a journey with purpose
The creation of Iberá National Park is one of the world's greatest nature conservation success stories. This autumn, Journeys With Purpose will offer a unique opportunity to visit the region. By Penny Bunting
Images: Journeys With Purpose
Colourful macaws flitting through trees. Otters rolling playfully in lakes and lagoons. Remarkable species such as giant anteater, capybara, Pampas deer, and tapir roaming freely through grasslands. A lush green, varied landscape reaching as far as the eye can see.
This is Iberá National Park, one of the largest wetlands in Argentina. Described as a natural paradise, it's an extraordinary ecosystem supporting a vast range of species.
But it hasn't always been like this. Until the 1990s, the land that is now Iberá National Park was unprotected, with many species endangered or extinct – hunted for feathers, furs and skins, and suffering from habitat loss due to human activities such as logging and the creation of dams.
When conservationists Douglas and Kristine Tompkins bought the land in the late 1990s, they embarked on an ambitious, pioneering rewilding initiative. This aimed to restore the ecosystem to its former ecological glory, and to reintroduce rare and endangered species such as jaguar and giant river otter.
The result – after more than 20 years of hard work by and a dedicated team – is a protected region rich in biodiversity that's packed with mammals, reptiles and birds.
Giant anteaters were the first native animals to be reintroduced by the initiative. Many of the reintroduced animals are rescued orphans, their mothers killed by poachers. Newly released anteaters are monitored to see how they are adapting to their new, natural environment – and the good news is they are thriving.
This success story has paved the way for the reintroduction of other species.
Giant otters are globally endangered, and have been extinct in Argentina for more than 30 years. Now Coco and Alondra – male and female otters relocated from European zoos – are living together in a protected area of the national park. It's hoped that they will raise cubs together, and eventually the family will be released to the wild.
Kristine Tompkins cares for one of the rescued giant anteaters
Apex predators, such as jaguars, are important for restoring a region's ecological balance. The reintroduction of jaguars has been the team's most complicated and ambitious project so far. A reintroduction centre has been built to house jaguars prior to release, with huge enclosures that allow the animals to live in near-natural conditions while they are monitored and protected.
In June 2018, two jaguar cubs were born – marking an important milestone for the reintroduction of this species after 70 years of absence from Argentina.
The return of red-and-green macaws has also been a particular challenge. Birds kept in captivity aren't able to move around freely, and so have to be taught how to fly again. It can take as long as two years of training before the birds can survive in the wild.
Rewilding projects like Iberá National Park don't only help to restore wildlife and landscapes. They also have immense benefits for local communities – not only for people's health and wellbeing, but also by generating ecotourism revenue, creating new opportunities, and boosting the rural economy.
A good example of this is the village of Colonia Carlos Pellegrini. Here, locals who once made money from cattle ranching or forestry now welcome visitors – and are proud to share the diverse nature and rich cultural heritage on their doorstep, through responsible tourism initiatives.
This has had an impact across generations. Many young people are now choosing to stay in their own home towns – creating sustainable ecotourism businesses, and working as local guides to share their knowledge with visitors from all around the world, rather than seeking jobs in the cities.
The creation of Iberá National Park is one of the most successful natural environment transformation projects of our time. It's an inspiring example of what can be achieved when we take the decision to restore an ecosystem on a large scale.
Journeys With Purpose
is partnering with to offer a unique opportunity to experience all that the Iberá National Park has to offer – from exploring stunning landscapes and encountering amazing wildlife, to learning about the ground-breaking rewilding project that is reintroducing once-extinct species such as the jaguar.
Hosted by nature conservation icon Kristine Tompkins and , this will be a once-in-a-lifetime immersive experience, and a chance to connect with nature in a spectacular setting.
Kristine is president and co-founder of . In 2018, she was named the United Nations Global Patron for Protected Areas. She was awarded the Carnegie Medal of Philanthropy in 2017, and received the World Tourism Award and the Lowell Thomas Award in 2016.
“We are creating a model for rewilding that can be applied to areas around the world. As a conservation foundation, all of our work is focused on strategies that fight the species extinction crisis that we face – from creating national parks to bringing back those species that have gone missing.”
The – starting on 19 September 2021 – features an itinerary that balances wildlife-focused experiences and outdoor adventure with uplifting life-changing stories from passionate environmentalist hosts.
There will be an opportunity for exclusive behind-the scenes visits at the San Alonso Biological Centre, with access to areas of the rewilding projects that are off-limits to other visitors. This includes visits to the green-and-red winged macaw enclosures to watch flight training, and access to the giant otter pre-release area.
San Alonso Island is home to the Jaguar Reintroduction Centre, and a highlight of the visit is exploring the 75 acres of jaguar enclosures on a safari experience to see the big cats.
There are also opportunities for tracking giant anteaters and spotting deer, foxes, peccaries, carayá monkeys and capybaras. You may even see a maned wolf.
Meeting with local people can bring a fascinating insight into a region. In the western area of Iberá, there are still some families living in remote areas of the wetland and following an almost lost way of living.
These people have a strong connection with horses, and an exhilarating and unique way to experience Iberá is to take a canoe horse-riding trip to visit a traditional house and enjoy a delicious home-cooked meal.
Other activities on offer are kayaking, horseback riding, hiking and nature walks. And when exploring the national park, there is always the thrilling anticipation of wildlife sightings – with deer, capybaras, rheas and other animals all frequently seen.
There are also plenty of chances to relax and soak in the stunning scenery of the wetlands, and enjoy magnificent sunrises and sunsets.
provides a series of immersive hosted experiences with inspirational leaders, created to inform and catalyse the celebration and advancement of nature conservation projects across the world.
These hosted experiences are a global curriculum designed around the recovery and conservation of our natural world – with opportunities to participate and collaborate on restoring vibrant landscapes, biodiversity, wildlife and livelihoods. They feature the most ambitious, exciting and successful initiatives to protect and restore the diversity of nature and wildlife across our seven continents.
Journeys With Purpose was founded by Duncan Grossart, a lifelong conservationist and zoology graduate with a deep love of nature, wilderness and travel. As the former director of The European Nature Trust, Duncan passionately believes in accelerating our re-engagement with the natural world, conserving landscapes, and harmonising lives and prosperous communities.
Duncan joins as a co-host for each experience, and shares its context in relation to other leading conservation projects throughout the world.
The guest accommodation is a carefully curated selection of luxurious hotels and lodges throughout the journey. This includes Hosteria Rincón del Socorro – an eco-friendly lodge on a tranquil 60-hectare reserve within the Esteros del Iberá wetlands.
Built in 1896 in classic Spanish architecture, the lodge has been refurbished and offers stylish, country-style accommodation. There's a large garden with swimming pool, and the property is surrounded by natural green space teeming with birds and capybaras.
Locally produced food is offered throughout the experience. Delicious regional dishes, such as local asado grills, are accompanied by quality Argentinian wines. Many of the dishes are made from organic ingredients – including fruit and vegetables from Rincón del Socorro's garden.
This is an extraordinary opportunity to visit magical, off-the-beaten track locations, experience close encounters with wildlife, and receive first-hand insight and knowledge into the creation of Iberá National Park.
Green Adventures May 2021