By Rick Coates
Traverse City native Jessica Pociask caught the travel bug early in
life. As a sophomore at Traverse City West High School, she traveled
through Europe playing the violin and after graduating early, she
spent three weeks in Iceland visiting a friend. In the back of her
mind she knew she wanted to pursue a profession that would allow her
Shortly after high school, she launched a videography business out
West and traveled the country for her clients. She spent her spare
time backpacking through Central America, touring Ireland and Europe.
In 2002, Pociask decided to pursue a degree in parks and recreation
and tourism at Michigan State University. It was during that time she
met Akos Hivekovics, her future husband and business partner in
Wildlife And Nature Travel (W.A.N.T.).
While at MSU I participated in a study abroad program in Antarctica
where I was part of a team studying climate change, said Pociask. I
met Akos as he was the lecturer and ornithologist (scientist who
studies birds) on the trip. We hit it off and eventually corresponded
for six months upon my return to MSU. We shared our mutual passions
for travel, wildlife conservation and adventure in general. He was in
the early stages of developing this concept of Wildlife Nature And
Hivekovics, born in Hungary, is one of the top ornithologists in the
world, traveling to more than 120 countries studying bird habitat and
leading travel expeditions. He is also known for his wildlife
photography and has authored two books. He asked Pociask to join him
on a trip to the Balkans and eventually assisting him in an expedition
through Africa. In 2006 the couple launched their nature and travel
Growing up in southwest Hungary (near the Croatian border), Hivekovics
didnt necessarily want to lead travel expeditions at first.
As soon as I was able to speak I told people I wanted to be a wild
animal hunter in Africa, said Hivekovics. Fortunately my parents
were very conservation-minded and they would say to me that is very
nice, you can go to Africa but you should go there to save the
animals, not shoot them. By the time I was six, I had developed an
interest in biology and by the time I was 12, I was spending every
weekend volunteering at an ornithology station near my home banding
While in high school, Hivekovics started a nature preserve in his
hometown. A television program interviewed him about his project which
eventually led to others wanting to help him and eventually, while
still in high school he found himself receiving sponsorships and
invitations to travel to other countries to do research.
I ended up starting a business where our specialty was population
estimates, said Hivekovics (who eventually attended and graduated
from Szent Istvan University, in Godollo, Hungary). We would go deep
into jungles and indentify whether a bird was rare, or if it was
common, or if it was even still there.
While Hivekovics and Pociask are now into the wildlife and nature
travel business leading tours, they still have a conservation and
I am leading a tour group this summer to Liberia in search of a
species that has not been seen in over 25 years, said Hivekovics. It
is the Liberian Greenbul and this bird has not been spotted since
1985, so we are offering a tour to give people an opportunity to learn
how this process works of searching for a lost species.
We have the travel and tour business which there is a conservation
arm to it, said Pociask. So what we are trying to do is also help
cultures that are natural resource exploitation dependent to change.
What we are trying to do is to help these cultures transition from
destruction of natural habitat to preserving them by developing a
The couple has built an international clientele and many of their
tours sell out months in advance; they even have some tours in 2011
completely booked. They could have located their business anywhere but
they chose Traverse City for a second phase of their business plan and
because of Pociasks fond childhood memories of her home.
Growing up here I have always felt a pull back to Traverse City when
I have lived away, said Pociask. No matter where I have been in the
world I have always felt that I would come back here. I feel there are
a lot of people who have like-minded views of sustainability here,
people who believe in fair-trade and have a worldly view.
The couple came to Traverse City two years ago but their travels have
not allowed for them to spend as much time as they would like locally.
Someday we will be positioned with our business to have others
leading the tours, but for now we are at the helm. It is what sets us
apart from others. We have customers from 40 different countries and
most become repeat customers, said Hivekovics. We go to great
lengths to research each tour we lead; we do the tours ourselves
before we take anyone else. We also are very personal in our approach.
We dont just take a group, rush them through and drop them off while
the next group is waiting for us. So as we grow our business we need
to have people leading the tours who have the same philosophy we
One major reason why the couple is looking to have others lead the
tours is because of a major endangered wildlife sanctuary they have
planned for Traverse City.
For that lack of a better name right now we are calling it Esperanza
Park. It will be a two story complex (the size of a couple of football
fields) that will house, for the purpose of saving from extinction, 60
amphibian and 24 bird species, said Hivekovics. The world is full of
species that are endangered from a fungus that attacks their skin and
this is a type of fungus that has spread to every continent and is
eliminating amphibians very fast. So there is a massive movement
around the world to collect up breeding populations of these
endangered amphibians until this fungus is eliminated. Just to give
you an idea, in the past 12 years about 1,000 species have disappeared
and there are 200 species that now are at the rare and endangered
level. So this facility we are building will be a captive breeding and
The two see this project as a major year-round tourist attraction for
This project will bring international attention to Traverse City and
the region and attract travelers, said Pociask. This will be a very
modern, futuristic facility, LEED certified, all glass, solar powered
and green as possible. It will have multiple uses as there will be
conference rooms themed after each continent for conference and
events. So this project will attract top wildlife researchers and
certainly will be a huge tourist attraction.
They have a rendering of the building and additional details on the
project at their website. Pociask and Hivekovics have yet to establish
an exact location or a date when they anticipate the facility to be
completed. They are currently working with community leaders and
researchers currently and encourage anyone interested in the project
to contact them immediately.
One of the immediate benefits of the couple relocating to Traverse
City is the public presentations they have made and will continue to
make available to schools and organizations. Pociask recently gave a
presentation at the Traverse City Public Library on her trip in
January to the Tien Shan Mountains of the Kyrgyz Republic in search of
the endangered and elusive snow leopard. Hivekovics followed a week
later with a presentation on the penguins of Antarctica. They plan
more presentations in the future.
We are always willing to give presentations when we are available,
said Hivekovics. We have well over 100,000 photos from our trips and
really specialize in getting unprecedented access of wildlife with
keeping our carbon imprint to a minimum.
Currently Pociask is leading an expedition through the rainforest and
mountains of Ecuador while Hivekovics is on a sold-out Galapagos
Islands Yacht Cruise tour. While their tour schedule is full through
2011 (space remains for some tours) they are always looking for ideas.
We bumped into Mike Nolan of Nolans Tobacconists and talked to him
about a trip to Cuba and tying in Cuban cigar factories, said
Pociask. But he said the mystery over Cuban cigars was over and that
a trip to Nicaragua would be better. So next February we are planning
a Nicuraguan Cultural and Safari tour. On April 8, we will have a
presentation at Nolans about the trip that will include visiting one
of the top cigar manufacturers. We still have a trip planned for this
summer to Cuba.
Wildlife and Nature Travel has several interesting trips planned for
the coming months, while some are sold out, such as the Zambia photo
safari and Komodo Dragon Expedition, others have space available. Two
trips of interest include the East Africa Photo Safari and the Uganda
Mountain Gorilla expedition, both in June.
Tours range from $1,500 to $15,000 per person depending on location
and access fees and the length of trip with tour guides,
accommodations and meals are included in the price. Flights are an
For example it costs $500 per person per day to gain access to the
area where the gorillas are, said Pociask. There are a lot of taxes
and access fees associated but these fees are how these countries move
away from destroying wildlife habitat to preserving it by creating a
For many people these are trips of a lifetime, said Hivekovics. We
go beyond the typical cookie-cutter tour group that herds their
customers through like cattle and has them put their camera on
automatic to rattle off pictures quickly so they can get to the next
location. We take our guests deep into jungles and the wilderness to
experience wildlife in their natural habitat. They get to understand
the culture of the areas we are visiting and the importance that
wildlife and habitat have to the region. We let the animals dictate
the speed in which we travel; as a result we have seen mating rituals
and animal births.
To learn more about upcoming trips or plans for their major endangered
species research center in TC, visit
www.wildlifeandnaturetravel.com or call them directly at 231-392-1388.