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Global Guardians: Richard Bangs
An expedition veteran turns his attention to saving worlds he once conquered.
Text by Ryan Bradley   Illustration by Zach Trenholm

Illustration: Richard Bangs


 

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Explorer, author, and filmmaker Richard Bangs, 56, cofounder of adventure outfitter Mountain Travel Sobek, has led first descents of the Yangtze, Euphrates, Blue Nile, and Indus Rivers. He knows from experience that if rafting crocodile-infested rapids is hard, preserving them is even harder—and ultimately more rewarding. For his 16th book, Adventures With Purpose (Menasha Ridge Press, $17), Bangs profiles individuals devoted to saving endangered places and the creatures that inhabit them.

You write about the "paradoxical notion" that a place must be accessed to remain undisturbed.
That's something I've been trying to convey for 35 years now: The only way to understand a place, to really make a difference, is by exploring it.

In the book, you travel to 16 countries. What's the common denominator among them?
In almost all of them there is some sort of guardian of that patch of Earth who has devoted himself or herself passionately to something in a way that can result in lasting conservation.

Preservation sometimes depends on development. Greg Cummings, director of the U.K.– based Gorilla Organization, who is building cisterns in Rwanda so locals won't need to venture into mountain gorilla habitats for water, says, "Wildlife conservation can't happen in isolation."
He's right. People must have shelter and food for their families. They deserve basic health care. Any wilderness preservation conceit has to factor in a way to meet those needs or it's doomed.

Why has sustainable tourism become so important now as opposed to 30 years ago?
The urgency has grown exponentially. The world is more populated, resources are scarcer, biodiversity is less than it once was. Overall the trend line is not a happy one. We need to arrest it before it reaches a tipping point.


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