12/12/2013 11:27 am ET Updated Feb 11, 2014

EcoTravel Tips: Ethical Ways to Visit the Homes of Endangered Animals

Traveling is one of the best ways to learn about the world we live in, as well as gain perspective of our own place within it. However, human interaction with greater parts of the world is just one of the factors leading to the depletion of animal habitats. Luckily, the tourism industry has adapted to this need for change and responders are creating increasing opportunities for individuals to discover new places, while keeping in mind the needs of the land and the animals that inhabit it. Below is a list of just a few species that the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources deems "critically endangered" and examples of some organizations that can help you thoughtfully and ethically visit these species' homes.

Photo Credit: Ikiwaner/Wikimedia Commons
Black Rhino

Thanks to the efforts of several conservationist organizations, the population of the black rhino has risen to just under 5,000 individuals worldwide. However, this species is still in critical danger of extinction largely due to hunting, poaching, and habitat loss. Wilderness Safaris is an eco-tourism organization that not only allows you the chance to experience tracking of several different free-roaming African species, but does so with the animals in mind. A stay at the Desert Rhino Camp in Namibia puts you amongst the "largest free roaming black rhino population in Africa." This accommodation also exists in partnership with the Save the Rhino Trust, an NGO dedicated to preserving this endangered species as well as its habitat. Wilderness Safaris conducts all of its tourism with a standard it calls the "4 Cs," which stand for conservation, community, culture, and commerce. In keeping with these values, Wilderness Safaris has also created two separate charities to benefit the children and the wildlife of Africa.


Photo Credit: Petra Karstedt / / Wikipedia Commons
Sumatran Tiger

In Sumatra, the population of the sumatran tiger teeters just below 400 individuals and is under constant threat of losing even more of its already depleting habitat due to illegal deforestation and clearing of the land for settlement. Wild Sumatra is just one organization that is working towards reversing this threat. Wild Sumatra offers tourists a variety of guided tours throughout the Sumatran wilderness as well as suggesting accommodations for guests. They have the knowledge and services geared towards all types of travelers, from hotel locations with full amenities to providing camp gear for those who prefer to tour in a more rustic manner. While introducing tourists first-hand to the Sumatran forests, this organization also donates 5 percent of all tour profits to 21st Century Tiger, a fund dedicated to the conservation of wild tiger habitats and populations.

Photo Credit: Rabon David, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service/Wikipedia Commons
Leatherback Turtle

The leatherback turtle calls several different areas of the world home including Coastal East Africa, The Galapagos, and even the Gulf of California. Since the 1980's, however, the population of these beautiful, unique creatures has been quickly declining due in large part to the overharvesting of their eggs as well as complications with commercial fishing equipment. An exciting alternative to visiting the Costa Rican habitat of this species is to book an expedition with Earthwatch Institute. This organization offers several nine-day excursions in Las Baulas National Marine Park, home to the largest nesting population of leatherback turtles on the Pacific Ocean. With the exception of travel to and from your home and Costa Rica, the booking cost of this trip almost completely covers your vacation needs, including food and a beachfront accommodation. Traveling with Earthwatch Institute is much more than just an observatory vacation; while in Las Baulas National Marine Park you will work directly with marine scientists to help relocate eggs from dangerous nest locations as well as attach location transmitters to larger turtles so that the scientists can further track their movement. This vacation is perfect for any turtle lover looking to get up close and personal with the animals, as well as helping secure a future for the species.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia Commons
Mountain Gorilla

As war raged in the jungles of Rwanda throughout the early 1990's, the mountain gorilla's habitat also came under attack, as troops moved further and further into the highlands, causing destruction to this species' forest home. In addition to this event, poaching and even human disease have led to the further depletion of the mountain gorilla's population. Visiting their Rwandan habitats has been made easier with the help of Governors' Camp Collections, a business that commits itself to community and conservation while providing scenic tourist accommodations in Kenya and Rwanda. The Sabyinyo Silverback Lodge in the Parc National des Volcans, Rwanda is a group of several luxurious and comfortable homes that are all conveniently located to popular gorilla trekking services available in the park. In addition, Governors' Camp Collections is dedicated to its Responsible Tourism Rwanda program, which funds projects that not only go towards the preservation of the mountain gorilla's habitat, but also help sustain human life in Rwanda so that the two may live peacefully side-by-side.

Photo Credit: Marie-Lan Nguyen/Wikipedia Commons
Amur Leopard

With a population of around only 30 individuals worldwide, the amur leopard is so endangered today that it is constantly threatened by the possibility of extinction. In 2012, with the help of the World Wildlife Fund, the Russian government was able to establish a 262 hectare piece of land as a protected territory where this species could have a chance to breed and ultimately thrive. Named Land of the Leopard National Park, the established area, which covers much of the existing leopards' natural habitat, was separated into zones of varying protection and purpose. One of these zones includes 72 thousand hectares of "recreational space" where tourists are welcomed to view the habitat of these rare creatures. In Russia's capital, the Moscow Zoo offers tourists a guaranteed view of this particular species of cat. Although the animal is in captivity here, the Moscow Zoo partners with organizations such as the ALTA: Amur Leopard and Tiger Association to aid the continued efforts to study, protect and potentially repopulate this species, so you can feel confident about supporting this establishment as well.