Entire species vanish from the face of the earth every day, but there are people and places across the globe committed to conserving the natural world. Travelers in search of adventure and a glimpse of rare wildlife can play a small part in protecting animals threatened with extinction. Here are 6 stunning spots for the responsible ecotourist's bucket list.
Kenya African elephants have long been hunted for their tusks. Although the ivory trade has largely been outlawed, illegal poaching – along with shrinking environments – still threatens the African elephant population. You can often see these giant creatures in a zoo, but thanks to conservation efforts there are herds living in protected areas across Africa – their natural habitat. The Northern Rangelands Trust develops community conservancies across Kenya. NRT partners with tourism investors through its AdventureWORKS programs, which helps support further conservation and provide travelers with the opportunity to see the country's unique wildlife. Last year, NRT conservancies reported the lowest number of illegally poached elephants in the past six years. The organization's Sarara Camp in the Namunyak Conservancy is the perfect place to see African elephants. The camp's waterhole attracts many of the thousands of elephants that call this conservancy home. Against the backdrop of open land and sky, visitors can stay in one of the six luxury tents, swim in the camp's gorgeous pool and dine on homegrown meals. The entire camp is designed for sustainability with solar panels, gravity fed mountain springs and a charcoal store in lieu of a refrigerator. For travelers who want to experience more of Kenya, there are countless other opportunities to see wildlife – try Nairobi National Park – or just relax on the white sands of Diani Beach. If you can't get enough of elephants the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi is a must. The trust cares for orphaned elephants and black rhinos.
South Africa "Jaws" has made generations afraid to go in the water and sparked countless toothy thrillers ranging from the downright bad ("Sharknado" anyone?) to the edge-of- your seat, guilty pleasure good (think "The Shallows"; starring Gossip Girl turned ultimate survivor Blake Lively). Hollywood may make sharks look like bloodthirsty creatures, but they are in fact an important part of the ecosystem with no actual drive to terrorize beachgoers and surfers. The great white shark – a favorite big screen baddie – has spent time on the endangered species list largely due to poaching and deterioration of its natural habitat, but is now listed as vulnerable. The exact number of great whites left in the world's oceans is unknown, but several studies have estimated the population to be just a few thousand.
In 1991, South Africa named great white sharks a protected species. The country remains one of the best places in the world to spot those iconic fins. The White Shark Projects in Gansbaai, South Africa is a research center committed to education, conservation and ethical tourism. As a part of the effort to educate the world about great whites, White Shark Projects leads cage diving expeditions through the Western Cape's famous "Shark Alley" prepare for an adrenaline rush as the cage is lowered into the water from the group's 36-foot catamaran. Those who prefer a less up close and personal encounter can sneak a peek at the swimming sharks from aboard the boat. In addition to providing a breathtaking experience, White Shark Projects also supports local shark research. A day out on the water with great whites is hard to beat, but South Africa has plenty more to offer. Visit Cape Town to learn about the country's history, sample delectable cuisine or visit the African Penguin Colony at Boulders Beach. If you are looking for some more adventure, take a canopy tour, kayak or zipeline at Garden Route National Park.
Democratic Republic of the Congo Habitat loss, war, poaching and disease have all played a role in putting mountain gorillas on the endangered species list. The world's population of these great apes is limited to just two protected areas in Africa – the Bwindi Impenetrable National Park and the Virungas mountains ranging across the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Rwanda and Uganda.
Journey to the Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of the Congo to see and help protect one of our closest living relatives. Africa's oldest national park and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, it covers 3,000 square miles. The park is home to not only mountain gorillas, but also chimpanzees, eastern lowland gorillas, okapi, hippos, elephants, lions and more. Mountain gorillas reside in the park's southern sector alongside a dormant volcano. Virunga National Park has security measures in places to protect its gorilla population, which is now on the rise, and other threatened species. The park receives international support to equip its rangers and continue preserving the animals that live within its bounds. Additionally, the park runs the Senkwekwe Center , a home for orphaned gorillas. Travelers can simply come stand witness to the small gorilla population or make a donation to help further fund the park's conservation efforts. Virunga National Park is hardly the only stunning natural attraction in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Hike alongside Boyoma Falls, 60 miles of rushing and tumbling water, or take an expedition down the Congo River.
Cape Verde Of the seven different species of sea turtles, nearly all are considered threatened or endangered due to accidental netting, hunting or habitat encroachment. The third largest nesting population of loggerhead sea turtles resides in Cape Verde (an island off Africa's northwest coast), but construction due to tourism and poaching threatens the continued existence of these animals.
The Turtle Foundation is a nonprofit striving to prevent sea turtles from joining the list of extinct animals. The foundation first came to Cape Verde in 2008, and since then the number of turtles killed on the island country's beaches has dramatically decreased. Visitors can take a turtle walk with guides trained by the Turtle Foundation team, or dedicated conservationists can volunteer their time at the foundation. During the nesting season, volunteers help patrol the beaches, lend a hand with hatchery management and work to oversee tourism affairs. The Turtle Foundation has also begun to collect data and tag turtles to further its conservation efforts. If you are looking for a way to help after you go home, consider adopting a flippered friend. Cape Verde spans across a volcanic archipelago of 10 islands. You can see Pico do Fogo, an active volcano and the country's highest peak, or dive beneath the ocean's surface to explore sunken ships just off the coast.
Canada Polar bears tend to steal the spotlight, but there is another type of white bear. The Kermode bear, or spirit bear, is a subspecies of black bear living only in the Great Bear Rainforest of British Columbia. Most spirit bears have black coats, but due to a recessive gene some have startling white fur. The number of spirit bears remaining is debated, with estimations as low as a few hundred to as high as just over one thousand.
The Kitasoo Spirit Bear Conservancy sits on British Columbia's Princess Royal Island. The organization exists to protect the remaining spirit bears. In addition to the Kermode bear's rainforest habitat, the conservancy ranges across mountains, beaches, reefs and fjords; each playing host to myriad plants and animals. Come stay at the Spirit Bear Lodge in Klemtu. The waterfront lodge gives visitors a spectacular view of the rainforest and ocean. Guides strike out into the heart of the Great Bear Rainforest to give tourists a rare look at spirit bears, as well as the forest's other bears and wildlife. If you'd like to wander off of Princess Royal Island, head to Vancouver to explore the sprawling beauty of Stanley Park, visit Whistler for the skiing or the Okanagan for the wineries .
India Lions are synonymous with the African plains, but there is actually an entire population of the big cat living on a different continent. The Asiatic lion is endemic to the Indian state of Gujarat. Once, these felines lived across India, Europe and the Middle East, but the number of Asiatic lions in the wild has dropped to less than 600, mostly as a result of hunting.
Gir National Park and Wildlife Sanctuary ranges across 100 square miles and protects the lions and hundreds of other species living within its bounds. Along with majestic lions, the park hosts leopards, crocodiles, antelope, wild boar, hundreds of different species of bird and more. Book a Jeep safari tour for a day, or sleep in the national park itself at the Gir Birding Lodge . The lodge has six luxury cottages and 14 rooms for visitors. The accommodations are spread out across a 17-acre orchard in the heart of the park. Visiting Gir National Park helps the sanctuary continue its conservation efforts. India is a gorgeous country to travel through. If you want to roam beyond Gujarat, you can take a short flight to Goa for miles of sandy beaches or take an ambitious drive up north to see the opulent Taj Mahal. Wherever you travel, be sure to sample the region's distinctive cuisine.