Ecotourism is a rapidly growing industry and an increasingly hot environmental topic. Protected areas around the world receive an estimated 8 billion visits annually, bringing in $600 billion per year. Photographic tourism is being praised as an ecosystem service, and a solution to fund the conservation of biodiversity, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. Wildlife viewing generates millions of dollars in needed revenue to maintain national parks and other conservation areas that support local communities and safeguard charismatic species. In the context of wildlife management, ecotourism can be an excellent conservation tool when combined with benefits derived from trophy hunting.
But ecotourism does have some drawbacks. For example, an emerging body of research indicates that increased interaction with humans negatively influences animal behavior and biology. A false sense of security around people during the tourist season leaves some wildlife species more susceptible to exploitation after contact. Habituation to human presence can make some species vulnerable to poachers.
The presence of ecotourists can also be a source of stress for predators. Wildlife viewers create a defensive shield for prey species, driving predators to leave tourism areas in search of undisturbed hunting grounds. These animals are forced to cross paths with livestock and intolerant villagers. Local communities have to live with these problematic and dangerous wildlife species on the frontlines of conservation, and bear the majority of the cost of this coexistence when conflict increases.
One key to successful conservation is finding incentives for people to coexist with wildlife outside of areas developed for ecotourism. Here, where substantial challenges to conservation exist, hunting gives wildlife additional economic value. Protected areas represent only a small fraction of habitat in Africa. Hunting can be a viable industry on communal lands or in remote areas lacking infrastructure or scenery that the tourism industry demands. Revenue from trophy hunting provides a necessary incentive for wildlife conservation on a wider range of land uses than is possible with tourism alone. Although each industry has its downsides, ecotourism and trophy hunting combined can deliver mutual benefits for local economies and wildlife.
In Namibia, the growth of communal conservancies that participate in both ecotourism and trophy hunting has resulted in increasing wildlife abundance. Economic benefits distributed throughout the local community from the two industries are highly complementary. Dependence on just one activity severely decreases the profitability of conservation management. Namibian policies are proving that together ecotourism and trophy hunting can establish the greatest incentive for wildlife conservation across Africa.
This diversified approach to sustainable community-based wildlife management can be replicated elsewhere in Africa and other biodiversity hotspots. Global conservation efforts that incorporate both hunting and ecotourism activity to benefit local communities are better adapted to fight conservation challenges.
Look for the Featured Issue: Ecotourism Part 2 in the upcoming weeks.
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