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Filmmaker, explorer and conservationist Celine Cousteau introduces her work as an ambassador for The TreadRight Foundation and their mission to fight wildlife crime and improve the treatment of wildlife by the travel and tourism sector.

Tourism and wildlife protection have an uneasy relationship. Unquestionably, poorly managed tourism can negatively impact wildlife. This occurs through habitat loss, pollution and poaching to feed the illegal wildlife trade, the most immediate threat to wild animals today.

However, well-managed tourism can make a monumental difference, bringing protection to species and significant economic and employment opportunity. With this in mind, the travel industry can play a crucial role in the protection of our wildlife and planet.

In 2008, The Travel Corporation acknowledged its responsibility and established the not-for-profit, TreadRight Foundation. Its mission is to Make Travel Matter, by safeguarding people, wildlife and the planet. In the decade since our founding, we have supported over 50 sustainable tourism projects worldwide. These include work to protect rhino populations and rehabilitate elephants. We also partner with the Wildlife Conservation Society to actively support their Big Cat Fund.

Big cat protection

The big cat family has an iconic status, and rightly so. As the top predator in their habitats, these animals are the reason why the ecosystems around them exist. The species are revered and loved in an almost unique way. And yet despite this, all seven species are listed as ‘threatened’ or ‘near threatened’, with the tiger categorised as ‘endangered’.

We support the Wildlife Conservation Society and their work to stabilise the big cat population. Though the threats to big cats change somewhat based on geography, habitat destruction and poaching remain the leading threats to these creatures. We have put these animals at risk. It is now our collective responsibility to help to protect them.

Southern African rhinos extinct during our lifetime

Another species at risk is the rhino. To help save them, we support the Wilderness Foundation Africa. Through this support, the Wilderness Foundation Africa was able to purchase a Bat Hawk aircraft that is used for anti-poaching operations in the Eastern Cape of South Africa. This aircraft allows protection teams to fly over game reserves and not only monitor the species, but also to apprehend poachers.

However, saving the rhino is not as simple as catching poachers. It is also vital to reduce the demand as well as the supply of animal parts.  We have also worked with WildAid’s ‘Conservation Through Communication’ campaign. This work focused on reducing the demand for endangered species through engaging and educational messaging. As it is said, “when the buying stops, the killing can too”.

Saving the rhino is an ongoing battle. But in uniting initiatives like these, we help to ensure that we can all enjoy the species for generations to come.

Celine Cousteau with processional elephants

India’s elephants – wild animals forced into captivity

Despite elephants being a cultural icon, there is an abundant lack of elephant welfare awareness in India and throughout Asia. This leads to the persistent use of elephants for riding, entertainment and street begging.

Local organisation, Wildlife SOS specifically works to address the problem of injured and sick elephants that are forced to work. They currently offer medical services to elephants and train their handlers on humane treatment.

As an organisation, Wildlife SOS was in need of a permanent location from which they could raise awareness on the newest laws and strategies. We provided Wildlife SOS with a grant to build a classroom at the Elephant Conservation Centre in Mathura, Uttar, allowing the organisation a base to continue their training.

Alongside grassroots projects like this, Travellers should also actively look for operators who have signed the World Animal Protection’s Elephant-friendly Tourism Pledge, a commitment not sell activities involving elephant rides and shows. Combined conscientious decisions from both tour operators and travellers will help improve the treatment of elephants and all wildlife.

Your responsibility to choose right

While there are many positive examples of how the tourism sector has worked hand-in-hand with wildlife organisations, the clear reality is that individual tourists too have a responsibility to make well-informed decisions when they travel.

As holiday-makers moving around the world, we need to ensure that the wildlife experiences we choose to be a part are ethical and respectful. Interacting with wild animals is an experience you’ll never forget, but you have to ask yourself, at what cost. Please join us to work together to #maketravelmatter

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