How WildArk Is Saving Biodiversity, One Safe Haven at a Time

Mark and Sophie Hutchinson, founders of , walk through the Pridelands conservancy in South Africa. WildArk

Land conservation is a big job, but one small not-for-profit group isn't deterred by the size of the task.

WildArk is taking big swings to protect as much of the Earth's biodiversity as possible by ignoring doom-and-gloom attitudes and encouraging cooperation instead.

So far, it seems to be working.

Conserving space

Founded by Mark and Sophie Hutchinson, WildArk has already established three conservancies, or safe havens as the organization calls call them, around the world. Each one is located in a different part of the world and preserves a different type of ecosystem.

The first site, established in February 2017 in South Africa, is called Pridelands. The space, previously a buffalo-hunting farm, covers 4,500 acres of savanna, grassland and bushveld. WildArk chose this site in part because it serves as buffer zone of sorts between Kruger National Park and nearby agriculture and housing areas. After considerable cleanup, including removing a great deal of fencing that has deterred wildlife from entering that area for 50 years, the Pridelands area should serve as a wildlife corridor to and from Kruger. Animals like elephants, lions and leopards will have a protected space and an expanded range as a result of WildArk's efforts.

An aerial view of the Tuke village in the Nakanai Mountains of Papua New Guinea
An aerial view of the Tuke village in the Nakanai Mountains of Papua New Guinea. Tiana Reimann/WildArk

The organizations's second site will be located in New Britain, Papua New Guinea's largest island. Members of the Tuke village located in the Nakanai Mountains, after witnessing firsthand the destruction of the rain forest around them, sought help to maintain the wilderness from Riccard Reimann, owner of the Baia Sport Fishing Lodge. After visiting the village, Reimann decided to help the villagers — and he knew he would need help. He reached out to the Hutchinsons for assistance in preserving the environment.

The area, spanning some 42,000 acres, is comprised of rain forests, waterfalls and is home to plenty of wildlife now protected from logging and palm oil activities. To further the goals of protection while helping the Tuke village sustain itself, WildArk and Reimann's Baia Sports Fishing Lodge have begun research and planning initiatives that will map the area for biodiversity and evaluate the area for low-impact ecotourism, including hiking and bird watching. Members of the Tuke community will also receive medical aid and training in how to identify and report illegal logging activities.

The third and most recent site is in southwestern Alaska's Bristol Bay. Called the Grizzly Plains Conservancy, this project will secure land along the shores of the Kvichak River, a key part of Bristol Bay's natural salmon fisheries. The initiative is led by members of the Igiugig community, who have sought a partner in conservation for a number of years, especially in light of a impending copper pit mine. The community's leader teamed with WildArk to protect the river and land that they rely on to survive. Like the Tuke conservancy, the Grizzly Plains project will include sustainable ecotourism in the future.

Telling stories

WildArk is about more than just conserving the land, however. The organization wants to the bring the land to the rest of the world. It's about "reconnecting a modern person with nature," Mark explained in an interview with HuffPost Humans.

This means telling the stories from not only the conservancies, but from all over the planet. So people can learn the truth about hyenas from a nature filmmaker and game ranger or about how a teacher in Indonesia is inspiring his students to protect the wilderness. It's about making nature come to life for those who may too disconnected from it, no matter where they live. Of course, WildArk is also there to help people who live in the city find a bit of wilderness without going too far afield. WildArk profiles of cities like Seoul, New York City, London and New Delhi highlight natural wonders that can be found both in the cities and just outside them.

Helping to raise awareness of WildArk's initiatives are two sports figures. David Pocock, a rugby player for the Australian team the Brumbies, has a history of conservation activism, including protesting coal mine expansions in Australia in 2014. During a sabbatical from rugby in 2017, Pocock teamed up with WildArk to raise awareness about the Pridelands conservancy, engaging in courses on ecology and participating in an immersion experience in the South African bush. He was also on hand as WildArk and its partners removed the fencing that separated the wildlife from the land.

Retired professional surfer Mick Fanning is another WildArk ambassador. He has visited the Pridelands and the Grizzly Plains conservancy so far, and the visits have only whetted his appetite for a deeper understanding.

"Now that I've retired and experienced a whole lot of life," Fanning said in a WildArk video, "I can see the effects of what we are doing to the earth, and I just feel like we need to think carefully about our impact."

There's still much to do, as far as WildArk is concerned. Their next initiative is the WildArk 100, a list of species that could maximize biodiversity in their regions, provided their ranges are protected and preserved. Working with Macquarie University in Australia, the Nature Conservancy and other institutions, WildArk's list will identify 100 species across 50 unique sites in need of conservation. The species, WildArk hopes, will become the faces of their region for biodiversity.

"We are excited to be working with Macquarie University on this groundbreaking research alongside some of the leading experts in biodiversity conservation," Mark said in a WildArk statement. "This research will allow us to identify priority nature hot spots for protection from a species perspective and also provide us with a way to engage people in protecting and conserving the WildArk 100, so we can ultimately protect all those species that fall under this umbrella.

"If you can imagine that a pride of lions requires a home range to survive, and we were able to protect, restore and manage that range, think of the multitude of creatures — birds, insects, plants and animals — that would also be protected."

It's just another example of WildArk's big-picture view of preserving biodiversity. If you'd like to donate to their efforts, you can follow this link.