Outer Edge - - Aus­tralian Ad­ven­tures - by Si­mon Mus­toe, Wildiaries founder

Re­mem­ber the thrill of see­ing your favourite live mu­sic on stage for the first time? Chances are you owned al­bums, had read count­less ar­ti­cles over the years; and felt as though you knew them, be­cause they spoke to you through rhythms, lyrics and har­monies, which you’d long come to love and un­der­stand. Now imag­ine how you’d feel en­coun­ter­ing ‘live’, for the first time, a pow­er­ful wild Orangutan up close or swim­ming eye to eye with a gi­gan­tic singing Hump­back Whale.

As you stare into the eye of a crea­ture with a brain big­ger than yours, that shares your ba­sic DNA but also has the ability to in­stinc­tively nav­i­gate a planet’s oceans, you’d ex­pect to be deeply moved ... and so you should. My first Hump­back Whale en­counter was while snorkelling at the sur­face with a film cam­era. I’d re­cently learnt to dive and was mes­merised by this 10-tonne an­i­mal’s buoy­ancy con­trol, as it eyed me and drifted up­wards and side­ways, in my di­rec­tion.

The whale came to a halt me­tres away and looked straight at me ... I choked up and was over­come with a flush of emo­tion, hid­den, thank­fully, by be­ing face down in cool wa­ter. There are those who see en­coun­ters with wildlife as a mo­ment - those who would go, just to be able to say they’d done this. I’ve dived with sharks, tracked Nepalese man-eat­ing Tigers on foot, bush-camped alone in re­mote forests in Mada­gas­car, wo­ken to the eerie calls of In­dris and nearly been swept down wa­ter­falls, in pur­suit of rare mon­keys in In­done­sia. Though de­spite think­ing I could main­tain a cool de­meanour, my whale en­counter was sur­pris­ingly over­whelm­ing, be­cause I’d been build­ing to this mo­ment all my life. I know enough about wildlife not to take any ex­pe­ri­ence for granted.

These days it seems all too easy for any­one to jump in with a whale but if that’s all there is to it, you may as well throw a glass of wa­ter over your head while watch­ing a doco, sit­ting in the comfort of your own liv­ing room.

It’s not the same as the pow­er­ful emo­tions you can feel when you have that once-in-a-life­time close con­tact with a wild crea­ture you’ve come to prop­erly ap­pre­ci­ate. Jour­ney in the com­pany of peo­ple who are deeply con­nected and it will of­fer you a win­dow into their af­fec­tions, a chance to see through dif­fer­ent eyes, a world you wouldn’t other­wise com­pre­hend. Like mu­sic, it’s a per­sonal thing and the jour­ney starts long be­fore ‘the mo­ment’.

Ar­chae­ol­o­gist Chris Carter even ex­plains “the stan­dard visit to Maccu Pichu sees it with­out mean­ing. When we end up there, we’re not sur­prised by what we see. That’s not to say we’re not over­whelmed ... but we’ve learnt the whole story of Mayan civil­i­sa­tion. The ef­fect is pro­found”.

Vet­eran Orangutan con­ser­va­tion­ist Garry Sundin has raised al­most a mil­lion dol­lars for their pro­tec­tion. “Orangutans are think­ing animals” says Garry “... when you look into their eyes, there’s an un­der­stand­ing, an em­pa­thy more hu­man than any­thing we can imag­ine”.

“They are the only tree-liv­ing ape and with­out them, we have no for­est, no animals and we all suf­fer en­vi­ron­men­tal prob­lems - it doesn’t only af­fect In­done­sians who live there, it af­fects us all”, he says. De­spite strug­gling against the odds, vil­lagers that live in re­mote com­mu­ni­ties sup­ported by Garry, have de­voted their lives to con­serv­ing their price­less nat­u­ral her­itage. They en­dure in­tol­er­a­ble heat and in­ter­minable wet. There are no gov­ern­ment grants; there’s no so­cial wel­fare; and no pro­tec­tion from in­ter­na­tional busi­ness syn­di­cates de­stroy­ing the forests nearby.

This should be re­minder enough that any wildlife ad­ven­ture is a priv­i­lege, not a right. Com­mu­ni­ties world-wide work tire­lessly and en­thu­si­as­ti­cally, lov­ing to share their in­sights with us. It’s a way to com­mu­ni­cate with the out­side world, to raise funds for their work and con­tinue pro­tec­tion. But don’t we also sim­ply owe it to our­selves to make the most of any ex­pe­ri­ence?

If you’ve ever seen live mu­sic you didn’t al­ready grasp, you’d know it’s not half as sen­sa­tional - in hind­sight, you might even wish you could go back and do it all again. We strive for au­then­tic, ful­fill­ing travel ex­pe­ri­ences, so why wouldn’t we want the im­pact it has on us, to be just as gen­uine? Af­ter all, the ul­ti­mate high is a buzz that’s life-al­ter­ing and what is ad­ven­ture, if it’s not the chal­lenge to discover more about our­selves?


Wildlife Ad­ven­tures with Wildiaries and Outer Edge

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