How ecotourism is putting wildlife at risk

Washington: A new study has suggested that eco-tourism boom may be putting wildlife in a new kind of danger.

Many tourists today are drawn to the idea of vacationing in far-flung places around the globe where their dollars can make a positive impact on local people and local wildlife. But researchers say that all of those interactions between wild animals and friendly ecotourists eager to snap their pictures may inadvertently put animals at greater risk of being eaten.

It’s clear that the ecotourism business is booming. Recent data showed that protected areas around the globe receive 8 billion visitors per year; that’s like each human on Earth visited a protected area once a year said Daniel Blumstein of the University of California, adding that this massive amount of nature-based and eco-tourism can be added to the long list of drivers of human-induced rapid environmental change.

Blumstein says the new report sets out a new way of thinking about possible long-term effects of nature-based tourism and encourage scientists and reserve managers to take into account these deleterious impacts to assess the sustainability of a type of tourism, which typically aims to enhance, not deplete, biodiversity.

The basic premise of the report is this-human presence changes the way animals act and those changes might spill over into other parts of their lives. Those changes in behavior and activity may put animals at risk in ways that aren’t immediately obvious.

The presence of humans can also discourage natural predators, creating a kind of safe haven for smaller animals that might make them bolder, too. When humans are around, for example, vervet monkeys have fewer run-ins with predatory leopards. In Grand Teton National Park, elk and pronghorn in areas with more tourists spend less time at alert and more time feeding.

The question is to what extent do these more relaxed and bolder behaviors around humans transfer to other situations, leaving animals at greater risk in the presence of their natural predators? And what happens if a poacher comes around?

Blumstein says they hope to stimulate more research on the interactions of humans with wildlife.

The study appears in Trends in Ecology and Evolution. (ANI)