Whether scuba diving with beautiful marine life or going on safari to see some of the bush’s most amazing animals, one thing is clear: people love to get up close and personal with animals, especially animals they would not normally come in contact with. This is called ecotourism and it has enormous benefits for wildlife protection. It raises billions of dollars annually that goes towards protection and research of wildlife. In fact, researcher Daniel Blumstein notes that eight billion tourists visit protected areas around the world each year. “That’s like each human on Earth visited a protected area once a year, and then some.”
Ecotourism may also have an unintended consequence. So much human interaction may cause these animals to let their guard down when confronted with natural predators or worse, poachers.
Blumstein, a conservation biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, became concerned when he learned of the incredible number of ecotourists that actually visited protected sites. He therefore led a team in evaluating more than 100 studies of wild animals in areas frequently visited by ecotourists.
Maybe not surprisingly, the research showed that animals constantly faced with human visitors and interaction grew accustomed to such behavior. Blumstein’s team learned that many ecotourism companies and wildlife reserve managers help facilitate the animal-human interactions. For example, rangers in Uganda’s Kibale National Park visit the park’s chimpanzees on a daily basis to make sure the animals come out when tourists pass by. The researchers published their work in the journal, Trends in Ecology and Evolution.
In an interview, Blumstein noted that, “The question we’re asking is, “Does this mean [the animals] become more vulnerable to predators?’ The degree to which animals become dumb around humans is a really interesting question.”
Blumstein emphasizes that the study does not prove that ecotourism harms wildlife. However, the evidence suggests there are some concerns and that more research should be conducted. He notes that even though these ecotourists mean well, they unintentionally may be changing the natural order of the environment.