Ecotourism could save endangered species

New research shows that while ecotourism has negative aspects, its net effect has the potential to protect endangered species from extinction through creating private reserves, reducing habitat damage or introducing anti-poaching measures.

Ecotourism is on the rise worldwide, and the number of visitors making their way to remote protected areas grows each year. While it is known to have both positive and negative effects on threatened species, it has not been possible until now to evaluate the net effect of ecotourism in increasing or decreasing the risk of extinction for endangered species, writes the University of Griffith in a news release.

A group of scientists from the university set out to develop a method that quantifies the impact of ecotourism on threatened species by using population viability modelling. Such models estimate cumulative population changes by simulating births and deaths one generation at a time. Final predictions are based on thousands of repeated simulations.

The scientists looked at nine threatened species: the orangutan, hoolock gibbon, golden lion tamarin, cheetah, African wild dog, New Zealand sealion, African penguin, great green macaw and Egyptian vulture.

“We converted all ecotourism effects — positive and negative — to ecological parameters and found that for seven of the species involved, ecotourism provides net conservation gains through factors such as private reserves, habitat restoration, reduction in habitat damage, removal of feral predators, anti-poaching measures or captive breeding and food supplementation,” said Professor Ralf Buckley.

According to his colleague Dr. Guy Castley, the research shows that the net effect of ecotourism differs among species and are also influenced by local circumstances.

“For example, they depend on the scale and intensity of ecotourism, the size of initial populations, rates of predation and on the impacts of other industries such as fishing and logging,” he said. “Other factors, including poaching, are also important.”

While the scientists acknowledge that in a few cases, ecotourism can have a net negative effect on threatened species, it can make “the critical difference between survival and extinction” for most of the rare and endangered species analysed.


Image credit: Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), flickr/Creative Commons

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