By engaging in ecotourism we are endangering animals, despite our best intentions and thinking that investing in such ventures would in fact benefit them.
This is the finding of a recently published study that took a closer look at animal behavior in some areas that are among the favorite ecotourism destinations. Animals living here are exposed to human presence at such an increased rate that they at least partially become friendly and less aware of other dangers that await one step further.
Ecotourism is mostly associated with protected areas around the globe. By gathering data from all these locations, the research team, led by Daniel Blumstein with the University of California, Los Angeles, found that together they welcome 8 billion visitors on a yearly basis. Without mentioning the environmental impact of this trend, the researchers underline that nature-based tourism and ecotourism are in fact endangering animals.
By engaging in ecotourism we are endangering animals, the study pinpoints. What this means is that animal-human interaction leads to behavioral changes in wildlife. Be it direct or indirect contact with an animal, it still impacts the way it acts, albeit in an not immediately obvious way.
According to lead author Daniel Blumstein:
“When animals interact in benign ways with humans, they may let their guard down. If this boldness transfers to real predators, then they will suffer higher mortality when they encounter real predators”.
The research team compared the dangers posed by ecotourism to those of urbanization or even of domestication. For instance, adopting a wild animal as a pet, domesticating it and then releasing it back into the wild for various reasons will lead to the animal’s certain death. Unable to adapt and react to predators, it will perish due to interaction with humans and learned behavior. Silver foxes, often adopted as pets suffer this fate.
In the case of urban development plans typically encroaching on wildlife habitat, one of the most telling examples refers to fauna living in the forest. When a forest is cut by a road, animals take to the road to fend off predators. According to Taylor Phillips with Eco-Tour Adventures, moose and their calves are often spotted along the roads cutting through Yellowstone National Park or Grand Teton because it is the predators which keep away from human presence or cars. Typically prey becomes cosier with human presence as long as it deters predators.
As such, by engaging in ecotourism we are endangering animals. By encouraging habituation enhanced by invasive tourism, we create a disbalance in ecosystems, by increasing predation risks.
The study is published in the Trends in Ecology and Evolution journal.
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