Tambopata Rainforest Expeditions (www.perunature.com) is an award-winning ecotourism organization devoted to providing exceptional, eco-based vacations in South American rainforests. Kurt Holle, who owns Rainforest Expeditions, has continued to break ground in the world of travel with a variety of travel opportunities geared to create incentives for conservation. Holle's efforts have now resulted in three incredible hotels in the Peruvian Amazon, that host 15,000 guests!
In addition to promoting ecological interests in the sphere of tourism, the organization also collaborates with various high-profile partners on ecological programs and research initiatives that deeply serve the betterment of our world. We recently had the pleasure of interviewing Kurt Holle in the jungle.
When did you first know you were an ecologist at heart?
I'm not an ecologist, but I am a conservationist. I've been fascinated by the wildlife and the rainforest since I was a little kid. I can't remember myself not liking wildlife. I used to know the Latin names of more species at age eight than I do now, because I used to spend hours looking at wildlife books.
As a child, did you have animals, or an interest in wildlife?
I did not have pets. But from age eight onward, I have lived close to rainforests in Costa Rica and then close to beautiful cloud forests and the Pacific coast of Colombia. I came back to Peru at age twenty and started working in the Amazon.
What inspired you to create the model for your ecolodge?
It was the confluence of several things. First of all, we get to work -- or play -- in the Amazon, designing all kinds of experiences in a fun place. We also get to sell a service which allows us not only to profit in the business in usual sense, but also to invest in really cool things, like macaw research and conservation or sharing with indigenous communities committed to protecting their territories. Finally, we get to meet all kinds of people, many of them as committed as we are to nature or conservation.
Was it difficult in the beginning to get the Indian chiefs and indigenous people on board with the ecolodge project?
We try not to get indigenous people "on board." We first look at potential local partners and try to understand if they share our vision of becoming conservation entrepreneurs; many of them already are, in one way or another. If we believe they do, then we spend a lot of time explaining as much as we can about business in general and tourism in particular. We did this over several months in the community of Infierno. We did it again over several months with our home stay partners along the Tambopata River. In each case, we went to individual family households and spent time explaining what a tourism enterprise entails. At the end of the process, everyone is fairly well-informed and has proper expectations.
Did you encounter any hands-on resistance from the illegal gold miners or loggers?
The gold mining problem in the nineties was much smaller than it is now, simply because the price of gold was much lower. However, even today, because our area of work in the Tambopata National Reserve is mainly occupied by tourism entrepreneurs, researchers, conservationists and local and indigenous communities that share a vision of conservation, mining is not directly impacting it. However, there are parts of the state where it is a devastating problem.
Where do you envision the ecolodge model heading in the future?
We like to think of the underlying principles of the ecolodge model. This means that if you use the tropical rain forest in a way that is sustainable, then you are adding value to it and hopefully out-competing the alternatives: agriculture, mining and other extractive industries. If you are helping create these businesses so that the tenants -- the indigenous communities, the small scale farmers, etc. -- share in the added value, then you will have the forest occupied with conservationists who are actually making a living off trees and macaws and monkeys. So the ecolodge model is a very effective tool that embraces these principles, and it is effective in accessible locations, such as Tambopata, where we currently operate. We are trying to make less-accessible locations -- days of travel off into the forest -- form businesses that can produce the same effect. We have some good ideas, that hopefully will produce similar results in the coming years.
What are your wishes and hopes for the rain forests and indigenous communities globally?
For rain forests, I hope to be a grandfather that can walk in the rainforest with his grandson or daughter and tell him, "Well, this macaw nest on this shihuahuaco tree here, it's exactly the same way I remember it 20 or 40 or 60 years ago, and it's still producing chicks every year."
For indigenous people, I hope they have more options available to them, economically, politically, etc. I hope they can choose to say "No" to certain development alternatives, if that is their choice. I hope they can choose to send their kids to college and have Internet in their communities, if that is their choice. And so on.
What do you think it will take to make this happen?
People. Ideas. Passion. The usual ingredients.
What animals are most likely to be seen during your tours? We actually keep score! So I can give you some numbers for Tambopata Research Center :
- Spider monkey: 52%
- Howler monkey: 70%
- Capybara: 81%
- Giant river otter: 33%
- White lipped pecary: 46%
- Jaguar: 6%
- Macaws: 100%
If you were an animal in the rainforest, what would you be and why?
I would be a carachama, a type of fish that has adapted to living in small bodies of water, including puddles. This fish is so well-adapted to puddles that, when its puddles dry out, it can actually survive outside of water for hours. And it can waddle through the forest floor until it finds the next puddle. I identify with this fish because I've always felt like a puddle fish, versus a river fish or an ocean fish. Twenty years ago, I went to this little corner -- or puddle -- of the Amazon and fell in love with it and still enjoy my life in it.