Ecotourism May Be Harming Wildlife

Ecotourism — and tourism erroneously billed as eco — may be harming the very animals and ecosystems it claims to venerate. As many as one in five tourists are “ecotourists” under some definition, and those numbers are expected to continue their dramatic rise in coming years. It’s a booming business sector that can benefit poor countries, allowing them to make money by showing off their ecosystems rather than exploiting them. But a growing body of research is indicating that animals may not do very well with groups of humans tromping about their backyards. Humans can pass diseases to vulnerable species, disturb their daily routines, and increase stress and its related illnesses. The problem is that many ecotourism operations are unaudited and unaccredited, and there is no shared standard to ensure that they are low-impact. “The animals’ welfare should be paramount,” says researcher Rochelle Constantine, “because without them there will be no ecotourism.”