Mongabay Features

Mongabay’s origin story

Me in the Brazilian Amazon in 1999

One of the few benefits of having a father who had to fly each week from San Francisco to meet clients in Hawaii and Alaska during my formative years was the airline miles — my father had a ton. So many, in fact, that our family didn’t have to spend a lot of money on airline tickets.

The other travel perks came from my mother, who specialized in selling high-end exotic travel back in the days when being a travel agent was still a viable occupation. She had the knowledge, the connections and, on occasion, the package deals to visit interesting places all around the world.

So we traveled all over. We went to some of the “normal” destinations like Disneyland, the Grand Canyon, Yosemite, and the California Sierra Nevadas. We went to other, more distant, but not uncommon destinations, like Hawaii, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Europe. But what set our travels apart were the far-off and “weird” destinations, at least for a family with two kids under the age of 15: places like Botswana, Ecuador, Venezuela, Australia and Zimbabwe. These travels would shape my life. I learned to make the best use of idle time and bad situations, love the outdoors, and appreciate all kinds of diversity — different cultures, landscapes, philosophical outlooks, and animals.

I was especially interested in animals, particularly reptiles and amphibians, as I explain here. My love for wildlife naturally led to a fascination with rainforests, which have the highest diversity of plant and animal species on the planet. My parents, probably to their initial dismay, encountered a boy who increasingly lobbied to go to less and less comfortable places: destinations where the spiders were bigger and hairier, the snakes more venomous, and the mosquitoes more abundant and malarial. Don’t get me wrong. I loved the plains animals in Africa, the snorkeling in Kauai, the swims in the icy mountain lakes in the Sierras, but tropical jungles were most dear to me.


By Rhett Ayers Butler

Rhett Ayers Butler is the Founder and CEO of Mongabay, a non-profit conservation and environmental science news platform. He started Mongabay in 1999 with the mission of raising interest in and appreciation of wild lands and wildlife.