Dreaming of a wilder Sweden
What do a moose and an orangutan have in common?
At first glance, perhaps not a whole lot.
But for Marcus Eldh, founder of WildSweden, these two fantastic creatures marked the beginning of a great journey, turning a curious go-getter into a global voice on wildlife conservation – a journey he now gets to share with nature-loving people from all over the world who quite literally choose to visit his neck of the woods.
Let’s go back to 2002. I had just finished a master’s degree in computer science at Stockholm University. Nice, but a bit boring. So I headed to South-East Asia. Alone, with a bicycle.
After a few months of cycling around Laos, Vietnam and Cambodia I decided to head south and ended up in the small village of Bukit Lawang in Sumatra, Indonesia, where I was welcomed by friendly smiles, a gushing river and the sticky heat of the rainforest.
During my time in the Sumateran jungle I met a number of young local guides. They took me for a jungle trek, enabling me to see the amazing wild orangutans. I was so impressed! Actually, I was most inspired by the guides themselves. Their job was to bring people into the jungle, to create memorable experiences for travelers to bring back home. Surely this was the best job in the world?!
That’s when I realized what my mission in life was: I would become a guide myself! That way, instead of being stuck in an office, I would be able to spend most of my time outdoors – and I would get to enjoy incredible experiences with likeminded people from across the world.
But could I possibly do this in Sweden? Sweden has green forests and lots of wildlife, but mostly in shades of grey and brown: nothing quite as interesting as orangutans. Or at least that’s what I thought.
When I returned to my home town of Västerås I went straight to the local tourist information center, something I had never done before. Once there I didn’t know exactly what to ask for; all I could think of was the orangutans in Sumatra. I hesitated and grabbed a tourism brochure from a shelf. As I flicked through it an Austrian couple stepped through the door.
– Hello! We are wondering… where can we go to see wild Moose around here?
I listened carefully. They wanted to see moose? I was eager to hear what kind of advice the young clerk would give them.
– Go to the zoo in Stockholm, she said! There you will see moose, guaranteed.
The zoo?! My heart stood still! I knew that Sweden’s forests were full of moose: about 350,000 of them. Why send these tourists to the zoo in Stockholm? Imagine if the guides in Sumatra had told me the same thing when I wanted to see orangutans – go to the zoo! Madness.
That madness spurred me to action: I just had to do something! My mission was to become a wilderness guide, and here was my chance.
By the end of the afternoon I had set up a website offering guided moose safaris in the nearby forest, led by an expert moose guide – that was me, apparently! To my surprise, within a couple of days I had my first bookings. I had three guests: a Russian man and an Austrian couple. My very first tour.
How did the tour go? Probably not the best one I’ve ever led, but we managed to see 5 moose that evening. We cooked ourselves a meal over an open fire and camped overnight in an abandoned log cabin in the woods. The guests seemed pleased, but the guide was no doubt the happiest camper of the bunch.
When I returned home I thought that this was a probably a one-time thing, but that autumn I had more guests. From South Africa, Sweden, the Netherlands, even from China. Maybe I was really onto something here?
Since then WildSweden has guided thousands of nature-loving travelers from all over the world to see not only moose but also beavers, wolves, bears, owls and other amazing wildlife. Guests have come from more than 75 countries, including North Korea, Nigeria, Paraguay and Myanmar. I have also held countless lectures and workshops across Sweden to coach and inspire others to work with nature-based tourism.
My mission, and that of WildSweden, remains to make Sweden a wilder place. How are we accomplishing this? For one thing, by creating stunning nature experiences for people from all over the world, including Sweden, we are encouraging and inspiring them to appreciate and spend more time in nature. But our tours also generate income for local guides, restaurant staff and hotel owners, and when wild nature provides an income it is more likely to be valued and protected. In the long run, Sweden becomes a wilder place!
And all this started because of the great example set by a group of orangutan guides in Bukit Lawang, Sumatra. Thanks for great inspiration, guys!
Marcus Eldh, founder of WildSweden