We talked a lot about places to see and how we can travel the sustainable way but how about our interaction with animals? Shouldn’t we be more careful about the way we approach fauna when we visit a destination? We talked about it with Aurélie Berthet Orengo, the founder of “Voyage Sauvage”, a French agency specialized in ethical animal tourism.
Aurélie spent her whole career in the travel sector and has a wide experience in different aspects and fields of tourism. In 2011, she started her travel agency, Terre 2 Decouvertes, a “standard” travel agency and one year ago, she decided to launch her own product: Voyage Sauvage’.
Voyage Sauvage’s idea was born during the Covid lockdown. Aurélie spent a lot of time watching animal documentaries and she saw one called “ Planète Safari” with Perrine Crosmary, an archaeozoologist (the science that studies the historical evolution of natural and cultural relations between humans and animals). She had a “lightbulb” moment. This is how we should discover animals, it was done in a very respectful way. Perrine respects the wildlife privacy.
This gave her the idea to create circuits focused on animal conservation, using a safari pattern, but accessible to the largest number.
The agency’s motto is “Watch and protect”. Voyage Sauvage organizes trips where you can observe wildlife but also, for instance, follow their tracks and signs of their presence. Voyage Sauvage aims to build a virtuous cycle where animal-watching (and its economic impacts) actually helps protect wildlife. This requires working with local associations, national parks, committed and eco-responsible incoming agencies, as well as accommodation. For Voyage Sauvage, choosing their partners is of the utmost importance. “We are very careful about where our money ends up.”
To select their partners, the agency most often goes through receptive agencies or a centralized database like Flockeo. They talk a lot and often, this leads to a friendship and strong links with their partners. It’s a question of trust! Then, they ask for a visit program, go through it, pay attention to what is in it, ask questions and finally, a charter is signed to specify in black and white all the criteria of the agency.
It’s a real reciprocal commitment. For our partners, it is an exclusive process, for them as well as for us because they create most of the time the project, which is quite atypical in itself.
How atypical? For example, Voyage Sauvage suggests rediscovering Bangkok following the trail of the monitors (large species of lizards) or not far from Marrakech in Morocco, they offer a circuit to watch monkeys at the Ourika’s waterfall or Ifrane National Park. in the Middle Atlas Range.
There are not many agencies that offer wildlife ecotourism tours, especially accessible to the largest number. In some cases, Voyage Sauvage offers services you can’t find anywhere else and they cover every continent. One example of those unique experiences with Voyage Sauvage is a hike following bears tracks (such as pawprints and har) in the Pyrenees, accompanied by an association involved in the protection of bears.
We are so committed that we offer reef-safe sunscreen to our participants going to our marine wildlife trips. We also give water jugs to our participants and we make sure that our providers do not give plastic bottles.
That does not mean that it goes without complications. One of the unexpected difficulties encountered by the agency happened to be in French Polynesia. Water is not drinkable there and so, everybody used plastic water bottle. Water flasks are very expensive there and they come from China so, it’s not coherent from an environmental point of view. There is a real carbon footprint issue coupled with a drinkable water issue. But to every problem a solution. Maybe switch water with fresh fruits juices or use the opportunity of a trip back to Polynesia by our partner to bring back water flask directly from France to offset the carbon footprint? Or water bottles with filter? Balancing sustainability with the reality of a situation in a given destination requires some serious problem-solving skills.
Aurélie is sure that tourism professionals are committed to greener tourism and thinks they have an essential role in the spreading of sustainable practices in their fields. They will be the drivers for change rather than travelers.
The good thing about Voyage Sauvage, besides the fact that it brings together Aurélie’s two passions, travel, and animals, is that the agency was born at the right time. People want to reconnect with nature, be more respectful towards animals. They are more likely to want to observe animals in the wild or sanctuaries rather than in zoos or animal parks.
I am pretty sure that in the foreseeable future, there will be no more animal parks in France or Europe, there will only be sanctuaries. It will take time, 20, maybe 50 years, I don’t know, but I want to believe in that.
Another important point for Voyage Sauvage is the education of travelers about animal abuse. Travel agencies have a major role to play in this.
With a friend, Aurélie started “Lioness Consulting,” a duo of wildlife tourism consultants coaching travel agencies, tour operators and receptive agencies on how to implement more respectful practices in their product line. Both also plan to create training for travelers.
In Uganda, gorilla-watching is a success. The eco-rangers, among them a lot of former poachers, are paid by the entrance fees and they have become the guardians of animal biodiversity. In this country, the mountain gorilla population is on the rise.
On the other hand, there are still situations that should no longer exist. The infamous “Tiger Temple” in Thailand, where tourists paid to interact with tigers and were allowed to pet them because they had been drugged, was closed down a few years ago. It was also revealed that some tiger cubs had been taken from the wild and that their mothers were killed to get them. Unfortunately, other zoos and parks still offer the opportunity to take “selfies with tigers” or “bottle feed tiger cubs”. Also in Southeast Asia, elephant rides remain problematic. Some of these animals are taken from the forest, their natural environment, and are often mistreated during their “taming” process. And unfortunately, as long as tourists are willing to pay for it, these practices may be slow to disappear.
For Aurélie, it’s the complete opposite of what Voyage Sauvage advocate at the level of tourism. “It is a disaster. It should not exist anymore. It must not.”