Wanderlust with Cynthia Rosenfeld

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“This is not just a resort, it’s a world class marine resource,” replies the senior marine biologist at the Four Seasons Resort at Landaa Giravaru (fourseasons.com/maldiveslg) in the Maldives’ Baa Atoll when I ask about the 102 villa resort’s Manta Ray Project. We are suiting up to go underwater at the UNESCO World Biosphere protected area of Hanifaru Bay, a short speedboat jaunt from a manta ray hot spot. I had specifically planned my Maldives visit between May and October so I could join the resort’s Manta on Call Service, to see these curious (they have one of the largest brains in the sea) and graceful 4.5m-long marine animals. 

Paradoxically, many of the world’s finest resorts get built in some of the earth’s most animal rich environments. This presents interesting circumstances for naturalists: if they can accept the hospitality business operating in these precarious environments, then it’s possible to develop a mutually beneficial relationship between the hotel, experts, guests and animals.

This is certainly true for this Manta Ray project, which uses photographic and video data collection to better understand the Maldives’ 1,500 manta rays. Guest participation and contributions help support this vital research.

I watch this delicate balance play out again at the new Intercontinental Danang Sun Peninsula Resort (danang.intercontinental.com), its 197 guestrooms and villas poised between the East Sea and Son Tra Peninsula, Vietnam’s 2,800-hectare nature preserve. Many of Son Tra’s inhabitants are on the International Union for Conservation of Nature List of Threatened Species. Some are critically endangered, like the 180 red-shanked douc langur monkeys. 

Dr Ulrike Streicher serves as the resort’s consulting naturalist. The German wildlife veterinarian worked closely with the hotel owner, Intercontinental and the architect to find a sustainable solution when construction threatened to disrupt the monkey’s jungle paths – they move exclusively via the tree canopy, regularly leaping up to six metres in the air. Her solution – multiple suspension bridges between suitable trees – not only takes the red-shanked doucs to and from their mother jungle, it also creates specific destinations which optimises sighting opportunities for guests.

Then there is my four-legged friend Lychee. She was born at Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp & Resort (goldentriangle.anantara.com) but many other elephants are not so lucky. Since 2006, 30 of these magnificent creatures have been rescued by the Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundation, which provides them with a safe jungle environment in Northern Thailand. GTAEF’s Director John Roberts has the enviable responsibility of bathing the babies in nearby rivers, leading treks through the resort’s lush 160-acre forest, and overseeing pachyderm rescue when he receives a tip that one is illegally forced to walk the tourist-filled streets of Bangkok and Phuket. Again the benefits are manifold, as Roberts not only relocates the elephant but also the mahout, or elephant minder, and his family. Education is made available for the children, and a silkworm business provides mahouts’ wives with 100 percent of the profits made from the sales of their wares at the Anantara boutique. Elephants split their time, creating lifelong memories for guests and participating in a ground breaking Thai Elephant Therapy Project run by Chiang Mai University to provide elephant assistant therapists for autistic children.

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