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Endangered treasures to see ... while you still can

I’m sitting not 20 feet from a family of wild mountain gorillas, several of the only 880 left in the world. Humba, the handsome, 600-pound silverback, looks at me. I don’t dare breathe. Oblivious to the distance I’m supposed to maintain, a baby gorilla bounds over and reaches for my foot, her eyes as curious as a human toddler’s. I want this moment to last forever, partly because I know these gorillas may not. Both they and their environment are threatened, but it’s not nature that will eliminate them; it’s humankind.

Greed, climate change and bad decision-making are endangering some of the world’s most spectacular sites — and sights. Some are difficult to get to or are downright dangerous. In my 30-plus years as a traveler, I’ve been lucky to see many of them, but my gorilla encounter crystallized for me the need to save such places before they disappear.

Consider — after assessing the risks — a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Know that a visit to these destinations often helps save them. The right kind of tourism brings in much-needed money that can help well beyond the boost to the economy. Some of these places are World Heritage sites; others are home to some of the world’s last tribal people or the final members of a dwindling animal species.

This sampling is by no means complete — there are hundreds of at-risk destinations, including the Arctic and the Great Barrier Reef — but my sense of urgency is growing for these places I’ve visited and cherish. For me, the reward outweighs the risk, and isn’t that the payoff of travel?

--Amanda Jones

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