By Jack Arnhold, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Since arriving in 1980 with an Honors Degree in Environmental Studies from the University of Kansas, American ecologist Douglas Trent has been fascinated by Brazil, the most bio-diverse nation on the planet. He now heads up two NGOs, the oldest nature tour company in Brazil, and a host of other projects in a mission to preserve the natural treasures of his adopted country.
Focus Tours, founded by Trent in 1981 and still running today, was the original vehicle that kick-started his mission of conservation and education, which has seen him go on to work with universities, multi-national companies, foundations and governments.
“I was traveling in the Amazon in the front seat of a bus, through tall, lush rainforest, when I was shocked to come over a hill and see a wall of burning trees across a recently deforested field.” Trent explains.
It was then that a black jaguar leaped into the road in front of them. “It was the first jaguar I had seen in the wild,” he continues, “and it ran about thirty meters before again leaping back into the rainforest and disappearing.”
For Trent, this event caused simultaneous feelings of both excitement and despair. “This in turn led me to be one of the founders of the rainforest conservation movement. In 1981, I founded Focus Tours to use tourism to alleviate poverty and preserve nature.” He comments.
Through this encounter, Trent saw an opportunity to make a difference by setting up a professional nature tour company with its own naturalist guides in Brazil. At the time, to his amazement, there was no-one offering nature tours in Brazil, despite it having the largest biodiversity on earth.
Trent has always adopted an approach whereby the profits from his tours go to helping incentivize sustainability among the local economy. For example, his early partnership with a Brazilian jaguar hunter named Lerinho eventually led to the establishment of the 2,000 hectare RPPN – ‘Reserva Ecológico do Jaguar’ (Jaguar Ecological Reserve), encouraging the jaguar hunter that he could make more money by setting up a reservation and offering tours.
“My tour clients were delighted to know that their tour was helping to preserve both the Pantaneiro culture and jaguar preservation.” Trent comments. This eventually led him and a friend to found the non-profit Focus Conservation Fund, his first NGO.
“This allowed my American clients to benefit from donations to this project, which also quickly increased my credibility with clients and donors. We were able to purchase beds, linens, mosquito nets.” He continues, “Plus, we were able to get volunteers that spent months teaching English and providing support for international tourists that were starting to arrive on their own.”
Focus Tours is now well into its third decade of existence, and continues to offer a unique experience to its clients. “Our tours are very professional. On the Paraguay River, for example, most tours operating out of the same lodge only boat around the area of the lodge to show their clients the nature. We go much further, doing an expedition day where we travel to very remote regions, covering over 300km of river.”
“We are the only tours that go out at night on the river, with power spotlights, to find nocturnal wildlife.” He continues, “And on tour I also teach photography, as I am a professional Canon photographer, and give clients my processed photos of the nature they have seen.”
“I also teach taxonomy, the window to understanding nature. And I give a number of courses on understanding nature, as well as how to develop communities for eco-tourism.” He concludes. “My goal was never to be the biggest nature tour operator in Brazil or the other countries, it was to get people out of poverty and preserve nature. Eco-tourism is just one of the tools I use to do this.”
Douglas Trent’s website can be found here.
The website for Focus Tours can be found here.