Tourists Scare Wildlife
- 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
Endangered species - Learn more about the conservation battle in our
comprehensive special report.
* Beware the ecotourist
* 6 March 2004
* Fun for people: Hell for animals
* 6 March 2004
* Ecotourism benefits nature and reduces poverty
* 12 December 2007
* Ecosystem health is linked to human prosperity
* 15 September 2007
* Noisy ecotourists may boost bear numbers
* 22 August 2004
* Boats drown out orcas' cries
* 1 May 2004
* The Wilderness Society
* The International Ecotourism Society
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
-- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- -- --
-- -- -- -- -
Subscribe to environmental e-mail groups at
Blogs at http://pottersweal.wordpress.com/; twitter: brucepotter