTPH involves us working with all the wildlife, and currently we are setting up a savannah ecosystem model in Queen Elizabeth National Park based on the forest ecosystem model in Bwindi, where we are dealing with issues of disease transmission between wildlife and livestock. We work with chimpanzees in the forest ecosystem, and other species in the savannah ecosystem, including buffalo, Uganda kob and warthogs to see if they are sharing diseases, such as Tuberculosis (TB), brucellosis, foot and mouth disease, anthrax and African Swine Fever with cattle, goats and pigs.

Mongabay: How important is tourism—such as visitors coming to see the gorillas—to the communities you work with?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: Tourism is very important for the communities because it provides a sustainable source of income from gorilla ecotourism that helps to prevent the communities from going into the park to poach and collect firewood. Uganda Wildlife Authority set up a community conservation department to ensure that the communities bordering the park benefit and become active stakeholders in wildlife conservation. Around Bwindi, 90% of the rangers/trackers are from the immediate communities and former poachers were employed as trackers; 20% of the park entrance fee is shared with the communities bordering the park and used to build schools, clinics and roads; and most importantly people are benefitting from small businesses selling crafts, food and offering accommodation to tourists that goes directly to the local entrepreneurs in the community. Some schools such as Buhoma Community Primary School (former Bwindi Orphans School) were built through tourists sponsoring kids to go to school, so these children are growing up understanding the importance of gorillas in sustaining their future livelihoods.

Mongabay: When working to save species like gorillas why do you believe it is important to also improve the lives of local people?

CTPh brochure in local language. Photo courtesy of CTPH.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: When working to save gorillas, it is important to also improve the lives of the local people because they need to see tangible benefits that can be derived from protecting the gorillas. If they are poor they will only be thinking of today’s needs and not tomorrow’s future for their children. On top of improving the health of the communities, CTPH is also promoting family planning because Uganda has one of the highest population growth rates of 3.3% and fertility rate of 7.1. Furthermore, Bwindi has one of the highest population densities in Africa of 200 to 300 people per square kilometre and an average size of 10 children per family, making it very difficult for their parents to send them to school and give them basic primary health care. This in turn leads to the children not being able to get jobs resulting in poaching and illegal harvesting, as well as harbouring many preventable infectious diseases that could also harm the gorillas.

Mongabay: Your organization has opened a Telecenter in Bwindi. Can you tell us about the center and how has it helped conservation and local health?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: The telecentre in Bwindi is helping to address the problems of poverty, isolation, poor health practices, lack of knowledge on sustainable environments, and limited access to education and job training in and around Bwindi Impenetrable National Park. Community members, primarily youth learn computer skills, as well as accessing the internet and community websites in the local languages. CTPH has created web content on these websites about the importance of being healthy and hygienic to prevent disease transmission between people and gorillas, which in turn promotes sustainable ecotourism and livelihoods. When people learn how to use the computer and access the internet, it opens up their world, and they can communicate with the tourists they meet, other stakeholders in the tourism, conservation and development sectors; and also carry out e-commerce such as sending photos of the crafts they are selling to potential buyers worldwide as well as making bookings through the internet for tourists to stay at their accommodation.

Mongabay: The center has courses in Computer Studies. How important is education to the local people?

CTPH brochure in local language and English. Photo courtesy of CTPH.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: Education is very important to the local people, because it is the main way to break the poverty cycle. With computer skills the local people can get jobs, and be in a better position to seek support for their communities through the internet. CTPH has just started a distance learning program between schools in Uganda and schools in New York State to promote cross cultural learning of the social and natural sciences.

Mongabay: What advice would you give a local student interested in pursuing conservation?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: The advice I would give to a local student interested in pursuing conservation is to volunteer with a conservation organization, such as a government body like Uganda Wildlife Authority, conservation NGOs like CTPH, local Community Based Organizations, small and medium enterprises and tour companies working around protected areas. This will enable them to gain exposure into all aspects of wildlife conservation, including biodiversity protection, research, veterinary medicine, public health, law enforcement, community conservation, tourism, marketing, public relations and business development.

Mongabay: What are the greatest challenges of your work?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: The greatest challenges of my work are both internal and external. The internal challenges include not having enough resources to do the work that we feel needs to be done; this includes funds, people and equipment. So I end up having to do alot of multitasking which includes fundraising, making sure that the core activities are ongoing, in other words that our field programs are running, as well as the supporting finance and administration. We also find that there is a great need to carry out marketing and public relations yet do not have enough resources and this is an area that donors don’t like to fund. The external challenges include convincing people that integrating wildlife conservation and public health can create common benefits for both people and animals. Sometimes when we go to human health donors they say that we are animal people or when we ask conservation donors for funds to support community public health they say that this is public health not conservation. However we have made great progress in explaining this approach and received support from donors who see CTPH as a cutting edge approach to promoting wildlife conservation and integrated conservation and development initiatives (ICDs). This approach is also because public health is one of the most important indicators of poverty in the developing world.

Mongabay: You recently won the Whitley Gold Award for grassroots nature conservation. Can you tell us about this award and what does it mean for CTPH?

Mountain gorilla in Bwindi, Uganda. Photo by: Rhett A. Butler.

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: Wining the Whitley Gold Award for grassroots nature conservation commonly known as the “Green Oscars” is a very great honour for CTPH, our partners and supporters. We were particularly honoured to hear the words of Edward Whitley who said that the aim of the Whitley Awards is to find and support conservation scientists whose vision, passion, determination and qualities of leadership mean they are achieving inspirational results in conservation, and that CTPH demonstrates all this and more. The photograph of HRH, Princess Anne presenting the award, at a ceremony at the Royal Geographical Society in London, generated alot of interest and recognition from all sectors of society in Uganda and from the international community. It also resulted in many interviews with the media to promote the importance of gorilla conservation and how public health is providing a tangible benefit for communities surrounding the park. This is particularly significant this year because it is the International Year of the Gorilla, and further highlights our efforts at CTPH to protect a species that has become a symbol of what conservation means and offers its human neighbours access to useful tourism income, but yet is vulnerable to human diseases because we share 98% of DNA.

The Whitley Gold Award also generated much needed funds to run the operations of CTPH. The funds will be used to measure the conservation impact of CTPH’s work in Bwindi Impenetrable National Park by documenting improvement of hygiene indicators of community members who regularly interface with gorillas and resultant effect on the gorilla health status.

Mongabay: What can people do to help CTPH?

Gladys Kalema-Zikusoka: People can help CTPH by spreading the word about CTPH and the urgent public and animal health needs that we address; joining our membership program that is soon to be launched, adopting a gorilla or gorilla group where you will receive regularly updates on the gorillas or group that you adopted; providing grant funding for one of our new initiatives or sustaining the ongoing initiatives; making an individual gift to support our work, visiting us on a working holiday with CTPH where you will get to work at our Gorilla Research Clinic and with our community public health and telecentre team. If you choose to stay at the CTPH Silverback Gorilla Camp in Bwindi, where all fees for meals and lodging support the work of CTPH, you will get a tour of our Gorilla Clinic, hear a presentation on health threats to the endangered Mountain Gorillas, go gorilla tracking, bird watching and hiking in the forest.

Conservation through Public Health

Kalema-Zikusoka will be presenting at the upcoming Wildlife Conservation Network Expo in San Francisco on October 3rd.

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List of Ecotourism sites

April 10, 2009
Boardwalk on the Wolf River in the William B. ...
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If you share a love of both the environment and travel, then an ecotourism vacation could be a way to combine the best of both into one great adventure. You’ll get to see some of the most remote and beautiful locations on earth, all while making sure you preserve them for those who follow. Whether you’re new to ecotourism or an old pro, these sites can help you get some basic information, book a trip, and even contribute to making sure that the world’s most spectacular sites stay that way.

Organizations and Associations

There are numerous organizations worldwide that are dedicated to preserving and protecting the environment while promoting tourism. Here are a few you can get some great information from or even use to get involved.

  1. VISIT: VISIT stands for “Voluntary Initiative for Sustainability in Tourism” and this site was created to help tourists and tourist destination countries work together to protect the environment while still making it accessible for everyone.
  2. Tourism Concern: This organization focuses on issues related to tourism and the environment. You can read up on campaigns and get helpful information for your next trip.
  3. The Travel Foundation: This charity website can be a great place to find information on how you can better learn to travel without harming the environment. Even if you can’t take a trip, you can also get involved and give back through the site.
  4. This international tourism club is a great place to meet up with others interested in ecotourism, find environmentally friendly hotels, and even get links to jobs in ecotourism. Join the site or sign up to receive emails with loads of useful ecotourism information.
  5. International Ecotourism Society: This worldwide community can help you to learn more about ecotourism, support programs, find ecotourism experts, and locate exciting destinations and environmentally friendly accommodations for your next vacation.
  6. The Blue Flag Organization: This Foundation for Environmental Education-run site can help you plan your next beach getaway. Blue Flag rates and certifies thousands of beaches in Europe, South Africa, Morocco, New Zealand, Canada and the Caribbean on water quality, environmental management as well as a number of other factors.
  7. The Nature Conservancy: It’s only natural that one of the largest organizations dedicated to preserving nature would have a whole portion of its site dedicated to ecotourism. Learn how to reduce your impact, take trips through the Nature Conservancy, or check out their list of resources to learn more.
  8. The Rainforest Alliance: Rainforest lovers will find numerous resources on this site about preserving the rainforest, rainforest friendly tours, and even a place where you can adopt a little piece of the rainforest for yourself.
  9. South American Explorers: This non-profit organization can help you to book your next trip to South America. Whether you want to try out your Spanish in Lima or travel down the Amazon in Brazil, you’ll find help on this site to do so all while being ecologically responsible.
  10. World Tourism Organization: Find out everything you ever wanted to know about tourism on this site. The sustainable tourism section has articles on the latest developments and important issues in ecotourism.
  11. Green Cross International: According to the mission statement on this site, Green Cross “provides unbiased environmental analysis and expertise, information dissemination, education, objective evaluations for public debate, scientific studies, and social and medical support.” This site can be a great way to learn the real statistics of any place you choose to visit.

Travel Booking

Whether you want to book an exotic rainforest vacation or a camel ride across the Sahara, these sites can help you find a trip that will be both environmentally friendly and fun.

  1. Sustainable Travel International: On this comprehensive site, you’ll find all kinds of ecotourism resources including trip bookings, eco-certification, newsletters and even advice on how to carbon-offset your trip.
  2. At this site, you’ll find loads of great ecologically friendly holiday getaways as well as travel tips, an ecotourism blog, and even an ezine to help keep you informed.
  3. MesoAmerican Ecotourism Alliance: Recognized for their ecotourism trips by National Geographic, the MEA offers numerous exciting vacations that will help inspire your love for the environment and nurture your adventurous spirit.
  4. contains a directory of accredited green hotels and travel companies to help make finding and booking your next ecotour easier than ever. With destinations on every continent, you can find sustainable vacations just about anywhere.
  5. EcoTour: If you want to book an earth-friendly vacation, EcoTour is a great place to start your planning. With hundreds of ecotour providers, you’ll find tours to everywhere in the world from the Congo to Sahara. Additionally, you’ll find travel guides and articles to help you learn more about your destination of choice.
  6. EcoTourism at Conservation International: Whether you’re looking for an African safari or a trip to the Galapagos, you can find information on how to do so responsibly and even find some very special destinations the organization has helped set up in Brazil, Bolivia, Ghana, Venezuela and more.
  7. EarthFoot: This small company can help you create a fun and personalized environmentally conscious vacation. See the bright avian residents of Guatemala on a birding getaway or swim with the dolphins in beautiful Hawaii.
  8. GAP Adventures: Ecotourism doesn’t have to be boring. Turn your trip into an unforgettable adventure with this booking site. You can visit the new seven wonders of the world or get up close and personal with the mountain gorillas of Uganda.
  9. Global Exchange: Global exchange offers what are referred to as “reality tours”. Travel to Cambodia to learn about and how you can help stop child prostitution or get informed on protecting the coastal environment of Costa Rica.
  10. Intrepid Travel: This award winning company specializes in environmentally responsible tourism and can help you arrange your next eco-friendly vacation. With trips to just about every corner of the globe, you’ll undoubtedly find something that interests you and won’t leave you feeling guilty.
  11. Journeys International: You’ll find a wide variety of small group tours on this family-owned site. Whether your interests lie in trekking through the Andes or exploring the wildlife from the icy decks of an Antarctic cruise, this site has something for you.
  12. Blue Ventures: Combine education, research and conservation with the trip of a lifetime. This site’s tour of Madagascar was named one of the top 50 tours of a lifetime by National Geographic Traveler.
  13. Tribes Travel: This fair trade travel company offers expeditions to Africa, South America and Asia that can allow you to watch lions sleeping away the day or enjoy an eco-friendly honeymoon in a posh hotel in Marrakech.
  14. Wildland Adventures: Make your next trip an adventure by booking a safari or trip down the Nile with this small ecotourism company.
  15. Peregrine Adventures: This Australian based company offers small group adventure tours to destinations worldwide including far-flung locales like the Himalayas and Antarctica.
  16. World Expeditions: Get adventurous without hurting the environment with this ecotourism company. Book trips to volcanic landscapes, the lemur filled jungles of Madagascar or follow in the steps of Genghis Khan on the Mongolian Steppes.
  17. Earth Routes: Find your next earth-friendly vacation through this site. You’ll find tours to the Caribbean, Switzerland and even a few small ship cruises as well as travel tips and green travel information.
  18. Orbitz isn’t one of the biggest travel sites without a reason: they offer travel tailored to just about any need, even ecotourism. You’ll find a list of destinations, information about ecotourism, travel tips and more on this part of Orbitz’s site.


Blogs are becoming and ever more popular source of information for Internet users, and these ecotourism blogs can be a great way to learn about everything eco-friendly.

  1. Ecotourism Blog: This blog covers some of the most beautiful destinations in the world in regard to protecting and preserving them as well as reporting on various news stories that apply to ecotourism.
  2. EcoTravelLogue: This blog provides all kinds of information for the potential ecotraveler with posts on destinations, planning a trip, accommodation, things to do, and more.
  3. Development Crossing: Whether you’re looking for information on global warming or issues concerning ecotourism, this environmentally conscious blog addresses it all.
  4. Beautiful Oceans: If your ecotourism dreams lie in the coral reefs or kelp forests of the world’s oceans, then you’ll find plenty to read about here. Learn about reef conservation, eco-diving, and even a little bit about underwater photography.
  5. Low Impact Living: Focusing on all aspects of low impact living, this blog contains some great information on vacations that won’t take a toll on the environment. Learn about organic eating, green spas, hybrid car rentals, environmentally friendly hotels, and more.

Information and Guides

Before you ever leave your home, read up on all kinds of ecotourism tips, facts and other information on these great sites.

  1. EcoHoliday Guide: Find tons of resources for planning your next eco-trip on this site. You’ll find information on environmentally conscious vacation rentals, travel agents, activities, transport, and even places to eat.
  2. World Surface: This online travel magazine was created to promote sustainable tourism and is contributed to by writers and photographers from all over the globe. Visitors to the site will find information on tons of destinations and can create their own travel diaries and photo albums to share with other travelers.
  3. Planeta: Find resources on ecotourism, recommendations on books, and guides on everything from bird watching to local crafts on this site.
  4. GreenTraveller: Get some great tips on how to have a greener and more environmentally friendly holiday at GreenTraveller. You’ll find directories of green hotels, tours, and low impact ways to travel to them.
  5. Eco-Index: Sustainable Tourism: Here you’ll find a list of businesses in Latin America and the Caribbean that have been certified to be environmentally friendly. It can be a great way to protect the beautiful rainforests and beaches of these destinations while making sure they stay that way.
  6. This online magazine features stories from all over the world about the most exciting ecotourist destinations. It also features a directory of tour companies and agents to help you book your next trip.
  7. Transitions Abroad: This site addresses a wide variety of travel issues, but it does contain a valuable section on ecotourism. You’ll find responsible travel programs and article archives, as well as links to important websites and organizations.
  8. NewConsumer: This UK based magazine is dedicated to stories about how you can live a more ethically, vacations included. Check out the travel section for articles on environmentally friendly vacation ideas all over the world.
  9. Big Volcano Ecotourism Resource Center: Find information on the history of ecotourism, codes of conduct, and loads of other ecotourism articles and resources on this site.
  10. Best Ecotourism Vacations: Not sure where you want to head to? Get some ideas of the best and most popular ecotourism destinations in this article from SmarterTravel.


Take ecotourism to the next level with these sites that allow you to get your hands dirty working on various humanitarian and environmental projects all over the world.

  1. GoEco: This organization arranges volunteer trips to South Africa, Kenya, Nepal and much more to help improve the welfare of the local people and the environment.
  2. EcoVolunteer: Just like the name suggests, this site helps set travelers up on various volunteering vacations, and users can choose their trips based on preferred destinations or particular animals they are interested in helping.
  3. Global Vision: Make a difference in some of the world’s locations that are in most desperate need of conservation help. Work at preserving marine environments, do wildlife research or even help teach others about conservation and wildlife.
  4. Voluntourists Without Borders: Use your volunteer power and vacation time to work on issues involving rural poverty, conservation and environmentally friendly tourism. Work to help preserve the Pang Soong Nature Trails or the village of Ban Mae Lai.
  5. People and Places: On this site, you’ll find a diverse assortment of volunteer projects that range from wildlife conservation in India to building Habitat for Humanity houses in Madagascar.
  6. Green Volunteers: With one of the largest collections of conservation volunteering opportunities, this site is be a valuable resource for those who want to provode a little environmental help on their vacation. Just purchase the guide and choose your exciting vacation from hundreds of options.
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Geotourism Challenge Winners

January 15, 2009
Hubbard Medal, National Geographic Society. Aw...
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Fifteen groundbreaking projects from around the world are the finalists in the “Geotourism Challenge: Celebrating Places/Changing Lives” competition, a collaboration of National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations and Ashoka’s Changemakers. The online contest was created to discover and support entrepreneurs with innovative approaches to geotourism, defined as tourism that sustains or enhances the geographical character of a place — its environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and the well-being of its residents.

From the 323 entries submitted from 84 countries, these 15 finalists were selected:

1.    Wildlife Conservation Society, Gabon: Establishing Gabon as the gateway to Africa’s rainforests by highlighting its pristine nature and ancient cultures

2.    Blue Ventures Conservation, Madagascar: Using paying volunteer program as a strategy to protect threatened marine resources

3.    Banyon Tree Hotel, Maldives: Creating a marine lab to protect, conserve, research and educate about the coral reef environment

4.    CC Africa, South Africa: Pioneering land and wildlife conservation, and giving local rural communities a meaningful share of the benefits

5.    Chumbe Island Coral Park, Ltd., Tanzania: Creating a financially, ecologically and socially sustainable model to save the country’s coral reefs

6.    Crete’s Culinary Sanctuaries, Greece: Offering seminars for organic farmers, chefs, historians, mountaineers and other locals to share their knowledge about Crete’s culture and nature with visitors

7.    Eco-Health Farms, Latvia: Integrating ancestral traditions, nature protection and health prevention

8.    Evason Phuket & Six Senses Spa, Thailand: Setting up an eco-trail that shows locals and guests the resort’s environmental practices

9.    Exotica Cottages, Dominica: Integrating local expertise in gardening and conservation into the island’s ecotourism efforts

10. Great Baikal Trail, Russia: Establishing Russia’s first system of hiking trails to promote environmentally sustainable development

11. Rios Tropicales Lodge, Costa Rica: Protecting the rainforest through the collaboration of local communities, tourists and conservation organizations

12. Snow Leopard Conservancy India Trust, India: Changing local mindsets towards snow leopards

13. 3 Sisters Adventure Trekking, Nepal: Training and empowering women to be guides in adventure tourism efforts

14. Tourism Board of Bhutan, Bhutan: Making geotourism development a national policy

15. Yachana Foundation, Ecuador: Offering lodging, meals, adventure and education through experiences with local Amazonian nature and culture

The four judges who reviewed submissions and selected the finalists were Keith Bellows, vice president of the National Geographic Society and editor-in-chief of National Geographic Traveler magazine; Susan Berresford, past president of the Ford Foundation; Leonard Cordiner, CEO of WHL Travel; and Nachiket Mor, president of the ICICI Foundation for Inclusive Growth.

“I was stunned at the quality of the applications,” said Bellows. “They showcased great innovation that can be exported to other countries, terrific successes against long odds and a far-reaching global distribution of projects. Not only did the entries make fascinating reading, but I was inspired by the vision, imagination, passion and entrepreneurship of the people who are making a difference in the lives of locals and travelers.”

The global online community can vote for the three winners, through Wednesday, June 11, at The winners will be announced on Tuesday, June 17, and each will receive a cash prize of US $5,000.

“The Geotourism Challenge received entries from the most countries for any collaborative competition we’ve held so far,” said Charlie Brown, executive director of Changemakers. “This shows that the Changemakers global online community is influential in surfacing innovators who are helping destinations benefit from tourism while protecting the assets that make their places special.”

National Geographic’s Center for Sustainable Destinations is dedicated to protecting the world’s distinctive places through wisely managed geotourism and enlightened destination stewardship.

Article: “The Value of EcoTourism”

July 1, 2008

An article from the publication Westside Today appeared on their website, from a primatology student.  I found it fascinating and true.  There’s value in tourism of the right kind, value in ecotravel, and value in education combined with the eye opening and mind opening kind of travel.

The Value of Ecotourism

Recently returned from a three-month journey studying the primates in Africa, Brentwood resident Katie Hall gives Westside Today her story.

I have just returned from a three-month term as a field assistant in the Budongo Forest Reserve, Uganda, collecting data on chimpanzee stress response to human impact on the forest. As a primate researcher, I can easily say that human encroachment on the forest ecosystem, whether through logging, hunting, growing crops on the forest edge, and other factors, are detrimental to the health and wellbeing of all forest inhabitants.
So it may come as a surprise to say that the future of the endangered chimpanzees, gorillas, golden monkeys, and other animals may depend on humans entering the forest—through ecotourism.

Katie Hall

Katie Hall

During the course of my research, I visited four forest sites in Northwestern Uganda, each with different levels of human activity impacting the chimpanzees. Busingiro is heavily affected by illegal logging; Sonso is strictly a research station; Kaniyo-Pabidi, a pristine forest, is used for ecotourism; and Kasokwa is a tiny fragment between fields of sugar cane, major roads and several villages.

I spent most of my time in Kasokwa, 70 hectares of degraded forest overgrown with invasive lantana (the only trees left are those not wanted by loggers). The 14 chimpanzees that inhabit the area make the perfect case study for population bottleneck: Most chimpanzee groups in pristine forest travel in groups of 25-50 but socialize with a network as large as 100 individuals; with a group so small, inbreeding is inevitable.

I came to know the 14 chimpanzees of Kasokwa very well throughout the three months, learning to recognize them by their faces and other remarkable features, and by their voices. Four of these 14 individuals suffer from snare injuries: Wire snares are set to trap smaller animals for meat, but chimps often travel on the ground and occasionally get caught. While not always fatal, the injuries sustained can cause long-term damage. Limbs are lost, reducing climbing ability, feeding and social grooming, leaving individuals emaciated, ill and lonely.

Clearly, humans have a very negative impact here. They need the land to grow their crops; they need the water from the stream to drink and wash clothing; they need vegetation to graze their cattle.

But chimpanzees and gorillas especially are a source of national pride (not to mention income) in Uganda, and their conservation is significant to community development projects. Furthermore, both species offer us an opportunity to reflect on our evolutionary heritage.

While it breaks my heart to admit that Kasokwa may be a lost cause in terms of conservation, there is still hope in the many forest areas protected by ecotourism. Kaniyo-Pabidi, Kibale, Semliki, Kyambura Gorge, Bwindi and Mgahinga all offer the opportunity to view majestic chimps and gorillas in their natural habitat.

Tourists pay as much as $500 for one hour with the gorillas; this sounds expensive, but it is worth every penny in terms of conservation and local economic development. Without the income generated through ecotourism, guards cannot be hired to enforce National Park boundaries. Local villagers then cut trees for firewood or building and hunt animals for personal consumption or for the commercial bush-meat trade.

The profits earned from eco-tourism contribute to building sustainable projects within local communities. The results include enhancing farming skills, water sanitation projects, and building schools and hospitals. These amenities ease pressure about providing some basic infrastructure and services. In addition, locals have come to respect the endangered species with which they share space.

Without tourist dollars, chimps, gorillas and other species are likely doomed. While bringing more people into the forest is not good for the animals, this is nevertheless the best opportunity to learn more about the species, their feeding choices, social habits and most importantly, the dangers they face from the human front. The likelihood of anyone donating $500 is slim. This way, tourists have an interactive educational opportunity, the community receives the economic benefit and the animals are further insulated from human encroachment.

Conservation is a by-product of tourism. And tourism is not all bad. Without ecotourism, chimps all over Uganda would be suffering as much as my friends in Kasokwa. Consider an educational, eco-friendly adventure for your next vacation. It is a way to learn more, contribute to conservation and still promote economic development in surrounding communities.
Katie Hall is a recent graduate of UCSD and has had a lifelong fascination with primates. She starts her PhD. at St. Andrews University in Scotland this fall, where she will study primatology.