Coronavirus restrictions have devastated the tourism industry over the last two years with many businesses and livelihoods lost, and this has had a cataclysmic effect on conservation efforts around the world. As ecotourism collapsed, so did all the efforts to rescue and protect endangered wildlife and the income for the communities and land vital for doing so. As tourism begins to slowly get back to normal, a focus on responsible wildlife tourism is needed to save and protect so many species and habitats at risk of destruction and extinction.
There is no doubt now of the positive impact tourism can have on conservation and wildlife protection. When done in a responsible and ethical way, local communities can have an actual financial stake in protecting animals as well as their habitats. The continued wellbeing of wildlife and the protection of large national parks are vital in ensuring continued employment and income from an industry worth over $120 billion a year and before 2020 employed 9.1 million people directly according to the World Travel & Tourism Council. And that is before you take into account all the supporting industries around it. And in turn, a lot of the income that comes from tourism can and is used to conserve and protect those habitats and species.
This may be self interest, but it is enlightened self interest, and it is a way to reconcile the human need for growth and prosperity with nature’s need to be left alone and protected.
Because of responsible wildlife tourism Rwanda has seen the population of the endangered gorilla rise from 200 to just over 1000 in the last 20 years, and because of that the Rwandan government is pledging to increase and protect the forest Space by 23%, giving the Gorillas over 4000 hectares of extra protected habitat.
Namibia, a country that has had conservation written into its constitution since its independence in 1996 and has 20% of its landmass as protected communal conservancies directly employs over 2,500 people in responsible wildlife tourism, an industry that produces more than 14 percent of the country’s GDP. This success has seen many animal species populations, including cheetahs and lions, growing at a huge rate.
Unfortunately thanks to the unscientific and disproportionate restrictions and reactions to the coronavirus pandemic that saw most of the worlds borders closed and the worlds fourth largest economy shut down, the money that funded conservation efforts has disappeared too. Just one more in a long list of harmful consequences from an unjustifiable and unscientific mandate.
Without tourism money, the stake local communities had in protecting wildlife and their habitats is gone. The money used to care for captive species or pay for the upkeep of conservation or rehabilitation centres is not there. Animal charities like BAWA are starved of desperately needed funds.
Local communities will – and have been – forced to turn to other industries to earn a living. Industries like logging, palm oil plantations or agriculture, all of which are devastating to desperately needed habitats and put local communities into conflict with wildlife. Animals all over the world are at vastly increased risk of poaching, as the illegal wildlife trades become more lucrative and poachers can earn more by killing animals than they can looking after them and showing them to tourists.
So now travel is starting to return to normal it is imperative that we put a huge focus back onto responsible wildlife tourism. That pent up demand for travel can be put to good use and ensure that the money that has been lost over the last two years can be put right back into repairing a devastated industry, helping local communities and most importantly helping protect and care for the animals we want to see.
Of course in the rush to return to travel and boost responsible wildlife tourism we must still make sure it is just that. Responsible.
Travellers should still choose responsible and ethical operators, ones that have been checked and certified by my partners Global Spirit, the Global Sustainable Tourism Council or the Association Of Zoos And Aquariums, and they should certainly read up on the issues involved and know what questions to ask to ensure the places they are visiting are actually responsible and ethical.
If we do that, if we support as many responsible wildlife tourism operators as possible as we travel, then we can not only repair some of the damage done by lockdowns and restrictions, but we can mend that bridge between nature and local communities and ensure that they are once again incentivised to put animal care and conservation first.
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