This is a guest post by Matt Kareus, Editor in Chief of The Safarist and About Galapagos, and Executive Director of the International Galapagos Tour Operators Association.

Many of our planet’s most iconic species are reeling from the effects of climate change, habitat loss, the rapidly growing illegal wildlife trade, and other serious threats. Unless things change dramatically and soon, we may, in the coming decades, have to face the almost inconceivable prospect of a world without wild rhinos, gorillas, polar bears, and many other magnificent creatures.

Fortunately, one of the best ways to help protect many at-risk and endangered species is also the most fun: go see them for yourself. When you travel to see tigers in India, for example, you give them tangible economic value so that a living tiger is worth far, far more than a dead one. This creates a powerful financial incentive for authorities to invest in habitat protection and anti-poaching efforts. Your visit also creates and supports good, sustainable jobs in tourism, which has the added benefit of turning local people into allies, rather than enemies, of wildlife. In short, wildlife tourism is a potent ally of wildlife conservation across the globe. So, get out there and do your part. To help you get started, Good Nature Travel teamed up with Expedia to bring you five iconic species that will benefit from your visit along with some tips on where to travel see them.

1. Mountain Gorillas, Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park


Photo © Trista Gage and Natural Habitat Adventures

With adult males weighing in at well over 400 pounds, the mountain gorilla is, by far, the world’s largest primate. To sit quietly among these powerful, highly intelligent and social animals in their natural habitat is an exhilarating and humbling experience.

Range and Habitat: As their name implies, mountain gorillas live at high elevations, generally between 8,000 and 13,000 feet. Their current range is limited to four national parks within three countries (Democratic Republic of Congo, Rwanda, and Uganda) in central Africa.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Remaining Population: 880

Threats: Mountain gorillas are highly susceptible to diseases carried by humans, ranging from the common cold to Ebola, as well habitat loss due to agricultural encroachment and charcoal making. Civil unrest and poaching for bush meat are also serious threats.

Where to Travel: Go gorilla trekking in Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park. It has 14 groups of gorillas that are habituated to humans. Treks to find the gorillas can be strenuous and can last anywhere from 15 minutes to a full day so you should be in relatively good shape. See gorillas in Central Africa.

2. Giant Pandas, China’s Sichuan Province


Photo © Brad Josephs and Natural Habitat Adventures

Thanks to World Wildlife Fund’s iconic logo, the beloved and beautiful giant panda has literally become the worldwide symbol for wildlife conservation. And thanks to an international outpouring of support, they have been making a steady comeback in recent years.

Range and Habitat: The world’s rarest species of bear, giant pandas live in scattered populations in the mountains of central China, where they subsist exclusively on bamboo.

Conservation Status: Endangered

Estimated Remaining Population: Around 1,800

Threats: Habitat loss is by far the most serious threat that giant pandas face. Their habitat primarily lies within China’s booming Yangtze River basin, where rampant railroad and highway construction fragments forests, making it more and more difficult for pandas to find mates and reproduce.

Where to Travel: Sign up for a tour to see wild pandas in one or more of the seven giant panda sanctuaries in China’s Sichuan province. Collectively, the sanctuaries make up the world’s largest contiguous giant panda habit. If you strike out and don’t see any in the wild, you can head to the Giant Panda Breeding and Research Center in Chengdu to get your panda fix. See giant pandas in China.

3. Black Rhinos, Namibia’s Palmwag Concession

Photo © Martin Benadie

Photo © Martin Benadie

Rhinos look like living fossils for a good reason – because they are. They’ve been around for roughly 40 million years, or about 200 times longer than humans, and are one of the oldest species of mammal. The black rhino is one of five extant rhinoceros species worldwide and one of two in Africa.

Modern Range and Habitat: Black rhinos once roamed across the grasslands, savannas and deserts of most of southern and eastern Africa. Today, their range is limited to protected reserves in four countries: South Africa, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Kenya.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Remaining Population: Around 4,800

Threats: Thanks to decades of wanton slaughter by European settlers, the number of black rhinos plummeted dramatically in the first half of the 20th century, before steps were finally taken to protect them in the 1960s. Between 1970 and 1992, poachers wiped out 98% of the remaining population. Today, newly surging demand for illegal rhino horn is once again spurring a massive poaching crisis. In 2014, for example, 1,215 rhinos were killed in South Africa alone, compared to just 13 in 2007.

Where to Travel: For black rhinos, go on a safari in Namibia’s Palmwag Concession and stay at Desert Rhino Camp. This private 1.1 million acre wildlife reserve is home to the world’s largest population of free roaming black rhinos. Activities include the opportunity to track them in the company of Community Wildlife Scouts. See rhinos and other modern animals in Namibia.

4. Bengal Tigers, India’s Bandhavgarh National Park

Tiger sitting on the dry grasses of the  dry deciduous forest of Ranthambore tiger reserve at sunrise

Photo © Aditya Singh

There are six subspecies of tiger still around today. The Bengal tiger is the most abundant, and, with big males weighing in at over 700 pounds, is the world’s largest living cat.

Range and Habitat: Bengal tigers roamed the forests and grasslands of the entire Indian subcontinent well into the 20th century. Today, India’s tiger reserves boast the healthiest populations, with smaller populations in Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, China and Myanmar.

Conservation Status: Critically Endangered

Estimated Remaining Population: Fewer than 2,500

Threats: Tigers face a variety of threats, not the least of which is widespread habitat loss and fragmentation due to agricultural expansion, development, and road construction. Poaching, driven by the illegal wildlife trade, is an even more pressing threat to the tiger’s long-term survival prospects.

Where to Travel: Go on a tiger safari in India’s Bandhavgarh National Park. With more than 50 tigers sharing the 60-square mile reserve, it boasts one of the highest densities of tigers anywhere and provides one of the best chances to see one. See tigers in India.

5. Polar Bears, Churchill, Manitoba


Photo © Eric Rock and Natural Habitat Adventures

Weighing as much as 1,500 pounds, the polar bear, along with its cousin the Kodiak grizzly to the south, is considered the world’s largest living terrestrial carnivore. Equipped with remarkable adaptations that allow it to survive in brutally cold and inhospitable conditions, the polar bear is the undisputed king of the Arctic.

Range and Habitat: Polar bears roam across circumpolar north from the high Arctic to subarctic regions in some countries. They spend more than 50% of their lives on the sea ice in search of seals and other prey.

Conservation Status: Vulnerable

Estimated Remaining Population: 20,000 to 25,000

Threats: Though polar bears are the only species on this list not classified as critically endangered or endangered, conservationists and scientists believe that diminishing sea ice due to climate change could have catastrophic consequences for the species in the next decade. Polar bears need sea ice as a platform from which to hunt, rest and breed. For the last two decades, summer sea ice pack has been decreasing across the Arctic. As a result, polar bears in some regions increasingly face the very real prospect of malnutrition and starvation.

Where to Travel: Visit Churchill, Manitoba and take a polar bear tour. Each fall, around 1,000 bears congregate on the tundra surrounding this tiny subarctic hamlet and wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze so they can head out onto the ice to hunt. For about eight weeks, beginning in early October, visitors can venture out onto the tundra in specially designed polar rovers and enjoy unrivaled close encounters with polar bears and other northern wildlife. See polar bears in Canada.