Tourism has undoubtedly helped save many species around the planet from sliding into extinction. But in recent years, more is being understood about how the viewing of wildlife can in some cases have a negative impact on them.
A new study, published this week in Ecology and Evolution, has found that high levels of tourism in the Maasai Mara can lead to a massive number of cheetah failing to rear their cubs. The research shows that those cheetah in the most heavily visited parts of the park are able to raise just 0.2 cubs to independence per litter, compared to an average of 2.3 cubs in regions with low tourism.
This steep drop in the ability of female cheetahs to successfully raise cubs is thought to be a result of high levels of tourism following the animals around all day.
“During the study there was no hard evidence of direct mortality caused by tourists,” explained study author Dr Femke Broekhuis, to The Guardian.
“It is therefore possible that tourists have an indirect effect on cub survival by changing a cheetah’s behavior, increasing a cheetah’s stress levels or by minimizing food consumption.” While surveying the big cats between 2013 and 2017, Dr Broekhuis reported that she had seen up to 64 vehicles visiting a single cheetah over just a two-hour period.
Despite the worrying findings of this study, however, wildlife tourism is overwhelmingly a force for good.
There are countless examples of how getting tourists to pay to visit and experience wildlife is helping in the animal’s overall conservation. One just has to look at the industry surrounding mountain gorillas to see just how successful it can be.
While there are those who argue that habituating and visiting the critically endangered great apes put them at unacceptable risks through exposure to disease and loss of fear of humans, the positives tend to more than outweigh these issues. In Rwanda alone – one of three countries in which people can pay to see mountain gorillas, and not even the most popular – tourists visiting Volcanoes National Park contributed over $200 million to the national economy each year.
A significant portion of this money is then put back into the conservation of the animals, benefitting not only the gorillas that are habituated but all of the apes living in the mountains. And this has seen significant results, with the latest survey of the animals revealing that they now number more than 1,000 individuals, representing a 25 percent increase since 2010.
By limiting the number of people able to visit animals, and preventing vehicles going off road to chase them, we could hopefully maximize the benefits of wildlife tourism, while limiting the damaging impacts it can cause.
[H/T: The Guardian]