Having been snatched from the very jaws of environmental disaster lends a certain added drama to these wilderness regions.
While many other African countries have been fighting a losing battle trying to separate animals and humans, communities in parts of northern Kenya, such as the Maasai of Il Ngwesi, Laikipiak Maasai of Lekurruki and the Samburu within the Matthews Range, are actually increasing animal populations (and their own standard of living) by embracing peaceful cohabitation. These lands were previously used for grazing. With support from many sources, these communities have created a prime conservation area and set an exciting environmental-management precedent.
If you ever find yourself in this part of the world, stay in an open-fronted thatched cottage at the award-winning community ecolodge, Il Ngwesi Group Ranch (www.ilngwesi.com).
Until the 1980s it was generally assumed that Antarctica was there for the plundering – it was just a matter of how to divide up the spoils. But Greenpeace and other NGOs undertook a massive campaign to alert the world to the threat. Petitions were circulated and secret governmental documents were leaked to the public. Then disasters like the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska in 1989 brought home their point: accidents would happen and the results would be devastating. Consequently, the landmark Antarctic Environmental (Madrid) Protocol was signed. Including a ban on mining and requirements for waste cleanup and expedition impact assessments, it protects this pristine wilderness – for now.
The Protocol is legally binding on all visitors who are nationals of signatory countries and you can be fined up to US$10,000 for damage.
The Pantanal, Brazil
Amazon deforestation grabs all the headlines, but Brazil’s Pantanal is also under threat. This region is the largest inland wetland on earth, but suffers from overgrazing for the beef industry, poaching of ‘croc-skin’ caimans, and, more recently, biofuel agriculture, which is robbing it of water. But one project has become an example of environmental best practice: the Caiman Ecological Refuge. This working cattle ranch of 520 sq km hosts scientific research teams and three ecolodges for tourists. Protected wildlife includes jaguars, giant otters, anacondas, hyacinth macaws and, of course, caimans. The project has inspired more than 30 other private nature refuges.
Caiman Ecological Refuge tariffs include meals and numerous activities, such as canoeing and horseback riding; at least three nights are recommended to make the most of what’s on offer.
Kakadu National Park, Australia
Some of the world’s biggest deposits of uranium lie within Kakadu, one of Australia’s most stunning national parks. While there have been several controversial mines in the park, it was the Jabiluka mine and its David-and-Goliath battle that caught international attention. After a lot of political drama, in 2005 the Mirrar people were legally given the deciding vote on any resumption of mining.
Kakadu National Park (admission free) is open year-round. During the wet season (November to March) access to some attractions is closed or only by 4WD.
Project Tiger, India
When naturalist Jim Corbett first raised the alarm in the 1930s no one believed that tigers would ever be threatened. But poaching for skins and other parts saw numbers drop to only 1800 by 1972, and international outcry prompted the then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi to make the tiger the national symbol of India and establish the India-wide Project Tiger program. There are now 27 reserves throughout the country, including the original Corbett Tiger Reserve in Uttarakhand, where there’s a decent chance of spotting of these magnificent animals in the wild. Despite the overall success of this conservation project, poaching, albeit to a much smaller extent, unfortunately continues and tigers remain on the endangered list.
Corbett Tiger Reserve is open November to June – the most likely time to spot a tiger is late in the season (April to mid-June).
Kaziranga National Park, India
Kaziranga National Park in Assam is one of the most heartwarming conservation success stories. It was set up to protect the Indian one-horned rhinoceros. In 1905, the rhinos were all but hunted to extinction; some sources said that 12 individuals were left in the grasslands of Kaziranga. That was then. Now, with over 2,000 of these magnificent creatures, it has the largest population of Indian one-horned rhinoceros in the wild.
This article by Kylie McLaughlin first appeared on www.lonelyplanet.com in May 2012. It was refreshed in July 2012.