Sustainable wildlife tourism is a positive force for conservation and savings, expert says

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If done correctly, wildlife tourism can have a positive influence on how economies develop and view their wildlife and biodiversity, according to Dr Michael Hutchins, who has extensive experience in the wildlife industry and is an expert in conservation and science education.

Hutchins argues that if wildlife tourism is used as a way to generate money for savings in a way that benefits local communities, people will be more willing to protect wildlife and the areas they live in.

Talk to National Geographic, Hutchins explained that the term ecotourism was coined to describe nature and wildlife trips that were sustainable and responsible and minimized damage to wildlife and ecosystems.

“Today, the wildlife tourism industry spans the globe and generates billions of dollars in revenue, while providing an economic incentive for wildlife and habitat conservation and cultural preservation.” he added.

“While not entirely harmless, when done properly, tourism can provide a relatively benign economic incentive for wildlife conservation that is far more preferable to other forms of development, including mining, oil and gas exploration, agriculture, etc. “

Hutchins argues that wildlife tourism is the main reason why large populations of wildlife still exist in East and Southern Africa. Indeed, the money that tourism brings in the regions goes a long way in lifting people out of poverty. The local populations recognize this and, therefore, are more linked to the problems of conservation and environmental degradation.

This connection means that when people or projects threaten key areas for wildlife, locals, as well as campaign groups and tourists, are more likely to oppose them.

Hutchins also points out that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo and the oil company Soco were criticized when Virunga National Park was opened to oil exploration and drilling. Soco abandons plans in Africa’s oldest national park after year-long WWF campaign.

“The promise of long-term income from responsible wildlife tourism often seems to be the only thing standing in the way. In developing countries, faced with poverty and unemployment, the reality is that wildlife will have to pay for itself and wildlife tourism is one of the most benign ways to achieve this ”, Hutchins explained.

The debate on whether tourism can be truly sustainable continues. Some argue that the carbon emissions generated by travel to destinations and the inevitable impact humans have on ecosystems mean the industry cannot be sustainable. Others argue that by supporting local economies and making responsible decisions, tourism can be a force for good.

Hutchins commented, “The economic impact of wildlife tourism on prime wildlife destinations in developing countries is substantial. In places like Kenya and Tanzania, wildlife tourism is one of the most important sources of foreign exchange and is essential to their economic future.

“There is, however, one principle that I would like to emphasize: the benefits of tourism must flow to local businesses and people if they are to provide the economic incentive necessary for the conservation of wildlife and habitat. “

Photo: Paul Baker via Flickr

Further reading:

Green Globe launches sustainable tourism certification

Punjab seeks to boost untapped Indian ecotourism

Ecotourism hailed as the savior of endangered lemurs in Madagascar

Elephants in Thailand brutally trained for tourism industry, survey reveals

The Sustainable Tourism Guide 2014


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