Over Tourism in Wild Places

adventure of the week, Caribbean, colorado, europe, Florida, United Kingdom, United States, wyoming

While we had started the day as one of maybe three or four boats in the canal system doing tours, numbers quickly increased about an hour and a half into the tour. Not only did the additional boats make the canal more crowded, but larger groups of snorkelers, with what seemed like less instruction, swarmed the area. To add insult to injury, a large group of kayakers also flooded the scene trying to catch a glimpse of the now frightened young manatee.

We were snorkeling with manatees in Crystal River, Florida in what had been established as a nature preserve among the outskirts of the city. We had showed up at 6:30 a.m. so we could truly enjoy the animals at a calm and less-crowded time. We were lucky until 9:00 a.m. when the crowds arrived.

My group was instructed to return to our boat at this time, trying to allow others to see the animal, which we had been lucky enough to encounter, but back on the ship we saw the problems with popularity.

Much like the rest of tourism sites the world over, manatees and other wildlife encounters are having a moment in the limelight, that also means that areas get overused. While our selected tour company has been working for decades to create a more sustainable experience, even pairing with the University of Florida to restore sea grass in the canals due to climate change, they can’t control the populations of tourists that come into the area. While most companies will limit sizes of groups, a lot do not, and that means more money for the company, but not the best situation for the animals or natural areas.

While manatees and their habitats are cared for and many of the springs have been closed in the past, there often isn’t a way to monitor or control the use in an area in times that are open to the public. Even the boat captain informed us that when other canals close to public use more people descend on Crystal River and other areas for things like kayaking, snorkeling, and paddle boarding. This makes already operating tours more crowded, and the animals are more consistently with people.

Florida is not alone in their wild tourism boom. Many National Parks in the United States, State Parks, reserves, and other areas of the world are feeling overwhelmed with tourism. The animals that rely on natural areas are no doubt losing habitat and safe areas to exist. We lose wetlands and hidden areas for animals to escape into. While traveling opens our eyes to so much, are we also killing that which we love?

As humans we have developed around 75-80% of the land in the world, with a large portion of that happening in the last century. Blame overpopulation of humans, and development, and consumerism. All of those things have tipped the scales. In the last 50 years or so travel has began to greatly impact the story as well.

My grandparents would lament trips to Yellowstone in the 1970s and how crowded it was. Today they would be shocked that the 2.5 million visitors they were part of then have swelled to over 4.1 million annually since 2015. On one hand it’s great that more and more people are in love with the wild open and stunning landscapes that lucky people have known and loved since childhood, on the other hand, the droves have a negative impact on the landscape. Sometimes it is misinformed tourists “rescuing” a baby bison, other times it is litter that kills animals who eat it, sometimes the amount of people alone are the problem.

As in so much of what I write, and my actions, I attempt to be mindful of what my actions and words do to those places and people around me. In caring for the natural world I love, I think it’s important to acknowledge my own negative impact in the environment. I love visiting wild places and animals in a way to better appreciate and love the world I live in, but my existence changes the landscape. However, I know there are ways to help.

  • Go in the off or shoulder seasons – I despise heavy crowds at Disney, the beach, and anywhere else. Living next to Rocky Mountain National Park, I avoid the park from May to October because of the swarms of tourists that are in the area. I follow this practice elsewhere, and I make a heavy effort only to visit places when numbers are lower. This decreases the day to day pressure of areas, city or wild, to make it better for every living thing.
  • Research companies and their values – For any animal or wild tour I do a lot of research before selecting a company. This is rooted in concern for animal welfare and concern for the environment. For example, when we went dog sledding, I selected a company that adopts dogs for their tourism work, and then finds home for the dogs when they retire. All the dogs we met were well fed, happy, and totally goofy. However amazing the experience was, their welfare was absolutely vital for our selection. I have also learned bag things about companies and will not visit them again after a visit, such as the Cayman Turtle Farm. Mistakes will happen, learn from them, vow to do better.
  • Talk to experts, read work from experts – Signs in National Parks are there for YOUR safety as much as for the animals. Listen to rangers and experts when they tell you not to leave toothpaste in your tent, or to stay on the trails. There is method to the madness and it keeps things nice for everyone else.
  • Vow to Fight Animal Cruelty – do your research on this, and ask a lot of questions. While it may seem like dolphins are happy with swimming excursions in a pool, the truth is that the industry is soaked in blood (I don’t say that jokingly). Elephants are a prime example, and there is a lot of debate on what are acceptable versus cruel interactions. You won’t be perfect at this, just ask questions, do research, try to understand the complexities.

Happy Travels!

Pets Make It All Worthwhile

love, musings

My in-laws had to say goodbye to their old cat this week. She had fought a long, hard, fight, and battles that almost took her many times. She was a tough old girl, a sweet old girl, a cat that everyone loved.

Regardless of seeing the end years before, and losing many other beloved pets, there is always pain. A sharp and intense longing in the heart. Tears that sting at the eyes, even if you know “it was only a cat”. Because, as all animal lovers know, it’s never “only a” anything. They’re family, they are loved, they make our lives worthwhile.

The cruelty is that we love these creatures so much, almost like children, and they leave us well before we want them to. Halfway through a normal life, a quarter, a few years, they depart us and leave behind corners full of fur and claw marks on a couch.

While they poop inconveniently and behave rudely we still love these fluffs that we adopt. We love their snuggles and kisses, their talks and stumbles. We appreciate knowing that no matter what the world thinks of us, that cat or dog or rat or goat will be so happy to see us.

In ways pets reflect our love of humanity. Animals remind us not to take things so seriously. Animals reflect our desire to be more innocent and to explore without restrictions. They show us the animal nature we all have, and remind us that it’s okay to roll in the dirt and sleep outside. They encourage us to be honest with our existence and to love unconditionally. Yet, they hold magic in them that is not found with other people.

When they die we are also reminded of our fragility on earth, of being mortal. We hope that our passing will also be peaceful, with loved ones, asleep and then gone, if we’re lucky.

Yet even with our tears we are shown light in the hope of our own existence. In tears we find the strength to love again and again, because we know that the love learned from one pet, is too much to stop there.

They make it all worthwhile.

Adventure of the Week – Omaha Zoo

adventure of the week, Nebraska, Travel, United States

On my recent adventure to the midwest I had a fun blend of road trip and train journey across 1000 miles, each way, of prairie…..and….prairie. Some may argue it’s plains, but either way you cut it, it ends up being a whole lot of grass, corn, straight rows, and small towns. Not to mention a few cow poop smelling sections near feed lots.

All I have to say is thank you engineers and scientists for cruise control and thank you oh wise zoologists of the last 100 years for placing a zoo in the middle of it.

Located in Omaha, Nebraska the Henry Doorly Zoo is by far one of the best zoos in the country, and absolutely one of the best in the world. Due to their investments, resources, creativity and dedication they have created a zoo that creates lasting memories for visitors that is unparalleled to other zoos.

For instance, I remember stopping at said zoo in about 2003 and being completely blown away at it, even if I was a snotty teen.

The zoo has changed little in the last 15 years, but it still remains an innovative and moving network of habitats that brings out the mystified kid in all of us.

My favorite, this journey happened to be the charming penguins who literally came up to the glass to nod heads with my fellow travelers, an 11 and 4 year old, who felt they both had nice chats with the friendly penguins.

Other highlights included the indoor rainforest with plenty of bats, otters, frogs, and pygmy hippos. The gorilla habitat offered plenty of entertainment with the massive creatures storming by visitors.  Finally, the cat house offered oohhhs and ahhhs at majestic clawed beasts lounging in the afternoon shade.

 

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Wild Animal Sanctuary-Adventure of the week

adventure of the week, colorado, Colorado Events, Environment, Travel

Maybe you are seeing a theme, why yes I do love animals!

This particular week involves Lions and Tigers and Bears…. oh my!

 

And wolves and lynx and bobcat and…. you get the idea.

 

Last weekend I took my Girl Scout troop to the Wild Animal sanctuary in Keenesburg, Colorado.

Keenesburg is about an hour south of Fort Collins, and around 40 minutes North of Denver. Yet it’s a world away from the traffic, noise, and hustle and bustle that is living in town.

 

Keenesburg is really just a small prairie village that happens to have one of Colorado’s best kept secrets. The only reason it got its claim to fame is due to it being so rural and having extra land for sale and to spare.

Enter the wild animal sanctuary. The sanctuary started as a private project of love by Pat Craig who began rescuing animals that were up for euthanasia or that were being mistreated. Rescues came from around the country from zoos, owners that misjudged their ability to own a predator, and circuses. Before they knew it, they had a lot more critters and needed more resources.

When I was a kid no one could visit without getting special permission. Now the sanctuary welcomes around 200,000 visitors a year! Guests not only visit the animals, they also learn about the rehabilitation process for these often abused and neglected creatures.

The sanctuary specializes in carnivores and larger predators as they are often the hardest to care for. What makes their experience unique is solely the amount of space the animals have to live, yell, have friends, play, eat, and be happy in their captive lives.

In addition to giving the cats their space and a life of comfort, the sanctuary boasts the longest raised walkway in the world. Almost like a boardwalk, a raised platform goes on for over a mile giving guests the chance to view the animals without infringing on their daily lives.

As presented at the sanctuary, the critters don’t feel threatened when people are above them in such a matter. This also improves the visibility for visitors as it gives guests an intimate view without driving animals to discomfort or hiding.

Perhaps my personal favorite aspect was getting to hear the animals call and run like they would naturally. The lions growled and talked to each other. The wolves howled. The bobcats rolled in the grass. Every animal seemed contented and happy, even if his or her lives had not always been that way.

What was sad about the sanctuary is that it has to exist. It’s that more tigers are captive in Texas than in the wild. And that humans are the culprit. While I think baby tigers are adorable there is considerable ignorance. To think baby Baloo won’t turn into a giant bear in a few years. Animals also belong to their instincts. Look at even a house cat, less domesticated than dogs they can terrorize their homes and they’re between 8-20lbs imagine one at 300! Point being, animals deserve not to be mistreated over the selfish whims of people.

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Some of the animals had visible scars, yes scars, from their years of mistreatment while other showed signs of neglect. One obese tiger that as going through rehabilitation had been over fed and under exercised that it was shocking to see them in extra weight. I had never thought an obese tiger was a reality, but lo and behold.

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WAS3WAS1500Yet, trying to move past the sad, is the hope; that with patience, love, education, and action we can end these tragedies. The Wild Animal Sanctuary is changing minds and the world and I hope, if in the neighborhood, you will take the time to be humbled by animals being their natural, wonderful selves.

Happy Travels!

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