Mongabay founder Rhett A. Butler tells the origin story of Mongabay.Inspired by his love for nature and motivated by real-world losses, the groundwork for Mongabay was laid at a very early age.Rhett launched Mongabay in his early 20s to raise interest in the natural world and awareness about what is happening in wild places like tropical rainforests.This post is insider content, which is available to paying subscribers. 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. Some of my fondest memories consist of traveling to places in Central and South America, peeking under leaves for insects and sleeping frogs, scouring tree trunks for hidden lizards and insects that looked like leaves, exploring creeks for fish and snakes, and walking trails with local guides, who pointed out medicinal plants and birds I otherwise would have missed. But global trends, notably rampant deforestation across the globe, would eventually interrupt my obsession with nature and replace my happy memories with ones of profound heartbreak. The first time was in eastern Ecuador, along the Rio Napo, a river that begins as an icy creek in the high Andes, builds as a fast-moving stream through rainforest prowled only by indigenous peoples, and concludes as a meandering river before it joins Earth’s mightiest river, the Amazon. As a 12-year-old in 1990, I spent an enchanting week along the river, exploring the forest with native guides and beholding the glory of the Amazon rainforest for the first time: the teeming numbers of multicolored butterflies gathered on beaches, the cryptic caimans lying in wait for prey among swampy shallows, and raucous parrots flying overhead. River in the Western Amazon. Several months after returning home, a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle caught my eye. A ruptured pipeline had leaked more than 1 million liters of oil, or about 264,000 gallons, into the Rio Napo. The spill was so bad that Brazil, downstream from the accident, declared a state of emergency. Reading the article, all I could think about were my indigenous playmates and the local guides who showed me the wonders of the forest. Where would they get fresh water? Where would they fish? Where would they bathe? But the defining moment for me would come several years later after a magical experience halfway around the world. Lingering beside a small stream in the Malaysian rainforest of Sabah, on the island of Borneo, I sat watching the water move swiftly over worn, round stones. Vibrantly colored butterflies in shades of yellow, orange and green flirted with columns of light that penetrated the dense canopy. The croaking calls of hornbills challenged the melodic drone of cicadas. Though the forest is never silent or still, it brings a deep sense of calm. I sat with my feet in the cool water, picking over my clothes in search of leaf leeches, which seek a feeding opportunity in every crease of material. As I removed these brightly hued creatures, I watched a lone male orangutan silently make his way through the branches above the stream. The idyllic setting and the company of my red-bearded simian companion provided the perfect end to my half-day trek. Eight weeks after leaving the tract of Malaysian rainforest that had filled me with happiness, I learned the forest was gone — logged for wood chips to supply a paper-pulp plant. This place of wonder and beauty was lost forever. The orangutan, the hornbills, the butterflies, and even the leeches would have to make do in their dramatically changed environment.