Ecotourism today is a $600 billion booming industry expanding at a fast pace practicing sustainable tourism. But to what extent it is living up to its objective? Is ecotourism really benefiting the environment or has it boiled down to a mere theoretical jargon?
The time has come to assess the negative effects of ecotourism before the damage becomes irrecoverable. According to the co-author, Daniel Blumstein, the chairperson of ecology and evolutionary biology at UCLA, eco-tourists theoretically are trying to preserve the biodiversity but are unknowingly doing more harm than good.
Tourist visits cannot be without any impact; it may be more or less depending upon the rush. More the volume of tourist higher is the chance of disruption of ecology despite ideologies on low impact travel philosophy. Environmental impact of ecotourism may be more damaging than the benefits flowing from tourists to local communities.
Big game hunting – one of the negative effects of ecotourism:
This has been a hard realization in terms of fast depleting wildlife! Take the case of African bush adventures. In the name of ecotourism, facilitators organize games for collecting prized trophies like heads of cape buffaloes and lions, rhino horns, elephant tusks and leopard coats that adorn the sitting rooms of rich tourists.
Ostrich and wildebeest meat turn into objects of celebration on the dining table. This is a direct assault on wildlife population that forms an important part of the environment. Ecotourism is blemished by such activities coming from tourists themselves.
Impact of Ecotourism on animal behavior:
Rising traffic of tourists in wildlife sanctuaries have an adverse impact on animal mood. They start behaving in a very weird manner showing displeasure. In two separate studies in Africa, it was clear that the presence and absence of tourists have a bearing on animal responses differently.
Studies carried out in Addo Elephant National park in South Africa showed that a rise in the number of tourists triggered stress level in lions. If lions need to cope with stress permanently, they become vulnerable to diseases.
In another study conducted on South African sea lions, the negative effects of ecotourism were prominent. As the tourist boats approached the sea lions they panicked showing disgruntled behavior.
Studies also reveal that ecotourism makes preys more pregnable to predators. Proximity to human tourists makes them domesticated. They lose the natural instinct to be on guard and run away at the slightest hint of threat.
Ecotourism in relation to ‘save the animals’ scheme is actually an irony where unethical tour operators care the least for animal welfare. In whale watching expeditions, they take you on the boat as close to leviathans as possible without caring of the fact that there is every chance of human diseases passing on from the tourists to the whales.
Ecotourism proliferating on tourist demand:
The disadvantages of ecotourism crop up from the craze of tourists. It is the tourists who play a key role in creating common problems of ecotourism. Sometimes our desires are fanciful. Our expectations do not take into account whether they are beneficial for the local flora and fauna.
We coax our tour operators to get as close to the whales and dolphins in ocean trips. How near can we get to the pride of lions in an African safari? Wouldn’t it be great to pose for a photograph or touch the wild animal from a safe enclosure?
The negative effects of ecotourism initiate from such activities which are often ignored intentionally. Little do we care if our wild desires are inflicting any mental or physical stress on the animal leave alone the likelihood of disease transmission!
Ecotourism bent on profiteering:
Negative effects of ecotourism are evident sometimes when you get the first-hand experience of travelling with a tour agent. What is initially promised by the travelling agent is often denied. Ecotourism has turned into a marketing ploy where making as much money from revenue earned from tourists is the primary motive.
Even a small fraction of it is not shared with local communities. Masai Mara in East Africa is an epic wildlife tourist spot. The legendary migration of herds of zebras and wildebeests is a much sought after tourist attraction. However, the local communities do not benefit from this.
Expansion of ecotourism here have resulted in the growth of hotels and other infrastructure pushing local settlements further into the brink of misery. There is a stiff competition for land, water sources and food between tourists and locals. The Masai people are losing their cattle-grazing lands and farmlands at a rapid pace.
Travel impact on the environment:
Even the sky is not spared. Airplanes crossing path with birds cause damage to both the machine and the bird. Cars and boats leave fuel emissions that lead to environmental deterioration.
Pollution of ecosystem:
The disadvantages of ecotourism take shape as alien elements like the swelling tourist crowd and their mindless boisterous activities cause impairment to pristine forests. There have been reports of disruption in breeding of endangered turtles in Costa Rican national parks owing to the selfie madness of tourists.
The tourist may be busy in a harmless shooting but their very presence is disturbing enough for the mating turtles. Damage is sustained by the predators as they face a scarcity of preys that are scared away by human visitors.
A rising number of tourists cause soil erosion and habitat loss. The harmful impact caused by a single tourist party is hardly noticeable. But just think of it in terms of the swelling tourist crowd pouring in from all over the world. This being in vogue over a long period of time is scarily disastrous.
A menace to the indigenous culture:
Negative effects of ecotourism seep in fast into the cultural fabric of endemic residents.
The disadvantages of ecotourism become apparent when you stop to think of the scale of cultural erosion caused by millions of tourists setting their foot in a particular place.
The collective impact is simply ravaging. It inflicts considerable strain on the traditional and cultural values of local communities. Natives are lured by urban culture and learn trickery and deception. Their original simplicity gets eroded. Settlements of indigenous tribes get displaced giving away to hotels, restaurants and infrastructures like airports, railheads and bus terminus.
Is ecotourism that bad?
Ecotourism has been found to be effective in preserving the endangered species. For example, preservation of the snow leopard in Ladakh, India and increasing the population of tiger in India through carefully monitored conservation projects are good examples of ecotourism. There are many such instances worldwide.
Negative effects of ecotourism can be arrested if our travel programs are drawn with a more compassionate attitude towards the local inhabitation. The following actions are open which we should adhere to such as:
- Select an ecotourism program that is aimed at zero environmental impact.
- Allow restricted tourist visits per year.
- Focus on delivering minimum carbon footprints.
- Carry eco-friendly toiletries.
- Follow the regulations.
- Stay at green lodges with minimal utilization of resources
- Buy local and contribute to local economy.
- Focus on recycling waste.