A new study published in the academic journal Trends in Ecology & Evolution by a professor of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of California, Los Angeles, Daniel Blumstein, has revealed that the booming ecotourism of tourists interacting with animals or fish in their natural habitats is not healthy for the creatures, because the practice habituates creatures with humans and endangers them with predators.
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Ecotourism involves tourists swimming in waters that contain rare sea creatures, or interacting with animals in their natural habitats in distant and remote spots around the world.
Studies reveal that tourists make about 8 billion visits annually to remote tourist sites around the world to interact with creatures, and the Caribbean and Australian governments earn about $314 million every year from it.
“This massive amount of nature-based and eco-tourism can be added to the long list of drivers of human-induced rapid environmental change,” Blumstein said. “When animals interact in ‘benign’ ways with humans, they may let down their guard,” meaning that animals' friendly interactions with humans may reduce their alertness to real predators in the wild, leading to their deaths.
The International Ecotourism Society defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education.” But then, tour providers are encouraged to ensure that tourists “minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts,” in exotic, remote spots that they visit.
Blumstein notes that ecotourism is nothing different from domestication whereby animals in the wild become used to the presence of humans, or urbanization whereby animals become docile in city environments.
According to his research papers, Blumstein wrote that “If individuals selectively habituate to humans - particularly tourists - and if invasive tourism practices enhance this habituation, we might be selecting for or creating traits or syndromes that have unintended consequences, such as increased predation risk. Even a small human-induced perturbation could affect the behavior or population biology of a species and influence the species’ function in its community.”
The study authors advise that wildlife authorities must determine the impact of tourism on wildlife, adding that tourists must understand the potential long-term effects of ecotourism on wildlife; and that reserve managers must “take into account these deleterious impacts to assess the sustainability of a type of tourism, which typically aims to enhance, not deplete, biodiversity.”