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25 once-in-a-lifetime conservation experiences

25 once-in-a-lifetime conservation experiences

From tracking cheetahs to rehabilitating turtles, here are the travel experiences that will change the way you view the world.

1. Learn to track wildlife

South Africa

Want to master the ancient art of tracking wildlife? Ker & Downey Africa and the Tracker Academy is a non-profit that offers formal qualifications in wildlife tracking to youth from disadvantaged backgrounds.

They take guests on the remarkable 12-day South African ‘Conservation Safari’. Where you can walk alongside graduates from the program, partaking in conservation management experiences at Londolozi Private Game Reserve and the Tracker Academy camp.

Students out on the field with Tracker Academy
Students out on the field with Tracker Academy © Ker & Downey

2. Marvel at black rhinos

South Africa

Encompassing 28,555 hectares in South Africa’s KwaZulu-Natal, andBeyond’s Phinda Private Game Reserve offers a one-stop safari experience. Established in 1991 on reclaimed farmland, it’s also an icon of progressive conservation. Not only is the reserve home to one of the country’s largest populations of black rhinos and an important cheetah population, its leopard research project has led to changes in provincial legislation.

Read: A life-changing safari experience at Phinda

3. Support the Sri Lankan leopard

Sri Lanka

Wild Coast Tented Lodge is a haven of 28 cocoon-like tents scattered at the edge of wildlife-rich Yala National Park. Beyond adopting a number of eco-friendly initiatives, the Relais & Châteaux property has also partnered with the Wilderness and Wildlife Conservation Trust and the University of Oxford to create a Leopard Research Centre. With researchers dedicated to the future of the endangered Sri Lankan leopard.

Read: 9 luxury camping experiences around the world

4. Wake to a tiger’s roar

Canberra, Australia

Canberra’s Jamala Wildlife Lodge sees guests enjoying incredible animal encounters and an African-inspired dinner. Funds from the overnight experience are used to support national and international breeding and educational programs. The National Zoo and Aquarium in which it is located also donates to a number of local and overseas organisations, such as Free the Bears and Snow Leopard Trust.

© Jamala Wildlife Lodge

5. Get up close with small cats

Hawkesbury, NSW

The Wild Cat Conservation Centre was founded by director Ben Britton in 2016. It is the only environmental organisation in Australia focused on supporting smaller wild cat species that are typically overlooked from funding, such as the caracal and clouded leopard.

Located in the beautiful Hawkesbury region of New South Wales, the centre allows visitors to take part in private guided tours. You can view the felines up close while learning about the various conservation programs to protect them.

Clouded leopards at WCCC
Clouded leopards at The Wild Cat Conservation Centre © Gregg Porteous

6. Behind the scenes with raptors

Southern Tasmania

Craig Webb opened the Raptor Refuge to rescue injured eagles, hawks, falcons and owls. The centre nurses them back to health, then returns them to the wild. Those that are too badly injured to survive on their own reside at the refuge south of Hobart, living in soaring enclosures.

Guests on Abercrombie & Kent’s Tasmanian itineraries can enjoy exclusive access to Webb’s private estate and behind-the-scenes tours.

Image courtesy of the Raptor and Wildlife Refuge Centre
Image courtesy of Raptor Refuge

7. Walk among the fynbos

South Africa

On the southern tip of Africa is the 2,500-hectare Grootbos Private Nature Reserve. Its fragile belt of heathland, known as fynbos, is home to several plant and animal species that are found here and nowhere else on Earth.

You can linger in lodges, with part of your rate channelled into The Grootbos Foundation. Which trains and employs local people in vegetation management, alien plant removal, horticulture and conservation.

Read: The most extreme places to visit on Earth

Flower safari at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve
Flower safari at Grootbos Private Nature Reserve

8. Float above Kakadu’s floodplains

Northern Territory

Bamurru Plains is an eco-friendly lodge offering exclusive access to the floodplains, forests and wetlands of Kakadu’s Mary River. Its motivation is to not only showcase the area’s natural beauty but to open the minds of guests.

They do this by educating them about the surrounding environment through a range of safaris and nature activities. Activities range from spotting estuarine crocodiles by airboat to bird watching inside the six-metre-high ‘The Hide’.

Freestanding bungalows mean minimal impact on the environment. For every guest that stays, a donation is made to the Australian Wildlife Conservancy.

© Bamurru Plains

9. Give back at Nimmo Bay

For every wilderness experience offered at Nimmo Bay Resort, they find a way to give back in a conscientious manner.

Owners Fraser and Becky Murray are founding members of Sea to Cedar, an organisation that supports community-driven environmental research and contributes funds to several projects. Many of which guests can get involved in during their stay. The resort, located in Canada’s Great Bear Rainforest is accessible by air and sea only.

Read: The world’s most remote hotels

Black Bear
Nimmo Bay Resort Cabin
Whale spotting at Nimmo Bay Resort
Massage at Nimmo Bay Resort
Kayaking at Nimmo Bay Resort
Hot Tub
Exterior of the cabins at Nimmo Bay Resort

10. Track cheetahs in South Africa

The Marataba Conservation Camps in South Africa’s Waterberg offer a hands-on safari experience like never before. Base yourself in a suite at the Founders Camp overlooking the Matlabas River, or a glamping-style tent at the Explorers Camp, backdropped by a waterhole.

Tailored tours with private guides are run daily. Cheetah tracking walks, elephant impact assessments, setting up and monitoring of camera trap, and vegetation management are all included.

Marataba Conservation Camps
© Marataba Conservation Camps

11. Patrol Cambodia’s forests

Set within 350 hectares of pristine river valley on the southern border of Cambodia’s Cardamom National Forest, Shinta Mani Wild and the surrounding area is home to some of the world’s most endangered species, including 54 animals on the IUCN Red List.

Logging and poaching remain serious threats; as the forest cover disappears, so does the wildlife. To reverse the decline, the stunning retreat – created by award-winning architect Bill Bensley – funds a dedicated Wildlife Alliance ranger station within its camp, which guests can join on patrols.

12. Rehabilitate turtles in the Maldives

The Maldives is home to one of the richest marine ecosystems on the planet. To conserve it, Four Seasons Resort Maldives operates the Marine Discovery Centre, run by marine biologists.

While heading the Maldivian Sea Turtle Conservation Program to monitor, protect and rehabilitate turtles, the centre also cares for hatchlings until they return to the wild. Guests can join activities to help the turtles.

13. Private tours on Kangaroo Island

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park is home to a host of native Australian animals – many of which were rescued and raised from joeys after being orphaned or injured. For a VIP peek, visitors can take a guided private tour which includes cuddling koalas, feeding kangaroos and getting up close to wombats, dingoes, penguins and more.

Read: Kangaroo Island’s post-bushfires road to recovery

Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park
Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park © South Australian Tourism Commission

14. Meet Mexico’s sea turtles

Experience the natural wonders of the Baja California peninsula, all the while supporting crucial research with Elevate Destinations’ ‘Sea Turtle Conservation and Whale Adventure’ tour. The hands-on, week-long journey gives travellers the chance to work alongside local fishermen and conservationists as they partake in sea turtle monitoring, data collection and net checks.

Read: 6 places to see before they disappear

Sea turtles in Mexico
Sea turtles © Elevate Destinations

15. Become an ambassador with WWF

Striving to create a future where people and nature live in harmony, the World Wildlife Fund for Nature has many global benchmarks under its belt. Now, WWF has partnered with Natural Habitat Adventures to offer many exceptional small-group conservation experiences. They range from watching glaciers calve in Greenland to observing polar bears in Churchill.

16. Share an island with a near extinct iguana

Boasting 45 overwater bures on the edge of a protected marine sanctuary in Fiji, Likuliku Lagoon Resort rangers discovered a Malolo Island crested iguana at the property in 2010 – a species thought to be extinct.

The team began working with researchers from the US Geological Survey, Taronga Zoo and San Diego Zoo to develop a program to rehabilitate the species and remove it from the extinction list. By 2019, 44 had been documented. Guests can join personalised tours of the resort’s iguana sanctuary and dry forest habitat.

Rare iguana at Likuliku Lagoon Resort
Likuliku Lagoon Resort
Likuliku Lagoon Resort
Likuliku Lagoon Resort

17. Stay with Singita

Singita has been working to preserve and protect the African wilderness for 27 years, and each one of its 15 award-winning lodges and camps conserves a thriving habitat of plants and animal species.

Guests are always invited to get involved: at Singita Kwitonda Lodge in Rwanda, contribute to a reforestation project to expand the range for endangered mountain gorillas by planting trees. At Singita Faru Faru Lodge in Tanzania, meet the elite Grumeti Fund anti-poaching team, which is made up of 120 game scouts, some of whom used to be poachers themselves

At Singita Pamushana, enjoy a game drive among one of the highest concentrations of the endangered black rhino.

Read: Singita founder Luke Bailes on protecting mountain gorillas in Rwanda

Rwanda's mighty mountain gorillas
Rwanda's mighty mountain gorillas

18. Walk with giants

Anantara Golden Triangle in northern Thailand is home to the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, established in 2006 to provide a home and improve the welfare of more than 30 elephants rescued off city streets, along with their mahouts and families.

Part of the resort’s all-inclusive ‘Discovery Experience’ package is ‘Walking with Giants’, two hours spent with the elephants in their natural jungle environment. Wander alongside the river accompanied by mahouts and camp vets, learning about elephant behaviour and habits as you form a deeper connection with these gentle, magnificent creatures.

Read: Immunity and health-boosting recipes from Anantara Hotels, Resorts & Spas

19. Free the bears

Australia’s Free the Bears was founded in 1995 by Perth grandmother Mary Hutton. The organisation has since rescued more than 950 bears around the world from poaching, the bile trade, restaurants and enforced entertainment.

They have sanctuaries in Cambodia and Laos. Volunteers help look after rescued bears and maintain the sanctuaries, assisting to prepare bear treats, aiding keepers in cleaning enclosures and creating bear hammocks. Accommodation is provided in rustic but comfortable housing, and while the work can be hot and smelly, the rewards of working toward the welfare of these beautiful animals is immeasurable.

20. Research whales with PONANT

French cruise operator PONANT is known for exploring spectacular places where nature reigns supreme. In doing so, the company recognises the responsibility to preserve the unique ecosystems and communities it visits. Not only has PONANT taken measures to reduce its environmental footprint, but it has also established a foundation dedicated to conserving ocean habitats and polar regions.

For one project, it teamed up with Conservation International to study the behaviour of humpback whales in the Southern Hemisphere. Naturalist experts joined an Antarctica expedition to collect and analyse findings of whale feeding habits, and passengers on board were lucky enough to receive regular updates.

Read: Journey with Ponant to Antarctica

Polar Expedition Zodiac with PONANT

21. Go glamping in Antarctica

Travel to the end of the Earth in style with a stay at White Desert’s Whichaway Camp, the first and only luxury accommodation on the White Continent. The camp features heated, fibreglass igloo-like sleeping pods, transfers by private Gulfstream jet, and optional excursions like visiting emperor penguin colonies and standing at the Geographic South Pole.

Crucially, the experience is entirely carbon-neutral, with the company mitigating all emissions generated through fully accredited offset schemes.

Read: Glamping in Antarctica with White Desert

© White Desert Whichaway Camp

22. Clean up our oceans

About 70 per cent of the plastic that enters the ocean winds up on the seafloor. Here, it can entangle with marine life or be consumed by bottom feeders. 4Ocean cleaners work seven days a week to remove rubbish from oceans and rivers around the world. The garbage is then sorted and sent to a recycling plant to be turned into plastic pellets used to make 4Ocean products.

Keep an eye on its website for upcoming beach clean-ups and educational summits. In the meantime, every 4Ocean product purchased comes with the promise to pull a pound of rubbish from the sea.

23. Survey snow leopards

There’s nothing quite like seeing one of Earth’s most elusive creatures in the wild. Head to the Tien Shan mountains of Kyrgyzstan to survey snow leopards – as well as their prey, such as argali mountain sheep, Central Asian ibex and marmots – as part of a small team with Biosphere Expeditions’ ‘Mountain Ghosts’ journey.

Accommodations are provided by a mobile tented base camp set at various locations and altitudes of up to 2,000 metres, and ground is often covered by foot.

24. Join biologists in the Flinders Rangers

The Flinders Ranges are an important refuge for biodiversity, yet climate change and the introduction of feral animals have pushed local wildlife to the brink.

Here, the remote Arkaba Conservancy helps ecologists fund vegetation and mammal surveys and encourages the growth of plants that are critical to endangered species. Join biologists as they conduct research and help set up monitoring stations.

25. Repopulate the world’s reefs

The sea surrounding the islands of French Polynesia is home to 200 species of coral, 1,200 species of fish and 1,000 species of crustaceans. Sadly, after years of coastal development, the ongoing pressures of tourism and escalating climate change, these fragile ecosystems are in decline.

Enter the Coral Gardeners. Based in Tahiti, this passionate group have dedicated themselves to repopulating these reef communities with resilient corals that have proven to survive hot water temperatures and bleaching. Do your part by adopting a piece of coral, which the divers will plant on your behalf.

This article originally appeared in volume 38 of Signature Luxury Travel & Style magazine. To subscribe to the latest issue, click here.