Kurt Holle wants people to appreciate the jungle like he does. Ever since he was a small child in Peru, jungle animals fascinated him. That’s why he co-founded Rainforest Expeditions, which operates three ecolodges.
What do visitors get out of going to this remote area of Peru and staying in a room with one side open to jungle? “I think they remember rather than learn,” Holle said in an email interview. “I think they remember the value of time well spent, without a hurry. I think they remember how good it feels to have long conversations about nothing in particular. I think they remember to pay attention to the here and the now. I hope they remember those things for a long time.”
This leader in sustainable tourism has just been named a Social Entrepreneur of the Year 2013 by the World Economic Forum and The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship. Holle’s company, which he co-founded in 1992 with Eduardo Nycander, was the first company in Peru and the second in South America to engage directly with native communities to develop tourism opportunities in the jungle. They focus on conserving local forests, flora and fauna.
The rainforest has suffered from gold mining, hunting, illegal timber extraction and agricultural expansion. Working in ecotourism provides an income-generating alternative for some forest dwellers.
Rainforest Expeditions currently runs three ecolodges, one of which is owned by the native community and co-managed by Holle’s company. Visitors come to see spider monkeys, howler monkeys, capybaras, giant river otters and, if they’re really lucky, a jaguar. They will certainly see macaws at the macaw clay lick. This is a big attraction at the ecolodge at Tambopata. On this riverbank, macaws, parrots and other animals come to eat the sodium-rich clay. For a while, this confused scientists, who wondered why macaws in other countries had no clay licks, but Peruvian macaws did. It turns out that salt water from the Atlantic sweeps into the atmosphere, lightly salting the wind, rain and fruits in areas closer to the sea. This is how Brazilian macaws get their sodium. But in the Peruvian rainforest, far from the ocean, macaws must supplement their diet at the clay lick.
When it comes to jungle animals, Holle enjoys a good peccary stampede. “My favorite animal to encounter on a trail are white lipped peccary, a wild boar that hangs out in herds of dozens to a hundred,” he said. “They have a great sense of smell but poor eyesight and hearing, so often they stumble right upon you and then stampede. It is a great feeling to be in the middle of them.”
In addition to generating income for indigenous people and conserving forests and local fauna, Rainforest Expeditions participate in the Pack for a Purpose program. This organization hosts a website telling visitors exactly what local communities need. Travelers can choose to bring a few of these items, such as stethoscopes, crayons or puzzles to aid local schools, medical clinics or community organizations. Rainforest Expeditions’ three ecolodges recently began serving as collection points for Pack for a Purpose. “I'm sure that with a little time it’s going to be a huge success and help out a lot of people in the native community,” said Jeff Cremer, Rainforest Expeditions’ marketing director, who works with the program.
The Schwab Foundation for Social Entrepreneurship has recognized 200 award winners since its inception in 2000. These leading social entrepreneurs participate in World Economic Forum events, giving them opportunities to network with political, media and business leaders. Holle’s recognition as a social entrepreneur should raise some much-deserved awareness for his contribution to conserving Peru’s rainforests, and to the threats the jungle faces.