If you recently read about the dangers of ecotourism to wildlife, please read on, since a closer look at the new research shows that these findings could be as problematic as they are premature.
Forget poaching and the Red Book – the biggest danger to wildlife is “an increased vulnerability of wildlife to predators”, apparently. But thankfully, the Trends in Ecology and Evolution journal published a critique of a recent review questioning such claims against ecotourism.
What is ecotourism? Simply put it refers to a kind of travel aiming at “exotic natural environments, intended to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife”. The International Ecotourism Society provides a variety of ecotourism activities and destinations in its blog.
In recent years, ecotourism has become more popular around the globe, including travel to such destinations as Norwegian fjords, Alaskan forests, South African wildlife parks and even Antarctica. But for us the eco-crown belongs to the rivers and creeks of the mighty Amazon. Here the 1.2 billion acres of the rain forest grows around the world’s largest river system and supports thousands of plant, bird, mammal, and freshwater life.
Ecotourists are drawn to “the lungs of the Planet” to watch animals found only in the area. For instance, in Peruvian rainforest tourists can watch giant otters – the world’s largest, about 6 feet long engendered otters – from a reasonable distance. The number of lakes open for this kind of animal-watching is limited, while each lake has only certain areas open to non-motorised boats. To preserve the area in its natural state the government protects the lakes from overfishing and hunting. Thus, the purpose of ecotourism is to encourage conservation drives and to protect the wildlife.
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However, recently there have been arguments about the value and harmlessness of the ecotourism. But “the idea picked up by the media that nature tourism is bad for animals sends a very mixed message to the public and to all sorts of conservation stakeholders that doesn’t help conservation,” says Dr Lee Fitzgerald from Texas A&M AgriLife:
“We do research that advances theories in conservation science and our understanding of management practices that work for the benefit of biodiversity conservation. We felt if the idea is being promoted that tourism is bad for animals and can make animals more vulnerable to predators, then that idea should be researched before making sweeping statements that tourism is able to drive negative changes in entire populations. We wrote to clarify that the opposite is well-known and supported with much research; that tourism can and often does protect large landscapes and the wildlife within those landscapes.”
An the history of ecotourism supports this. Remember that, firstly, the world’s very first national parks in America were created for the tourists and thousands of the world’s protected areas are at least partially legitimised by adventure travellers. Secondly, it is hard to imagine wild animals losing their engraved fear of being eaten from a distanced interaction with people, who, by the way, only meet a tiny portion of animals. According to Dr Fitzgerald, “The risk of predation is like a big sledgehammer in nature that drives the persistence of anti-predator behaviours in species”. Even domesticated animals regain this “anti-preditor behaviour”, when released into the nature.
Some rotten apples of mismanaging ecotourist wildlife watching should not overthrow well managed international policies ensuring bad interactions and habituation are avoided. It is vital to keep in mind that poaching is still a major killer of the endangered species, and ecotourism is one of the best ways to protect them from extinction. Many sustainable tour operators in Africa, especially along the Kenya-Tanzania boarder, support and fund, anti rhino poaching programmes, helping local and international conservation charities release them into the wild to keep up with constantly and very rapidly decreasing rhino population numbers. Ecotourism organisations also shield the animals – majority of whom never even encounter people – living across very large areas from hunting and poaching. Should they stop, the areas would be overtaken by poachers in seconds.
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When you plan your next safari or any other type of wildlife trip, please keep in mind that by working with registered and certified operators you help save animal lives and support local communities whom these operators shelter and employ!
Encourage sustainability at work! Learn more about the benefits of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) and the environmental policy compliance, as well as about what to write in your tender in response to environmental questions and how to write your own reliable Environmental Policy.
Jess has spent years travelling the world full-time. Nothing else comes close to the reaches of this emotive activity...