Report – EV2201 – Tourism impact of Wildlife

EV2201, 2000-03-05

How Does Tourism Impact on Wildlife?


Tourism has the potential to provide funds for conservation, to set sustainable user limits, to preserve a nations historical and cultural heritage and to protect natural attractions. It also has the potential to destroy. If tourism is not planned and managed in the right way it can destroy vegetation, create overcrowding which leads to erosion and other impacts including pollution of rivers and beaches and litter, for example, at trekking areas (Goeldner, 2000).

This mega-industry now exceeds three trillion US$ annual turnover and is expected to reach almost eight trillion US$ by 2005. It is estimated that about 204 million people or almost a quarter of the working population of the world are employed directly or indirectly by the tourism industry (WTO 1993).

The question how tourism impacts on wildlife is complex and needs to be considered from both ecological conservation management perspectives and from an economic point of view.

It is hard to determine how the environment will react to an ecological disaster.

Ecosystems are dynamic and change through time. The changes can be in response to natural change or due to human disturbance. The earth has experienced worse disasters on a global scale in the past. What could be the cause that the Earth is experiencing the greatest loss in biodiversity since the last great extinction? Is it tourism?

There is more information to be retrieved about particular species. If the declines are due to human activities or if it is natural, or perhaps a combination of both. From this knowledge the sustainability of tourism can be meet or at least measured. The precautionary principle could be applied to reach and maintain sustainability.

This essay will discuss what is needed to reach a sustainable but at the same time high quality level of wildlife tourism for present and future generations.

Will we be forever guilty of loving nature to death? (Shackley, 1996)

How will the environment react to an ecological disaster?

Ecosystems are dynamic and experience change through time. The changes can be in response to natural and anthropogenic disturbance. These events can vary in frequency, amplitude and duration.

The earth has experienced disasters in a global scale in the past e.g. extinction of the dinosaurs. Due to human impacts on national ecosystems the Earth is experiencing the greatest loss in biodiversity since the last great extinction. Until recently, such “bio-disasters” tended to be small-scale and localised and therefore chances for recovery of organic material have been high.

Humans have been the cause of ecodisasters and a classic example is Easter Island between the fifth and sixteenth centuries AD. Where the overexploitation of natural resources caused the demise of the entire Polynesian civilisation (Mieczkowski, 1995)

During the last decades of the industrial evolution the small-scale has become global-scale.

This relates to tourism in the way that has been shown in many different places where tourist resorts has been built up and an animal considered as a pest has been exterminated. Later it has been realised that this animal was a keystone species, that is, a species which influence others so extensively that its absence drastically changes the character of the entire community (pers. comm. Valentine, J.C.U. T.E.S.A.G., 2000).

Tourism is far from the greatest hazard threatening the animals. Wildlife species throughout the world which require remote or undisturbed areas are affected by anthropogenic factors like, agricultural development, urban expansion, logging and mining (Shackley, 1996).

However, tourism can still have significant effect on wildlife.

Precautionary principle.

Conventionally the precautionary principle indicates that one must be extremely careful when taking a certain action if there is a slightest possibility of major and/or an irreversibly bad outcome, even if there is no scientific evidence that those outcomes will follow. One direction of the precautionary principle, which is important in sustainability, is to avoid the type of crisis situation as discussed above about Easter Island. (Deville et al., 1997, Aplin G. 1999)

Therefore is mass tourism not applicable to nature-based tourism, more research would have to be conducted to see how the outcome would be. Tourist operators tend to have a more economic point of view rather than an environmentally sustainable one. The dollar tends to be more valuable than conservation of wildlife.

also ‘how big must the chance of bad outcomes be to make the precautionary principle take effect?’, and: ‘With whom does the onus of proof lie?’

For example, should producers have to prove that their product or process is safe, or should buyers have to prove that it is unsafe (Aplin, G. 1999)? The answer is, and has to be, that the producers have to insure that their products are safe for the buyers.

Management of tourism industry has to ensure the services provided are ecologically sustainable. Allthough there is also a responsibility on tourists to be wise consumers.

There are many places around the world this is not the case, example is North Sulawesi, where the tourism industry is just promoting for increased numbers of tourists and with them, their money without considering the protection of the local ecosystems or listening to the local people or the advice from protection area managers. The current policies in North Sulawesi are not supporting a sustainable nature-based tourism (Ross et al. 1999). This can be due to what Berry found in a survey of British local tourism businesses in 1997, that they do not have a clear idea of what sustainable tourism is. They all also felt that the standard definition could be accepted but it would be unworkable in practice.

Consumers also need to be educated concerning the consequences of human activities on wildlife and what is required to minimise the impact.

Is Eco-tourism the way to go?

The main point of successful wildlife tourism is of course to improve such encounters by taking the tourists to places where conspicuous interactions are most likely to occur (Giongo et al. 1994). Is this sustainable when considering that Ecotourism is, by definition, directed towards exotic natural environments that often are threatened and are, in particular, intended to support conservation efforts (Oxford, 1995)? Perhaps Ecotourism should be viewed as a means of combining the goals of resource conservation and local development through tourism in a co-operative fashion (Ross et al. 1999).

The impact from tourism on wildlife is hard to determine and there has been little research in this area. Some factors are:

Different animals have not an equal value of popularity among the tourists

To get conspicuous wildlife interactions for the benefit of the tourist, food lures are in some places used to attract the animals (Neil et al. 1975).

Some animals can cope with environmental changes i.e. disturbance, better than others

Human harassment of animals has been observed to cause severe stress and in some cases the animals even die (Neil et al. 1975).

Some animals get used to the tourists and therefore change their behaviour to the wildlife tourists, but this is not necessarily for the better for the animal or for the tourist.

Some kinds of encounters are generally entirely accidental but can still lead to major changes in behaviour when it comes to feeding and reproduction. This has been shown, in bear populations in the Rocky Mountains in both USA and Canada, (Neil et al. 1975).

However, the bears in the Canadian National Parks have lost their fear of humans by tourists feeding them, directly or indirectly, thus creating a begging cycle which has resulted in the bears’ feeding behaviour becoming a problem for the visitors. This can be avoided by better public education and increased research (Shackley, 1996).

Wild animals will get familiar with human presence when they are exposed gradually and will alter their behaviour towards having tourists around. This has been tested in Costa Rica’s Carara Biological Reserve, where white-faced capuchin monkeys are very tolerant of the tourists and seem to like being watched (REF).

Management should therefore be considering both the animals and the people. Some animals can learn to live with predictable disturbances if these are not encountered as harmful or stressful therefore co-existence is possible with minimum disturbance.

“The world is perfect, in all places, where man does not enter with his problems” (Die welt is vollkommen, überall, wo der Men nicht hinkommt mit seiner Qual.) – Friedrich Schiller

Take care of mother earth. The earth is not given to you from your parents, It’s loaned to you by your children. – Kenyan saying

Physical Aspects of Wildlife.

Unless it is understood how particular species react to tourism an understanding of how to prevent and manage the consequences from tourism cannot be reached. Most solutions to this are either to change the tourists’ attitudes or changing the behaviour of the wildlife. There are no guaranteed solutions that will work all the time for all species, because different animals are not equally vulnerable or equally conspicuous.

Brown et al. (1980) surveyed hikers in Colorado, USA, about what they thought the factors were that made them satisfied with their hike. The survey was divided into two parts, psychological attributes and wildlife values and was graded on a scale of four where four was the highest and minus four was the strongest negative value. This showed that the relationship with nature (3.2) and the escape from physical pressure (2.9) were rated higher than seeing wildlife itself. Both small and large wildlife got 2.7. While, from the hiker’s point of view, the aesthetics of a “landscape” experience were more important it is possible by conserving natural landscapes, to “indirectly” conserved wildlife. It can be argued, however that such a view is anthropocentric. Conservation management efforts should, as priority, consider habitat conservation rather than landscape conservation especially if endangered species are involved.

Tourism should value a wider variety of environments not just the visually spectacular.

Different cultures have different values for different animals. An animal like a Hairy-nosed wombat, for example, that has been given more potential to survive, even though it endangered, through getting a positive public image. An animal like the African brown hyena has a bad public image through movies and films, and as a result, humans threaten its survival (Bart 1972). Tourism has created and feeds off these images.

The trends also show that large animals are more popular than smaller ones and so are the colorful compared to the not so colorful. People also tend to be interested in “dangerous” species (Shaw and Copper, 1980).

Other problems are fishing and hunting, where many locals do not appreciate the ecological value of the animals. Tourists often stimulate over-exploitation of local fauna that increases the urge from the locals to fish, hunt and collect souvenirs from endangered species, perhaps even bring the tourists to participate directly in these activities. The locals can only see the economic or food gain from these activities. (Shackley, 1996).

Marine Impact Aspects

Tourism is not only a terrestrial industry, but also includes marine tourism, especially in Australia. The Great Barrier Reef (GBR) had a visitation in the early 1980s of about 150 000 which was a 40-fold increase since the 1940s. The capacity of bringing visitors out to the GBR has grown and is expected to grow with about 10% annually from 1985 to approximately 2008. In 1997, over 1.6 million visitors were brought to the area.

Fortunately, from conservation perspective, a majority, around 85%, of the visitors are around Cairns and the Whitsunday areas, which represent about 5% of the total area of the GBR (GBRMPA, 1998).

The popularity of the GBR among tourists is not that hard to understand, as it is one of the most diverse ecosystems on earth. It is the home of about 1500 spp. of fishes, around 400 spp. of hard and soft coral, about 4000 kinds of molluscs and thousands of kinds of sponges, worm, crustaceans, echinoderms and other odd creatures. But large numbers of tourists, can have severe impact on some species especially indirectly in the demand for artefacts such as shells and turtle products (Nick Winn, Reef HQ, pers. comm.).

Among them are the sea turtles of the GBR, where there is seven species of in the world and six of them can be found in the GBR. The turtles are vulnerable to predators throughout life; large cods, groupers, sharks, and crocodiles attack them. But the main predators are humans. In many countries turtles are harvested for their meat, thick shell and eggs. While the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is conserving the turtles within the GBR many neighbouring countries are harvesting them. It is impossible to keep the turtles, or other endangered species, within certain areas. (GBRMPA, 1998).

It has been predicted that, if the present impacts continue, the six species of turtles in the GBR, three will be extinct in 30 years (Nick Winn, Reef HQ, pers. comm.). This is mainly due to tourists that go to places like Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea, and eat turtle soup and eggs, buy jewellery, leather shoes, bags and cosmetic oils that are made from turtle body parts.

However, it is unfortunate sometimes that many people only think about the wildlife and therefore forget about the developed areas and the locals who live there, when conservation programs are established. While it is understandable for people to be concerned with conservation of an endangered animal, other aspects need to be considered including the impact of management on human economies.

There is no evidence that enforcement agencies, sociologists, lawyers and politicians yet have the necessary information or knowledge to manage international travel and tourism. At best they can control tourism by regulation and building barriers, although it is debatable weather they can influence the international tourism demand in the future (Goeldner, 2000).


The environmental problems caused by tourism are much debated, and its influences cannot yet be predicted with any assurance. There are people who doubt that there even are any problems. Nonetheless, it is obvious that human activity has altered the world’s environment, and without immediate action, the results may be catastrophic. There is an obvious declining desire in consumers to visit polluted environments and the loss of wildlife and landscape might decrease customer satisfaction and pleasure to travel to some destinations (Goeldner, 2000).

Therefore there are some kinds of tourism that are sustainable and perhaps Eco-tourism is most appropriate, but this has to be planned thoroughly and some more research has to be conducted. Tourists also tend to want to see large, colorful and dangerous animals and research has to be conducted to determine how feasible “interaction” with these animals is.

The environment can re-generate after an ecological disaster but the time required tends to be much greater than the human “economic” horizon.

The preservation of wildlife at any price is a complex question. Through geological time, zoological species evolve and eventually become extinct. Extinctions appear to have been due to catastrophic environmental changes. Recently, extinctions have been due to human economic activity.

We are all responsible!

To be able to reduce the impact on wildlife a greater public awareness through conservation education programmes including a change in ethical, social and economic values, could be conducted through our children’s childhood including primary and secondary schools.

Public education on conservation management has to become more thorough in national parks and perhaps even on the TV to reach the population that already finished their schooling.

If sustainable development is to work it must become an every-day thing the majority of the world’s inhabitants think about and live by. It cannot be something for a selected few or only for educated people. It cannot be something like going to church every Sunday. It cannot be dedicated just to the poor or just to the rich communities or countries in the world.

If sustainable development is to be effective everyone must take responsibility so what is consumed is replaced without production of any pollutants or destruction and degradation of the ecosystems, which future generations will inherit and will depend on (Goeldner, 2000).

It is in human self-interest to maintain biodiversity. Commercial exploitation of wildlife has to be sustainable – this applies to tourism.

This impact needs to be minimal to:

Ensure the authenticity of the experience.

Ensure wildlife as an “asset” pursuits.


Aplin, G.J. (1999) Australians and their environment: an introduction to environmental studies. Oxford University Press Australia, South Melbourne, Australia

Bart W.M. (1972) A hierarchy among attitudes towards animals. Journal of Environmental Education 3(4):4-6.

Berry S. (1997) Sustainable tourism: a regional perspective. Tourism management vol. 18, 7:433-440.

Brown P.J., Haas, G.E. and Driver, B.L. (1980) Value of wildlife to wilderness users. Proc. 2nd Conf. Sci. Res. in National Parks 6:168-179.

Deville A. & Harding R. (1997) Applying the Precautionary Principle. The Federation Press Pty Ltd, Annandale, N.S.W.

Giongo F., Bosco-Nizeye, J. and Wallace, G.N. (1994) A study of visitor management in the World’s National Parks and Protected Areas. The Ecotourism Society, Colorado State University and World Conservation Union, North Bennington, Vt.

Goeldner, C.R. (2000) Tourism: principles, practices, philosophises, 8ed. Chichester: Wiley, New York. Chap. 17.

Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (1998) Information brochures plus URL:

Mieczkowski, Z. (1995) Environmental issues of tourism and recreation. University Press of America, Lanham

Neil P.H., Hoffman R.W. and Gill, R.B. (1975) Effects of harassment on wild animals – an annoted bibliography of selected references Special report 37, 21pp, Colorado Division of Wildlife, Denver.

Ross S & Wall G. (1999) Ecotourism: towards congruence between theory & practice Tourism management vol. 20, p.123-132.

Ross S & Wall G. (1999) Title unknown Tourism management vol. 20, pp.680-681.

Shackley M. (1996) Wildlife tourism. Biddles Ltd., Guidford & King’s Lynn, London.

Shaw W.W. and Copper T. (1980) Managing wildlife in national parks for human benefits Proc. 2nd Conf. on Sci. Res. in National Parks 6:189-198.

Thompson D. (1995) The Concise Oxford Dictionary 9ed. Clarendon Press, Oxford.

World Tourism Organisation (1993) Yearbook of Tourism Statistics. WTO, Madrid.

Leave a Reply