I have often used terms like “natural treasure” or “ecological gem” in my writing when talking about the value of our planet’s rivers, oceans, grasslands, forests and other critical ecosystems. And usually, when I write that, I’m talking about the trillions in dollars’ worth of benefits that these ecosystems provide to communities, nations and the world-at-large. But these natural assets are a treasure in another way: they are the currency of a life worth living. They lift our spirits in times of trial. They are a reminder of all that has endured—and can continue to endure—if we can repair humanity’s broken relationship with the natural world. —Jesse Marcus, WWF
Ecosystem services delivered by biodiversity—from crop pollination and water purification, to flood protection and carbon sequestration—are vital to human wellbeing. These assets are often referred to as the world’s ‘natural capital’ because the benefits significantly impact the economy—from farming and forestry, to leisure and tourism. Globally, these services are worth an estimated $125-140 trillion per year; that is more than one and a half times the size of the global economy!
Because nature is free, we often take it for granted and overexploit it. We clear forests, overfish oceans, pollute rivers and build over wetlands without considering the reverberating effects this will have. Consequently, nature is being lost faster than it can regenerate and be restored. World Wildlife Fund’s 2022 edition of the Living Planet Report reveals that we are overusing our planet’s resources by at least 75 percent, the equivalent of living off 1.75 Earths. More than half of the world’s total Gross Domestic Product (GDP) is at risk due to nature loss, including conversion of forests into cropland, and land degradation, like soil erosion and desertification. A new World Bank report estimates that the collapse of select ecosystem services provided by nature—such as wild pollination, provision of food from marine fisheries and timber from native forests—could result in a decline in global GDP of $2.7 trillion annually by 2030. The collapse of ecosystem services disproportionately impact low and lower-middle income countries, and Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia would be hit particularly hard.
Investing in large-scale nature restoration makes socio-economic sense, and the benefits are on average ten times higher than the costs. Conservation tourism, or nature-based tourism—also known as NBT—is a powerful tool that countries can leverage to grow and bring jobs to local communities. When pursued responsibly, tourism can generate government revenues and foreign exchange, and create new markets for entrepreneurs to sell their goods and services. After all, the tourism sector is the largest market-based contributor to finance protected areas, such as national parks.
Natural Habitat Adventures knows that for NBT to flourish, wildlife and its natural habitat must be protected and managed sustainably. We also know that the best guardians of biodiversity are the local and Indigenous communities that devote their lives to defending wilderness. To support their heroic actions and grassroots efforts, Nat Hab created a philanthropy program with the following goals in mind: benefit communities, safeguard wildlife and preserve cultural heritage. In addition to Nat Hab’s partnership with WWF, we spearhead myriad projects in the countries our travelers visit.
As 2022 comes to a close, we’re celebrating a few of our most recent initiatives. Here are some of the ways we have given back this year:
- Implemented Bear Safe Trashcans in Jackson, Wyoming
- Strengthened our Membership with Friends of Serengeti
- Bolstered our Partnership with SEE Turtles
- Funded a New Kitchen for the Gyekrumalambo Primary School in Karatu, Tanzania
Reducing Human-Grizzly Conflict with Bear-Resistant Trash Cans
Jackson Hole, Wyoming—located in the southern region of the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem (GYE)—is not only a wildlife hotspot, but one of the most crucial areas in the country for large carnivore research and conservation. Similar to the West’s other great predator—the wolf—grizzly bears are keystone species. They play a vital role in regulating prey species, dispersing seeds and fertilizing forests. They also provide abundant wildlife viewing and photography opportunities, including on Nat Hab’s Hidden Yellowstone & Grand Teton Safari and Yellowstone: Ultimate Wolf & Wildlife Safari. There are approximately 700 grizzly bears recorded in the GYE, but that number is in a near-constant state of fluctuation. Traditional food sources are diminishing due to climate change, human encroachment and land conversion, and like the wolf, grizzlies may wander outside of park boundaries to compensate, creating controversy and conflict with the surrounding communities.
Trash is the number one cause of human-grizzly bear conflict, and Jackson Hole Bear Solutions, a program run by the non-profit Wyoming Wildlife Advocates, is determined to remedy this crisis. In partnership with the National Elk Refuge and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the program secures garbage bins, removes attractants and provides installation assistance for electric fencing to secure compost piles, apiaries and chicken coops. Nat Hab Philanthropy proudly donated $3,250 to secure 20 bear-safe trash cans. If you’d like to join us in empowering residents to coexist with the grizzly bears, please consider making a donation to Jackson Hole Bear Solutions.
Community Conservation with Friends of Serengeti
Friends of Serengeti is a nonprofit organization that partners with sustainable tourism companies to preserve the Serengeti ecosystem and benefit the people who live within and around its protected areas. Nat Hab’s financial contributions strengthen community conservation initiatives such as:
- The Serengeti Teachers Environmental Program (STEP). STEP provides Tanzanian primary and secondary science teachers with training on environmental issues and wildlife protection. The program also creates conservation-focused curricula and encourages students to help with outreach by planting trees and leading community clean-ups.
- Women’s Empowerment. This program prioritizes women’s education, health and economic welfare by providing them with opportunities to generate income and sustain wealth, such as bee-keeping and selling honey.
- Radio Programming. In conjunction with a UNESCO-sponsored Maasai radio station, this program broadcasts educational messages to the entire region of Musoma, Maasai Mara, Loliondo area and some parts of Ngorongoro Conservation Area, and gives communities a platform to exchange conservation ideas in their native languages of Swahili and Maa.
Seeing Sea Turtles Sustainably
Sea turtles help maintain the health of seagrass beds and coral reefs, which in turn benefit commercially valuable species like shrimp, lobster and tuna. They also have major cultural significance and tourism value—from the Indian Ocean, to the Coral Triangle and the Eastern Pacific. Sea turtles are living representatives of a group of reptiles that have existed on Earth and traveled our seas for the last 100 million years. But these ancient mariners are in trouble!
Sea turtles are harvested unsustainably, both for human consumption and trade of their parts. They also face habitat destruction and nesting site disturbances from coastal development, vehicle traffic on beaches and other human activities. Increasingly severe storms and sea level rise also destroy critical habitats, and climate change alters sand temperatures, which affects the sex of hatchlings, resulting in fewer males. Bycatch is another threat; worldwide, hundreds of thousands of sea turtles are accidentally caught in shrimp trawl nets, on longline hooks and in fishing gill nets every year. Lost and discarded fishing gear—called ghost gear—claim the lives of more turtles, as they are unable to feed or swim. Pollution on the beaches can trap hatchlings and prevent them from reaching the ocean, and floating plastic materials choke hungry sea turtles, hunting for what they mistake for jellyfish. Nearly all species of sea turtle are now classified as endangered, with three of the seven existing species being critically endangered.
SEE Turtles runs several programs focused on making the travel industry more friendly for sea turtles and Nat Hab is happy to help them make the seas a safer place! Since the launch of SEE Turtles in 2008, Nat Hab has supported their sustainable travel initiatives by offering collaborative trips to research sea turtles in Baja California Sur, Mexico. And, by becoming one of SEE Turtles’ first Gold Sponsors of their Sustainable Travel Sponsorship program, Nat Hab supports efforts to reduce plastic waste in sea turtle habitats around the world. We have also become a vital partner in helping to end the demand for wildlife products in the travel industry by collaborating with the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance and participating in the Too Rare To Wear campaign. You can learn more about how to responsibly reduce your footprint by reading this Good Nature blog post, written by SEE Turtles President Brad Nahill!
Building Community & A New School Kitchen in Tanzania
Most of our northern Tanzania safaris pass through Karatu as we travel to or from the Ngorongoro Highlands, and we enjoy introducing our guests to the local community. The Gyekrumalambo Primary School in Karatu emerged as a school in need of support, and as the school’s primary benefactor, Nat Hab Philanthropy funded their first water tank for clean drinking. Since then, several of our travelers have taken it upon themselves to supply new school uniforms and library books, too! Our recent visits to Karatu revealed a need for a school kitchen. Nat Hab’s Chief Sustainability Officer Court Whelan brings us the update from the field:
“The most recent project we’ve funded, which is now complete, is a school kitchen—requested specifically by the school and its teachers. I’ve just received photos of the project and while it might not look revolutionary, this is a game-changer for the community and school children, where a facility like this (and the food to be served as a result) simply didn’t exist prior. Really happy to share some cool news here as yet another way that conservation travel improves lives, directly and indirectly. Big thanks to our own Tricia B. and East Africa Safari Ventures (our partners in Tanzania) for helping to facilitate!”
Giving Back: Nat Hab’s Community Relief Fund
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, in 2019, global tourism experienced its best recorded year as one of the world’s largest sectors, accounting for 10.4 percent of GDP ($9.2 trillion), 10.6 percent of all jobs (334 million), and was responsible for creating 1 in 4 of all new jobs globally. The spreading virus halted travel around the world and caused a loss of an estimated 62 million tourism jobs. The consequences were far-reaching and tourism industry workers from marginalized backgrounds were particularly hard hit. Africa was the region with the greatest percentage decrease in employment, at -29.3 percent, followed by North America (-27.9 percent), then the Caribbean (-24.7 percent). The Asia-Pacific region was most impacted in terms of absolute job losses, comprising more than half of lost tourism jobs globally at 34.1 million. Naturalist guides, wildlife rangers, conservation educators and park drivers not only faced a loss of income, but security, too. Many people could no longer afford to send their children to school, let alone provide food and medicine for their families. And with wildlife reserves left unguarded, poaching and trafficking increased.
To ensure the safety of our communities—at home and abroad—Nat Hab & WWF temporarily paused our adventures. During that time, our staff doubled down on Nat Hab’s philanthropic efforts to help those most impacted by the global health crisis. Nat Hab created a Community Relief Fund and seeded it with $25,000, inviting our Habitat Club members and conservation partners to give, too, so we could send direct economic support to local people. Since then, the fund has exceeded $340,000 and helped more than 2,000 local tourism workers and family members in 30 different parks and reserves around the globe. Keep an eye out for more life-changing relief efforts in June of 2023!
Conservation Through Exploration with WWF Travel
Since 2003, Nat Hab has partnered with World Wildlife Fund, the world’s leading environmental organization, to promote our mission of conservation through exploration. We have provided more than $5 million to support WWF’s global conservation efforts and will continue to give 1% of gross sales, plus $150,000 annually. WWF has invested in over ten thousand conservation projects across 157 countries since its inception in 1961 and there are currently more than 2,000 projects in progress around the world. Take a look at some of the important work that’s happening in these destinations!
When you travel with Nat Hab & WWF, you directly support local and Indigenous communities by creating jobs and improving livelihoods. Our generous travelers have donated $33.5 million in support of WWF priorities in some of the most precious yet imperiled places on the planet. Your presence on our trips becomes a powerful incentive for people to protect their natural resources, making wildlife worth more alive than dead, and wild lands worth more intact than degraded. And you’ll go home not just moved by your experiences, but as an informed and enlightened ambassador for conservation.
Need more inspiration? Check out this Daily Dose of Nature Webinar featuring Expedition Leaders Arpita Dutta and Payal Mehta, as they discuss the true value of conservation travel and take a deep, personal dive into what it’s like to be a guide for Nat Hab.
Thank you for helping us Make Travel Meaningful!
If you haven’t had a chance yet to contribute to our Community Relief Fund and would like to, or if you’ve already donated and you’d like to give a bit more, please click here. You will receive a $250 Nat Hab travel voucher for every $250 you donate.