How do you know that your eco-travels can make a huge impact on wildlife conservation? One practical tip is to investigate exactly how much an ecotour operator is contributing toward conservation efforts. One such example of true ecotourism can be found in Vietnam.
The Intrepid Foundation, which is a non-profit organization that supports non-governmental organizations in the areas that Intrepid Travel visits, has been supporting a range of conservation projects at the Cuc Phuong National Park, including endangered primates rescue and small carnivore conservation since 1997. I had an opportunity to pose some questions to Jane Couch, Responsible Travel Manager at Intrepid Travel to understand their impact.
How long has the Intrepid Foundation been supporting the Cuc Phuong National Park (CPNP)?Intrepid groups have been visiting the Cuc Phuong National Park since 1997. At first, Intrepid Travel informally began supporting their various conservation programs with visiting groups and on-the-spot donations. Then in 2002, when we started The Intrepid Foundation, we began raising funds for the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre and the Turtle Conservation and Ecology Project, as it was then called.
What environmental or socio-economic issues inspired the Intrepid Foundation to start supporting the Cuc Phuong National Park?We were inspired to support the CPNP’s various conservation programs because we could see that the staff there were knowledgeable and effective, but very under-resourced. Also, we knew that there was a widespread lack of knowledge across the general populace of Vietnam, as to why their precious endangered wildlife needed protecting. Many people living close by to the park area and surrounding forest have traditionally hunted the wildlife. The demand for endangered species for the wildlife trade and for Traditional Chinese Medicine is extremely lucrative, and when you are living in poverty, participating in the trafficking chain is financially attractive.
How does the Intrepid Foundation specifically help the rescue and conservation centers throughout the park?We take our groups to visit and we raise funds for the work of the various projects. Right now, we are specifically supporting the Turtle Conservation Centre.
What are the Foundation’s specific objectives for supporting these efforts?To engage our travellers in the issues, to educate about the issues, and to help contribute to these much needed conservation programs by raising funds from travellers.
How do you involve Intrepid Travel customers with these efforts? We take Intrepid Travellers to CPNP to visit the various conservation programs that are conducted within the park including the Endangered Primate Rescue Centre, The Carnivore and Pangolin Conservation Centre, and The Turtle Conservation Centre. They are then invited to contribute financially and we offer the incentive that their donation will be matched by Intrepid and 100% will get to the project as Intrepid Travel pays for all administrative costs. We also teach our group leaders about the issues around endangered species and their trafficking. They have provided helpful training for the staff around wildlife dilemmas – like ‘is it okay to drink snake wine?‘ or ‘is it okay to purchase turtle shell spectacle frames and jewellery that is readily sold in the street markets?’
How do people – and the Intrepid Foundation – know they are making a difference? The beneficiary charities provide us with reports detailing how they have used our funds and about their latest work. For example, our last donation went to the Turtle Conservation Centre (TCC) and was went into the general operational support budget for the TCC. This overall budget covers the cost of running the center including feeding and caring for turtles, keepers, etc. No expat salaries! The support also goes to help run the awareness program at the visitor center in the TCC (so raising awareness for all visitors of the park), rescuing turtles confiscated from the illegal trade and moving them to the TCC, translocation and release of turtles confiscated from trade (from the TCC back into the wild), and a conservation breeding program focused on two species (one native to the park, and the other, endangered).