Our ecotourism vacations aren’t helping animals in the targeted regions, as per a new study looking at animal behavior in these regions.
Ecotourism is a booming business worldwide. While there are clear benefits stemming from this type of business, we should take the time to consider the downsides as well. Particularly with regards to animals.
If we find ourselves at an idyllic resort, surrounded by nature and trying to understand the mechanisms behind sustainability or self-sustainability, chances are often that we will also meet the animal residents on the premises of the resort. Goats, chicken, bunnies and others have the spotlight. These are domesticated animals for which habituation and interactions with humans aren’t a cause of anxiety or danger.
Now consider visiting a national park and cosying up to the deers you might find on your track. At the same time, take into account that 8 billion visitors are registered worldwide in protected areas each year. Consider the deers you are cosying up to are constantly facing interactions with humans, whom, despite their best intentions are endangering their behavior and survival skills.
The study placing this threat in the limelight was led by Daniel Blumstein, researcher with the University of California, Los Angeles. According to his and his team findings, our ecotourism vacations aren’t helping animals.
Beyond the immediate environmental impact that 8 billion visitors annually inflict, it is the effect they have on wildlife that the research team was concerned about. In Daniel Blumstein’s words:
“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”.
Habituation in this case leads to higher predation risk. People swimming with fish in protected areas is one example. The longer the fish are exposed to interaction with humans, the less fearful they become. This leads to a change in their behavior. They no longer perceive humans as a threat or as a predator, which may lead to the same behavior when it comes to real wildlife predators.
Human presence keeps natural predators away. This is a fact we might consider to be beneficial to animals. However, on the one hand, habituation leads to a behavioral change in animals, while on the other hand it leads to disturbances in ecosystems.
If you’re looking to find out more on how our ecotourism vacations aren’t helping animals, the findings of the study are featuring in the Trends in Ecology and Evolution journal.
Photo Credits: Pexels