Natural heritage sites are changing in this ever-evolving world, and not for the better. Organizations like the PUP Global Heritage Consortium are working to revolutionize the way these sites are managed, with a holistic, adaptable approach. They are the ones working to ensure that our grandkids will get the chance to see these sites. But what are Natural Heritage Sites and what is happening to them? UNESCO defines them as “superlative natural phenomenon or areas of exceptional beauty and aesthetic importance.” They contain “the most important and significant natural habitats for in-situ conservation of biological diversity”.
Unfortunately, many of these sites are facing extinction.
For many of our grandkids, all that may be left of these wildly unique heritage sites will be a faded picture or a passed down story. Our grandkids may not get the chance to see the rare gorillas swinging in the trees, but only frozen in a museum.
Read this list and memorize every detail to one day teach your grandkids on your rocking chair. Or, better yet, you can play your part in supporting conservation efforts and maybe then, you can take them there yourself.
1. Simien National Park, Ethiopia
Amongst awe-inspiring mountain peaks, cliffs and valleys live an array of rare animals as diverse and wonderful as the opening scene of The Lion King. Endangered animals such as the Walia Ibex (a wild goat found nowhere else in the world), a cat called the caracal, the Ethiopian wolf and the Gelada Baboon (both pictured above), are rare animals which call this place their home. But as the park is compromised by unsustainable agricultural grazing, human settlement and soil erosion, these animals are further endangered.
A lack of effective tourism and conservation planning has meant that this park and its colorful inhabitants are in danger. Without such planning, human inhabitants will continue to graze the land for natural resources in an unsustainable way, putting pressure on wildlife and ultimately making the park more like the Lion King’s elephant graveyard than the circle of life. No more Hakuna Matatas.
2. Virunga National Park, Democratic Republic of the Congo
Also home to endangered wildlife, the Virunga National Park is Africa’s oldest national park, with eight incredible volcanoes (two of which are the most active in Africa). The park once had the largest hippo population in the world, as well as a significant number of forest elephants.
However, it is the fight for the critically endangered mountain gorilla which has garnered significant media attention. Nearly half of the world’s 700 remaining mountain gorillas live in Virunga, but they are being hunted by poachers for meat or for sale. Many have even been senselessly murdered in the last decade. Since 1994, about 140 park rangers have been killed in their fight to protect the park from illegal poaching and land acquisition. This is no easy fight, but increasing media coverage and sustainable tourism development may just give this special animal a fair chance.
3. Los Katios National Park, Colombia
Come to this site and you’ll find the fastest flowing river in the world, the Atrato River. You’ll also find yourself surrounded by varied landscapes, from forests, to floodplains, to low hills. This diversity extends also to the native fauna. Native species of mouse, grey-headed chachalaca, as well as 440 bird species and 550 species of vertebrae have been found in the park.
This diversity, however, is being threatened by illegal fishing, human settlement and deforestation. Trees are coming down all over the park as timber is illegally extracted. Anyone knows that without trees, a forest cannot be a forest and birds will have nowhere to rest their heads at night. Without adequate tourism and conservation planning, bedtime stories about forests will be like stories about distant planets.
We live in a unique moment in history where we have the ability to not only visit these sites, but to also try and preserve these sites for future generations with sustainable tourism development. Organizations like the PUP Consortium and UNESCO are leading the way in conservation and protection. The PUP consortium, in particular, offers adaptive training and reports for heritage sites, helping them thrive in an ever-changing environment.
The challenges are many, but if we make the right moves, these areas and their wildlife may survive. At the end of the day our grandkids will thank us. That is, in between texting on their iPhone v82 of course.
To learn more about tourism and conservation planning, visit our website or check out the work of the PUP Consortium.