It may seem like a good cause and an interesting outing, but ecotourism is actually harming wildlife, according to a new study, which underlines the consequence of humans traipsing around protected areas.
- Protected areas see 8 billion visits per year
- Ecotourism is now a massive market with huge profits, yet good intentions
- The study, however, insists that it causes behavioral changes in animals that leave them vulnerable to predators
- More research is planned for the future to see what should be the limit of human interaction with animals
Ecotourism is a growing practice. According to the International Ecotourism Society, it increases by 7% each year, and has now grown into a popular activity. And there are many reasons why it should be. It allows tourists to protect biodiversity by experiencing rare sights of protected animals in a controlled manner.
However, it’s possible that they’re doing the precise opposite. According to professor of ecology and evolutionary biology, Daniel Blumstein, these practices are affecting the wildlife in a negative way. Instead of perfectly preserving and respecting their space, ecotourism inadvertently might do more damage than it does good.
This is because humans cannot walk into an environment and not affect the fauna. One way or another, usually in a harmful way, they leave their mark and influence behind. This happens to be potentially deadly for animals who are natural prey to bigger predators, such as moose or deer.
Blumstein claims that by interacting with the animals, even in a completely innocent way such as observing, they are growing more accustomed to human presence. Meaning that they are letting their guard down and realizing that they are not in the presence of danger. That’s good, in a sense. Ecotourism is based on actually helping animals thrive. Their natural predators, however, are not so well intended.
Due to the innocent encounters with humans, animals become less alert around others who actively seek their demise. Be it predators or actual poachers, their instincts have been effectively influenced by our presence. And that makes them easy targets for ill-intended attackers.
As stated by Blumstein, even the smaller animals become bolder. Animals in protected areas, including national parks, are seeing what is similar to ‘domestication’. They are becoming naturally accustomed to humans. In fact, it has been stated that some deer even flock to communities to escape their predators and for easy food.
So, when hunters come along, it’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Or, perhaps it’s even easier than that, because the fish essentially jump in your hand for food.
According to the study, there are an estimated 8 billion visits per year to protected areas, where tourists leave their impact on the environment. Their intentions are certainly pure, to help and preserve. Unfortunately, it seems the end result might not be as they wish.
Image source: fishandpeople.wordpress.com