Ironically, although it was designed to protect the environment and animals living in the wild, ecotourism may negatively impact wildlife because animals become easy targets to hunters as they become accustomed with human visitors.
Ecotourism is a thriving industry, as many people living in cities find remote natural areas as the perfect places to spend their holidays with family and friends. Tourists cite local attractions and the possibility to help small communities grow, while protecting wildlife, as the main reason they opt for ecotourism.
But a group of academics from the University of California said that there is a hidden price to pay. They say that tourists who take pictures of wild animals and pet them boost the risk of these animals of being hunted down and eaten.
Professor Daniel Blumstein, lead author of the study, said that there is a ‘human-induced rapid environmental change’ across the globe since tourists account for eight billion visits per year in protected areas.
“That’s like each human on Earth visited a protected area once a year, and then some,”
Prof Blumstein added.
According to the new study, published this week in Trends in Ecology & Evolution, nature-based tourism has unexpected and long-lasting effects on the environment.
Study authors urged their fellow researchers to focus more on this type of tourism to see whether it is as sustainable as previously thought. Ironically, nature-based tourism was an effort to preserve, not deplete, biodiversity while supporting local communities.
The idea behind the study is that human presence among wild animals changes their behavior. Ecotourism may negatively impact wildlife because it exposes animals to a higher mortality risk as they sometimes may let their guard down.
Prof Blumstein explained that ‘benign’ interactions with people eventually make wild animals bolder with humans and predators, so their boldness may prove fatal later in their lives. But the risks human interaction and ecotourism expose animals to aren’t ‘immediately obvious,’ researchers wrote in their paper.
Study authors believe that there is little to no difference between eco-tourism and domestication because recurring exposure to human contact makes animals comfortable with people. They actually become tamed.
Past studies showed that silver foxes exposed to humans on a regular basis are bolder and less fearful. Additionally, domesticated fish are less likely to dodge predatory attacks. Birds and squirrels in parks and other urban locations are so accustomed with humans that they hardly ever flee.
But human visits can also make natural predators of the animals they unknowingly tame less ferocious. A recent study revealed that vervet monkeys rarely have close encounters with their natural enemies, predatory leopards, when humans are around.
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