By Costas Christ
Originally appeared in September 2014 issue of Virtuoso Life
How to Save Africa’s Elephants
More than 20,000 African elephants have been killed each year since 2007 – that’s 120,000 in six years – all to feed the illegal ivory trade. With a population of roughly 500,000 elephants left on the continent, if the massacres don’t stop, our children could be the last generation to see an African elephant in the wild. As travelers, here are four steps we can take to help.
1. Never buy ivory anywhere for any reason – period.
In many countries “antique ivory” is sold legally. The problem is that it is almost impossible to verify and often comes from poached elephant ivory treated with chemicals to make it look old. In some parts of the world, ivory is sold as religious icons and tourist souvenirs – investigators even found ivory for sale in tourist shops outside the Vatican.
2. Chose a safari operator that visits community-based wildlife conservancies.
Elephants don’t recognize national park boundaries, especially during migration periods, when herds move across vast areas without protection from poachers. Community-based conservancies double as private wildlife reserves outside national park boundaries and remain one of the best hopes for saving Africa’s endangered elephants.
3. Support the U.S. ban on commercial trade in elephant ivory.
You might be surprised to learn that ivory has long been permitted for sale in the United States. Last February, President Obama announced a commercial ban on elephant ivory. Write your congressperson to strengthen the ivory ban and support laws that combat wildlife trafficking to ensure the U.S. doesn’t help fuel the illegal ivory trade.
4. Join other elephant lovers.
Support organizations that work hard to protect wild elephants. Among the best:
Save the Elephants (www.savetheelephants.org) and Tusk Trust (www.tusk.org).
How to Embrace a Sense of Place
To deliver an authentic experience, hotels should embrace the local character, not conquer it. My quick test to see how they measure up: Stand in the lobby and imagine that I just magically beamed in. Do a visual 360 and take in the decor, staff uniforms, and architecture – can I tell what country I’m in (or at least which continent)? If not, I head for the door. Two great hotels that come to mind:
Located on Bangkok’s Chao Phraya River in the historic Dusit neighborhood, the 39-room Siam evokes old and new Bangkok with museum-worthy Thai antiques and fun, somewhat unexpected touches, such as rock-and-roll memorabilia (the owner is the front man for Thailand’s most famous punk band).
Sofitel Legend The Grand, Amsterdam:
Housed in a historic building dating to the fifteenth century, the 177-room property has served as the Dutch Admiralty’s headquarters and Queen Beatrice’s wedding venue. It even has a tulip named in its honor. Sip Champagne at the city’s best oyster bar, then set out exploring on hotel bicycles. The hotel serves afternoon tea on a traditional canal boat while floating through Amsterdam’s waterways.
How to Get Voluntourism Right
Helping others as part of a vacation has become a popular travel trend. That’s a good thing. But like most worthy goals in life, it’s not as easy as it looks in brochures sporting images of African schoolchildren in the arms of smiling travelers. In some cases, the repeated emotional attachments and abandonments by waves of voluntourists can take a psychological toll on needy children. As a former Peace Corps country director in Africa and Central America, I can affirm that it’s best to leave social welfare projects to trained staff.
The most successful voluntourism programs don’t involve distributing food in slums or doing a stint in orphanages, but rather working on such environmental projects as building hiking trails in national parks. Organizations such as the Sierra Club, Earthwatch, and Australia’s Conservation Ecology Centre welcome volunteers to help with field conservation to protect threatened wildlife. That’s good for the planet – and for today’s growing number of travelers who want to give back.
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