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Tiger, Ranthambhore National Park

5 places to stay that support their local wildlife, and what you can see there

09 Min Read

The stays we’ve recommended here are trailblazers when it comes to conservation efforts: stay at Cambodia’s Shinta Mani Wild, for example, and you’re helping to end poaching. Other places have focused on rewilding their surrounds, (re)creating habitats where endemic wildlife now flourishes.

And, because these stays have been so forward-thinking in their approach to supporting their local wildlife, it means that the experiences you’ll have here are some of the very best out there — whether you’re on a marine safari or a birdwatching tour, or even helping researchers study chimpanzees.

Khem Villas, Ranthambhore National Park, India

Cottages at Khem Vilas
Khem Villas, Ranthambhore National Park
Spotted deer, India
Spotted deer, India

Ranthambhore National Park’s yearly tiger count is a real conservation success story: numbers are steadily climbing.

The leading figure in its success was Fateh Singh Rathore, whose legacy is a series of conservation NGOs funded by Khem Villas, a jungle camp on the outskirts of the park. His son Goverdhan has enthusiastically taken on the mantle, creating mobile healthcare, alternative energy and employment schemes — to name but a few.

A series of tents, cottages and villas are scattered across thick grassland. There’s no landscaping here, you stay in a private patch of jungle, sipping an early morning tea as a desert fox or Indian hare slips by. Rooms are decorated with handmade block-printed fabric created by Anokhi, just one of the many community-focused initiatives the property supports, which creates work for women across Rajasthan.

How you can experience the wildlife at Khem Villas:
Indeed, the tiger is the star of the show here. But on a safari in Ranthambhore National Park, there’s an impressive supporting cast, from sambar and spotted deer, to leopards, hyena and wild dogs. You can take things at a slower pace on a guided nature hike in the surrounding forest, where enough bird species have been spotted to fill a guidebook.

Khem Villas has also started offering boat trips in the National Chambal Sanctuary, created for the protection of the critically endangered gharial and Ganges river dolphin. On an early morning cruise, you might also see one of the four local varieties of turtles sunbathing on the Ganges’ banks, as well as a range of birdlife — more than 320 species have been spotted.

Trips that include a stay here:
Combine a safari with time in Delhi, Jaipur, and a visit to the Taj Mahal on this ten-day tour of India’s Golden Triangle.

Shinta Mani Wild, Cardamom Mountains, Cambodia

Pileated gibbon, Cambodia
Pileated gibbon, Cambodia
Room at Shinta Mani Wild
Shinta Mani Wild, Cardamom Mountains

Expansive, open-plan safari tents larger than most family homes, outdoor bathtubs with riverside views, and a butler to hand… You’d be forgiven for thinking the focus of Shinta Mani Wild is luxurious escapism. However, this exclusive retreat has been built as a sustainable way of protecting the three ecologically important national parks that surround it.

Everything from the Landing Zone Bar to the alfresco spa has been built hovering above the jungle, ensuring minimal impact on the environment. Over 70% of staff are hired from the local community — including a number who were poaching or worked in the illegal logging industry. The resort also funds an on-site ranger station, run in conjunction with the NGO, Wildlife Alliance.

How you can experience the wildlife at Shinta Mani Wild:
You can join head butler Bong on a butterfly identification hike, kayak deep into the little-visited backwater estuaries, or accompany head naturalist Munny as he collects data from the site’s camera traps. But in this land of thick, impenetrable-looking walls of jungle, the best way to get a glimpse of some of Southeast Asia’s rarest wildlife is to join an anti-poaching patrol.

Hopping on the back of a motorbike, you’ll join the rangers on their daily patrol of the forest as they look out for signs of logging, snares and nets. Along the way, they’ll show you the tell-tale signs of some of the animals that shelter here, from porcupines and civets to endangered Asiatic wild dogs, pileated gibbons, and Sundra pangolins.

Trips that include a stay here:
You can add time in Shinta Mani Wild to this 12-day trip which explores Cambodia’s highlights with a wildlife slant. 

Pacuare Lodge, Talamanca Mountains, Costa Rica

Pacuare Lodge, Pacuare Lodge
Pacuare Lodge, Talamanca Mountains
Keel-billed toucan, Costa Rica
Toucan, Costa Rica

Sitting on a rainforested river gorge, Pacuare Lodge’s grounds should have been resounding with monkey calls as well as birdsong. But, thanks to farming and ranching, when the lodge’s founders first arrived in the area, there was radio silence on the monkey front. The local population of howler monkeys had found themselves cut off from wider forested areas, corralled into a smaller and smaller patch.

The lodge has since worked with the University of Costa Rica to reintroduce howler monkeys to its surrounds: these days, you’re likely to see them (and hear their trademark throaty cries) a lot during your stay. Famously early risers, you might find the howler monkeys end up functioning as your alarm clock.

Waking up to their calls is just one way in which a stay at the lodge brings you back to nature. You don’t get there by road, for example: you’ll raft in along the frothing Pacuare River. At night, candles and storm lanterns replace electric lights.

The roofs of every room are made from palm leaves, developed from a technique used by the local Cabécar people, and not a single tree was cut down to make way for the lodge. In fact, you can dine in one: the lodge has its own platform suspended high in a ceiba tree — a spot called ‘El Nido’ (The Nest), appropriately enough.

How you experience the wildlife at Pacuare Lodge:
Every room has its own private terrace, so you can simply sit and drink in the sounds and sights of the rainforest at leisure (we think it’s most atmospheric in the evenings). But, there are a couple of particular tours run by the lodge which we can highly recommend.

You could catch sight of howler monkeys if you undertake the lodge’s canopy adventure, which sees you rappel down trees and slide along cables far above the forest floor. You could also see them on the lodge’s acclaimed birdwatching tours. Led by a naturalist guide, you’ll depart on foot at first light in search of black-cheeked woodpeckers, tanagers, toucans and sunbitterns, all of which thrive around the lodge.

Trips that include a stay here:
Kick off a three-act tour of Costa Rica with time at Pacuare Lodge in this activity-filled, ten-day trip suggestion, followed by zip-lining and trekking in the Arenal Volcano region.

Dirk Hartog Island Ecolodge, Western Australia

Manta ray, Western Australia
Manta ray, Western Australia

Lend your custom to this ecolodge and you’ll be contributing towards efforts to rewild this barely inhabited island off the coast of Western Australia. The whole place has a scorched, rugged beauty — it’s a sliver of sand dunes, scrub, and rocky, treeless wilderness, surrounded by waters teeming with sealife.

Built around 1890, this ecolodge was once the quarters of a local sheriff, and is made out of untreated local, pale stone walls. It’s got an easy-going, castaway feel to it. We like the long communal dining tables on the shaded terrace, overlooking the bright aquamarine sea, and how all food is cooked from scratch by Tory Wardle, one of the co-owners.

Dirk Hartog Island Ecolodge supports a project called ‘Return to 1616,’ in which native species present on the island when it was first discovered by Dutch explorers are being successfully reintroduced. They range from marsupials including a rare wallaby species, to birds such as dibbers (hot off the press — as of June this year, the dibbers are now reproducing).

Wildlife experiences at Dirk Hartog Island Ecolodge:
The ecolodge runs 4x4 trips into to the island’s roadless interior, where you can spot some of the rewilded mammals, or keep an eye out for them on guided walks. There are several trails you can explore independently and all stays include a trip to Herald Heights, the highest spot on the island, in time to watch the sun dip below the horizon. It’s the last place in Australia to witness the sunset, and, depending on the season, you might be joined by pods of breaching humpback whales.

The seagrass meadows around the island support a range of carefully protected species — including the world’s largest population of dugongs, while the north of the island cradles loggerhead turtle nesting sites. You can see dugongs on guided marine safaris, which are included in your stay, where you can also look for dolphins, loggerhead turtles, sharks and manta rays — collectively nicknamed the island’s ‘big five’.

Trips that include a stay here:
Incorporate time at Dirk Hartog Island Ecolodge in a wider tour of Western Australia’s coral coast, where, at the right time of year, you can drift-snorkel with whale sharks.

Rubondo Island Camp, Rubondo Island, Tanzania

Chimpanzees, Tanzania
Chimpanzees, Tanzania
Lounge area at Rubondo Island Camp, Rubondo Island
Rubondo Island Camp, Tanzania

Rubondo Island Camp sits on the shores of Lake Victoria, surrounded by the pristine lowland Congolese forest that makes up much of Rubondo Island National Park. It has all the trappings of a safari-camp: alfresco gourmet meals, a swimming pool, and sundowner cocktails by the campfire.

But, this place has a particular draw if you’re a fan of primates: revenue from the camp helps employ local guides and rangers to protect the island’s community of chimpanzees. They were first brought to the island in the 1960s to be rehabilitated after living in captivity in European zoos. Since then, their numbers have swelled from 16 to over 60. Asilia Africa, who run the camp, also donate to the Honeyguide Foundation, a local NGO dedicated to conserving chimpanzees.

Wildlife experiences at Rubondo Island Camp:
The headline experience is to set out with a guide and ranger to help track and observe the chimpanzees. The rehabilitation project has been so successful that researchers now need help in habituating the chimpanzees to the presence of humans again, in order for them to carry out vital research work. You’ll head out on foot, making your way through the dense rainforest, listening out for the chimpanzees’ calls, and relying on the expertise of your guide to catch glimpses of the creatures through the trees.

Reintroducing the chimps has had the happy side-effect of increasing the island’s biodiversity, which makes it a great spot for observing many other kinds of wildlife. You can take your pick of a number of wildlife-focused activities, from game drives to boat trips, where you could spot everything from hippos to monitor lizards. There’s excellent birdwatching opportunities too, with over 300 species frequenting the island, including the largest known number of sea-eagles in Africa.

Trips that include a stay here:
You could stay at Rubondo Island Camp as part of a safari in northern Tanzania, which also includes game drives around the Ngorongoro Crater and in the Serengeti.

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