Store

The dark side of ecotourism: it could be a threat to wildlife

According to a US study, ecotourism could perilously alter animals’ behaviour.

Ecotourism, which means travelling in a responsible and respectful way towards the environment and ecology and favouring natural protected areas and parks, is growing steadily.

 

ecoturismo-in-Africa
African safari © Jerzy Strzelecki

 

Admiring wildlife in its natural environment is a unique emotion, and this kind of tourism is promoted to finance the conservation of natural areas and sustain local economies. Yet, this growing love for nature could be a threat to nature itself, particularly to wildlife.

 

Such risk has been highlighted by a study carried out by Professor Daniel Blumstein, of the University of California, published by Trends in Ecology and Evolution magazine. Ecotourism annually generates more than 8 billion visits to protected areas all over the world. According to the study, the fact that animals are getting used to human presence could modify their behaviour, making them more vulnerable to poachers and predators.

 

lamantino
A sea cow in a too close encounter

 

“If individuals selectively habituate to humans and if invasive tourism practices enhance this habituation, we might be selecting for or creating traits or syndromes that have unintended consequences, such as increased predation risk,” said Blumstein. “Even a small human-induced perturbation could affect the behaviour or population biology of a species and influence the species’ function in its community.”

 

Human familiarity could be harmful for both herbivores and predators. Herbivores lower their guard and become bolder with natural predators and poachers, whilst carnivores, which are more elusive, could be discouraged by the huge visitor flows and, by result, could give up hunting in certain areas.

 

Researchers are trying to understand, in details, how different animal species react to man’s presence, in order to establish the exact exposition levels that could threaten animals’ survival.

 

Exif_JPEG_PICTURE
Scuba diver “petting” a sea turtle

 

Whilst waiting for new details and results, it is possible to adopt good practices. For example, if we meet wild animals, we should keep ouselves distant, be quiet and, most of all, not feed them. We must remember that into forests, woods, and oceans we are guests and, despite our love, it’s better animals to distrust us.

Translated by

Related articles