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Tourists Scare Wildlife

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  • Potter at Island Resources
    Ecotourists scare away endangered wildlife * 13 August 2008 * From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues * Andy Coghlan Where wildlife
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      Ecotourists scare away endangered wildlife

      * 13 August 2008
      * From New Scientist Print Edition. Subscribe and get 4 free issues
      * Andy Coghlan

      Where wildlife fears to tread
      Where wildlife fears to tread

      EVEN when they tiptoe discreetly through the undergrowth, nature
      lovers and ecotourists may be having an unexpectedly damaging impact
      on wildlife. A study of protected Californian forest has shown that
      hiking, wildlife-watching and similar low-impact activities are
      linked to a sharp drop in numbers of carnivores such as bobcats and

      "We saw dramatic, fivefold reductions in the native species," says
      Adina Merenlender of the University of California, Berkeley, who ran
      the study with Sarah Reed of the San Francisco-based Wilderness

      Ecotourism is big business. In 2004, it grew three times as fast as
      the tourist industry as a whole. One in five tourists now go on
      eco-holidays. It has been shown to have an impact on a range of
      species, from dolphins and dingoes to penguins and polar bears (New
      Scientist, 6 March 2004, p 6). The dilemma is that revenue from
      ecotourism provides one of the best incentives for local communities
      to protect endangered animals instead of hunting them.

      Philip Seddon, a wildlife management specialist at the University of
      Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, says the finding that such apparently
      harmless activities may alter the make-up of wildlife communities
      challenges the main concept of ecotourism - that it minimises impacts
      and maximises benefits. Reserve managers may in future have to make
      more areas off-limits to tourists.

      Merenlender and Reed focused their study on 14 protected zones of oak
      woodland in northern California. At each site they collected faeces
      left by the target species along a series of 500-metre sampling
      paths. They then compared the quantity found in areas out of bounds
      to humans with that found along sampling paths in similar "paired"
      areas nearby where access was allowed.

      When people were banned from an area, native species such as bobcats,
      coyotes and grey foxes thrived and were typically five times as
      abundant as in more heavily trafficked areas. Likewise, faeces of
      domestic animals, particularly dogs, were only found in the areas
      visited by humans.

      It is well known that human activity can alarm animals, but
      Merenlender says this is the first time a consistent effect has been
      demonstrated across entire communities. "We see it over the whole
      park, not just a single trail."

      This should not, however, be taken to mean that low-key ecotourism is
      always harmful, says David Sheppard, head of the programme on
      protected areas run by the International Union for Conservation of
      Nature (IUCN). "It's hard to make generalisations. It can depend
      heavily on species, as some are more affected by recreation than

      Large predators might be unusually sensitive to human activity
      because people hunt them. "These animals have high intelligence, and
      those that are cautious survive," says Paul Eagles, who studies
      ecotourism at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, and
      chairs the tourism task force of the IUCN's World Commission on
      Protected Areas. Even animals that habitually follow trails used by
      humans are adept at keeping out of sight when people pass.

      Merenlender, however, points out that her sampling paths cut across
      trails and non-trail areas, so the differences couldn't be dismissed
      as animals temporarily ducking out of sight. "We looked on and
      off-trail, and found low abundance off-trail too in accessible areas."

      The team, who report their findings in Conservation Letters (DOI:
      10.1111/j.17550263X.2008.00019.x), suggest several strategies for
      reconciling the needs of wildlife and people. One is to ensure that
      visitors stick to prescribed trails and do not penetrate deep into
      protected habitat. Others include introducing permit systems and
      restricting access to certain times of the year.

      "We're not in any way advocating that people stop seeing nature,"
      Merenlender says. "But we're trying to heighten the awareness of site
      managers to these unexpected impacts on wildlife."

      Seddon agrees that the study's results deserve to be taken seriously.
      "We're faced with decisions about how best to manipulate protected
      areas," he says. "Perhaps we need areas set aside from virtually all
      human use."

      Endangered species - Learn more about the conservation battle in our
      comprehensive special report.
      Related Articles

      * Beware the ecotourist
      * http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg18124371.100
      * 6 March 2004
      * Fun for people: Hell for animals
      * http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg18124370.200
      * 6 March 2004
      * Ecotourism benefits nature and reduces poverty
      * http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg19626332.000
      * 12 December 2007
      * Ecosystem health is linked to human prosperity
      * http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg19526213.300
      * 15 September 2007
      * Noisy ecotourists may boost bear numbers
      * http://environment.newscientist.com/article/dn6293
      * 22 August 2004
      * Boats drown out orcas' cries
      * http://environment.newscientist.com/article/mg18224453.000
      * 1 May 2004


      * The Wilderness Society
      * http://www.wilderness.org/
      * The International Ecotourism Society
      * IUCN
      * http://cms.iucn.org/

      From issue 2669 of New Scientist magazine, 13 August 2008, page 10
      35 Years of Environmental Service to Small Tropical Islands
      Island Resources Foundation Fone 202/265-9712
      1718 "P" St NW, # T-4 fax 202/232-0748
      Washington, DC 20036 Potter cell: 1-443-454-9044
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