I was on the beautiful Cocos Keeling Islands some 3000 kilometres west of Perth in the middle of the Indian ocean, and one of the most isolated places you could imagine. I borrowed an old board from a local and on my first paddle out into the brilliant turquoise coloured surf I duck-dived into a wave – of fish. Thousands of healthy fish and hundreds of different species. They all just slid pass just as if I was another piece of driftwood. But having been lucky enough to travel the breadth of our earth to see or work with wildlife has left with me every day a sense of wonder, awe and respect for our natural world. It has shaped my entire outlook on life.
Twenty-first-century wildlife conservation is about people and over the past decade I have been in engaged with local communities living in the jungles of Sumatra, in the savannahs of Africa and vast deserts of central Australia, and I am constantly inspired by the diversity of our planet's people, animals and landscapes. I have seen the importance of treasuring this diversity and ensuring every animal, community, culture and landscape can find a harmony to coexist.
As we witness the sixth mass extinction event occurring around us, I have witnessed the absolute commitment of people like the director of the Jane Goodall Tchimpounga Sanctuary in the Congo, and to the wildlife rangers working day in, day out on the front line of anti-poaching efforts, who sacrifice so much to lead us towards saving our natural assets. It is through travel I have been lucky enough to witness their work, which reminds me that true leadership comes with belief, passion and commitment to make a positive impact, not titles.
Recent travel to India and Nepal has shown me how even against significant adversity and with limited resources, a country can turn something around, like the plight of the greater one horned rhino, sloth bears and Indian tigers. These species are slowly making a return. It is the pride held for wildlife both by governments and local communities that is bringing this change. It just proves to me that we should be optimistic about what we can each achieve anywhere.
Travel has taught me that dealing with really large and complex problems requires partnerships and collaboration, built on trust and strong relationships. Taronga has partnerships with other conservation organisations all over the world, from Tasmania to the western Congo, and I have been fortunate to visit a number of these partners to see the positive outcomes first hand. Through collaboration and the combination of skills and resources, we've literally been able to bring species back from the brink of extinction.
Cameron Kerr became CEO of Taronga Zoo in 2009. He has since led the transformation of the zoos into the Taronga Conservation Society and a globally recognised wildlife conservation organisation.
The Wildlife Retreat at Taronga, owned and operated by the society, is now open and supports important conservation and research projects in Australia and around the globe. Rates start at $790 per night for two adults and includes two-course dinner, buffet breakfast, immersive and exclusive Australian animal experiences and complimentary general admission to Taronga Zoo. See taronga.org.au/sydney-zoo/wildlife-retreat