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Wildlife is our world heritage, unwto/chimelong.

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Why Wildlife?

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Wildlife tourism refers to the observation and interaction with local animal and plant life in their natural habitats.

It encompasses segments such as eco-tourism, safari tours and mountain tourism among others. Wildlife watching tourism occurs mainly in protected areas. Nature, national parks and wildlife are considered the most important tourism assets for tourists travelling for instance to Africa.

Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa

A WWF report shows that 93% of all natural heritage sites support recreation and tourism and 91% of them provide jobs. For instance, in Belize, more than  50% of the population  are said to be supported by income generated through reef-related tourism and fisheries.

Wildlife represents biodiversity, essential for our health and the well-being of the whole planet.

Wildlife represents biodiversity, essential for our health and the well-being of the whole planet. We live in an interconnected ecological system, where each macro- and microorganism, whether animal, plant or fish affects the other.  Alteration of the natural habitat of any organism will trigger a dynamo effect,  so non-equilibrium in the ecological system as a whole endangers the life cycle of many species. Around 40,000 species of animals, fungi and plants benefit humans. More than the third of our pharmaceuticals originate from wild plants

Wildlife remains a major concern for the international, regional and local communities. Among the multiple risks that menace wildlife are: diseases, climate change and actions of human nature, such as poaching and illegal trafficking. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List Index:


  • Amphibians are declining most rapidly in Latin America and the Caribbean, partly due to the chytrid fungal disease, 
  • The greatest extinction risks for birds and mammals are found in South-Eastern Asia, mainly owing to the conversion of lowland forests.
  • 7,000 species of animals and plants have been detected in illegal trade, and the list of species under international protection continues to grow.

Policy measures and higher sensitization of the general public and of specific stakeholders like media professionals appear as needed paths to ensure protection of wildlife and therefore of biodiversity. The engagement of printed, audiovisual and electronic and online media outlets in advocating wildlife as an essential component of biodiversity and as an added potential to tourism development by reporting professionally, accurately and comprehensively on this topic remains a major goal. The increased capacity of the media will enable a framework of action together with governments and civil society to improve wildlife and biodiversity protection.

A WWF report shows that 93% of all natural heritage sites support recreation and tourism and 91% of them provide jobs

Wildlife in the Agenda 2030

Besides been mentioned in the SDGs, wildlife and biodiversity have been placed at the core of most of the discussions of the Agenda 2030. The recent UN Biodiversity Conference (December 2016) was integrated by two Working Groups. Working Group I (WG I) addressed cooperation with other conventions and organizations; a global multilateral benefit-sharing mechanism under the Nagoya Protocol on Access to Genetic Resources and the Fair and Equitable Sharing of Benefits Arising from their Utilization; and socioeconomic considerations, liability and redress, risk assessment and risk management, and unintentional transboundary movement of living modified organisms (LMOs) under the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety.

The Working Group II (WG II) approved conference room papers (CRPs) on sustainable wildlife management, recommendations from the UN Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues (UNPFII), and climate-related geo-engineering. WG II further addressed marine debris and underwater noise, marine spatial planning, biodiversity in cold-water areas and pollinators.

Reasons for wildlife protection and conservation

For those still not convinced about the potential of wildlife, lets remind some of the benefits:

  • Biodiversity: In nature, different species are connected through various food webs. The disappearance of one species could influence several others down the line.
  • Agriculture:  Promoting wildlife conservation could help secure future food supplies. 
  • Research:  There may be many undiscovered plants and animals in the wild. 50 percent of the drugs available in the United States were originally developed from microbial organisms, plants, and animals.
  • Economics of Eco-Services: ecosystem activities have an effect on the quantity and quality of fresh water accessible to humans.
  • Ecotourism: enjoying African ecosystems has been a tremendous stimulus for economies within Africa.
  • Environmental Indicators: various animals can serve as indicators for other environmental problems is one of the rarely discussed benefits of wildlife conservation. The loss of peregrine falcons and bald eagles was one of the factors that alerted scientists to the toxicity of DDT,  unnoticed for longer in a less diverse ecosystem.
  • Education:  Studying animals and their habitats can be a valuable learning experience for students of all ages.
  • Psychological Benefits: Ecotourists experience a tremendous sense of wonder, contentment, and fulfillment from their wildlife encounters.

Challenges in the wildlife global cause


  • Trafficking in wildlife and their parts is a criminal international trade worth an estimated $20 billion a year
  • Several iconic species —including elephants, rhinos, and tigers, as well as many lesser known species — toward the precipice of extinction
  • Examples: The loss of African elephants: 100,000 over the past three years (96 elephants a day, with only 400,000 remaining in the wild across all of Africa).
  • Fewer than 30,000 wild rhinos survive.
  • A mere 3,200 wild tigers survive in the forests of Asia, including only 1,000 breeding females.

Areas of work , three central goals:

  • Stopping the killing;
  • Stopping the trafficking; and
  • Stopping the demand

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  • Download the UNWTO Briefing Paper 'Towards Measuring the Economic Value of Wildlife Watching Tourism in Africa'

Growing Wildlife-Based Tourism Sustainably: A New Report and Q&A


Copyright: Sanjayda, Shutterstock.com


  • While wildlife and biodiversity are increasingly threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and a lack of funding for protection, nature-based tourism is on the rise and could help provide solutions for these issues.
  • The publication Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism highlights successful wildlife tourism programs in seven countries in Africa and Asia that can be used as models to promote conservation and boost economies.
  • World Bank lead economist Richard Damania answers questions on the drivers, innovations and challenges for wildlife tourism, and why the World Bank Group and governments should support sustainable tourism strategies.

Wildlife tourism is a powerful tool countries can leverage to grow and diversify their economies while protecting their biodiversity and meeting several Sustainable Development Goals. It is also a way to engage tourists in wildlife conservation and inject money into local communities living closest to wildlife. Success stories and lessons learned from nature-based tourism are emerging from across the globe.

“Here is a way of squaring the circle: provide jobs and save the environment,” said World Bank lead economist Richard Damania, who has extensive experience in understanding the link between tourism and the economy . In 2016, travel and tourism contributed $7.6 trillion, or 10.2%, to total GDP, and the industry provided jobs to one in 10 people, according to the World Travel & Tourism Council .

While nature-based tourism, which includes wildlife tourism, has been expanding rapidly in the last decade or so due to increased demand and opportunities, wildlife and biodiversity are increasingly threatened by habitat loss, poaching, and a lack of funding for protection.

Which is why more than ever countries need to look to concrete examples of well-planned, sustainably-run tourism operations that have led to increased investments in protected areas and reserves, a reduction in poaching, an increase in the non-consumptive value of wildlife through viewing , and opportunities for rural communities to improve their livelihoods through tourism-related jobs, revenue-sharing arrangements, and co-management of natural resources.

A recently-released publication— Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism —developed by the World Bank Group and the Global Wildlife Program , funded by the Global Environment Facility , showcases sustainable wildlife tourism models that can be applied to developing countries, and offers solutions and case studies to bring insight into this sector as a mechanism for inclusive poverty reduction and global conservation.

The Global Wildlife Program spoke with Damania to learn more about the growth, challenges, and innovations in wildlife-based tourism.


Copyright: Wandel Guides, Shutterstock.com

Why should the World Bank support conservation endeavors, and how does wildlife tourism help support our mission?

Enlightened self-interest is one obvious reason why we need to promote wildlife tourism.  It provides the most obvious way to reconcile the interests of nature with the imperative for development and growth. Tourism simultaneously creates jobs while, when done well, protects natural habitats.

Prudence and precaution are another reason why investments in nature-based tourism ought to be promoted. The science of “ planetary boundaries ” warns us that many fragile natural environments and ecosystems are reaching their limits and in some cases, the hypothesized safe boundaries have been crossed. Further damage will imply that we lose important ecosystem services such as watershed and soil protection with damaging consequences for development.

But, in my mind, perhaps the most important reason is humanity’s moral and ethical imperative as stewards of global ecosystems. Simply because humanity has the ability to destroy or convert ecosystems and drive species to extinction does not make it ethically justifiable. There needs to be an ethical balance and that is where ecotourism comes in. We need jobs and economic growth, but here is a way to get jobs and growth in ways that meet our moral and ethical obligation.

What have been the drivers behind a burgeoning nature-based/wildlife-based tourism sector?  

I think there are two things that drive it: as habitats diminish there is more scarcity and their value goes up. Everyone wants to see the last remaining habitats of wild gorillas for instance, or the few remaining wild tigers in India. In sum scarcity confers economic value. 

Another force driving demand is the internet and rising lifestyles—you can learn about animals and habitats you might not have known existed, and more people have the ability to visit them. So, you have supply diminishing on one hand, and demand rising on the other hand which creates an opportunity for economic progress together with conservation.

What is your advice to governments and others who are developing or expanding on a nature or wildlife-based tourism strategy?

Tourism benefits need to be shared better . There is a lack of balance with too many tourists in some places, and none elsewhere. Some destinations face gross overcrowding, such as South Africa’s Krueger National Park or the Masai Mara in Kenya where you have tourists looking at other tourists, instead of at lions. We need to be able to distribute the demand for tourists more equally. The Bank has a role to play in developing the right kind of tourism infrastructure.

Those living closest to nature and wildlife must also benefit .   The local inhabitants that live in the national parks or at their periphery are usually extremely poor. Having tourism operations that can benefit them is extremely important for social corporate reasons, but also for sustainability reasons. If the benefits of tourism flow to the local communities, they will value the parks much more.

We also need to be mindful of   wildlife corridors . We know that dispersion and migration are fundamental biological determinants of species survival. Closed systems where animals cannot move to breed are not sustainable in the long run. As we break off the corridors because of infrastructure and increasing human populations we are putting the ecosystems on life support.

There are some who believe we can manage these closed ecosystems, but it takes an immense amount of self assurance in science to suggest this with confidence, and it is unclear that one can manage ecosystems that we do not adequately understand. A measure of caution and humility is needed when we are stretching the bounds of what is known to science.

What are some of the innovative partnerships that are helping the wildlife-based tourism businesses in developing countries? 

One very successful model that has combined wildlife conservation and management and community benefits and welfare is the  Ruaha Carnivore Project  in Tanzania, part of Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unite ( WildCRU ). They use a payment for ecosystem services (PES) scheme and do all the right things.

Another example are the community conservancies in Namibia. The community manages the land for wildlife and there are a variety of profit sharing commercial tourism arrangements—although not everything always works fairly or perfectly. Incentives matter deeply and communities need to be guided and need technical assistance in setting up commercial arrangements.

The Bank needs to understand these better and find ways of scaling those up. The IFC has a very good role to play here as well. 

To learn more and to explore numerous examples of community involvement in wildlife tourism from Botswana, India, Kenya, Malawi, Namibia, South Africa and Uganda, read the report  Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism   or find a one-page fact sheet here .

The Global Wildlife Program (GWP) is led by the World Bank and funded by a $131 million grant from the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The program is working with 19 countries across Africa and Asia to promote wildlife conservation and sustainable development by combatting illicit trafficking in wildlife, and investing in wildlife-based tourism. 

  • Full Report: Supporting Sustainable Livelihoods through Wildlife Tourism
  • Fact Sheet on Key Messages
  • Report: Twenty Reasons Sustainable Tourism Counts for Development
  • Report: Women and Tourism: Designing for Inclusion
  • Blog: Africa can Benefit from Nature-based Tourism in a Sustainable Manner
  • Feature: Ramping up Nature-Based Tourism to Protect Biodiversity and Boost Livelihoods
  • Website: Global Wildlife Program
  • Website: Environment
  • Website: Competitiveness
  • Global Environment Facility

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elephants near Chiang Rai, Thailand


How to do wildlife tourism right

Here are our guidelines for ethical animal encounters.

Travelers love animals. We want to get close to them and learn more about them. But the reality that many tourists don’t see is that to stay in business, animal encounters, such as elephant rides and photo ops with tigers, rely on putting wild creatures to work.

Discerning the difference between ethical and problematic wildlife experiences is among the thorny issues addressed in National Geographic magazine’s feature story “ Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism. ” For visitors to environments ranging from zoos to national parks, it can be especially difficult to determine how to observe animals humanely. To assess how facilities treat captive animals, you can refer to the “ five freedoms ”—internationally recognized standards inspired by a 1965 U.K. government report. Consider these tips before your next wild adventure:

Do your research

Look for facilities where animals appear to be well-fed and have access to clean water at all times. A facility that rates high on TripAdvisor may not be a humane one. Read one- and two-star reviews, which often include animal welfare concerns cited by visitors. ( See more wildlife photos from across the globe .)

Lion in Kruger National Park, South Africa

Scan the space

Observe whether animals have an appropriate environment, including shelter, ample space, a comfortable resting area, and a secluded place away from crowds. Beware of buzzwords including “gives back to conservation,” “sanctuary,” and “rescue.” Be cautious if a facility makes these promises yet offers extensive interaction to large volumes of people.

Look for red flags

Avoid facilities where animals are visibly injured or are forced to participate in activities that could injure them or cause them pain or where enclosures aren’t clean. Being chained, performing, and interacting with tourists—giving rides, posing with them, being washed by them—are not normal for a wild animal, even one born in captivity. ( Discover 10 wild experiences in national parks. )

Tread lightly

Be aware that large crowds and unnatural noises cause distress, especially for animals that have experienced fear-based training, separation from mothers at birth, or other traumas.

Keep it wild

Seek experiences that offer observation of animals engaging in natural behaviors in natural environments.

The global wildlife tourism industry is entrepreneurial. Individual actions can make a collective difference, signaling to the market that consumers support ethical wildlife encounters. When travelers decide they want humane treatment of animals, the wildlife tourism market will change for the better.

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Protecting Wildlife

Wildlife under threat.

Unfortunately, many of the iconic wildlife species that captivate us are also threatened by human activities. Animal and plant species around the world are facing extinction at up to  1000 times  the natural rate. Elephants, tigers, sea turtles, and orangutans are just a few of the species that are currently endangered. When one species goes extinct we not only lose that species forever, but it can also throw off the balance of the entire ecosystem.

wildlife tourism define

Sustainable Wildlife Tourism

Tourism activities such as safaris, birdwatching, snorkeling, and nature photography all depend on healthy plants and animals. As wildlife tourism becomes increasingly popular, it’s important to ensure it happens in a sustainable manner. We believe that tourism can and should protect global biodiversity, safeguard habitats, and prioritize animal welfare. Afterall, there won’t be much to see if the plants and animals that inspire us no longer exist.

Protected Areas

Most wildlife tourism occurs in and around protected areas, such as nature reserves, national parks, and wilderness areas. In fact, it is estimated that protected areas around the world receive about  8 billion  visits every year.

By drawing visitors to remote regions, protected area tourism creates valuable economic benefits for rural communities and supports local businesses. Tourism also drives revenue to the protected areas themselves which helps finance their conservation.

However, tourism can also have harmful impacts on protected areas. Overvisitation and unsustainable behavior can disrupt the species that live there and degrade their fragile habitats. To conserve the plants and animals that tourism depends on, we must foster sustainable wildlife tourism and carefully manage visitation to protected areas.

Did You Know?

wildlife tourism define

Scientists estimate that there are  8.7 million animal and plant species on earth.

wildlife tourism define

Wildlife tourism supports nearly  22 million jobs around the world.

Visits to protected areas generate as much as  $600 billion   of tourism spending annually.

wildlife tourism define

More than  1 million  plant and animal species are now threatened with extinction.

Explore the Issues

While most of us are well-intentioned wildlife lovers, if we are not aware, our travels can inadvertently cause animals to suffer, encourage the harvesting of endangered plants, or damage important wildlife habitats. Click below to learn more about the different issues that we’re addressing to protect the plant and animal species that tourism depends on.

wildlife tourism define

Careless behavior and unethical attractions can harm animals and damage plants.

Harmful Wildlife Interactions

wildlife tourism define

The construction of tourism infrastructure can destroy important habitats and impact wildlife.

Destructive Tourism Development

wildlife tourism define

Tourism can diminish wildlife populations if species are overharvested for food, materials, or souvenirs.

Unsustainable Wildlife Harvesting

wildlife tourism define

Waste generated by tourism threatens the lives and health of animals.

Waste & Pollution

wildlife tourism define

Rising temperatures pose a threat to vulnerable wildlife species and global biodiversity.

Climate Change

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When too many tourists visit a natural area, it can disturb the animals that live there.


How we safeguard nature.

Discover what we’re doing to protect freshwater resources and minimize tourism’s impacts on nature and wildlife.

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Introduction: Wildlife Tourism Management and Phenomena: A Web of Complex Conceptual, Theoretical and Practical Issues

  • First Online: 16 June 2017

Cite this chapter

wildlife tourism define

  • Ismar Borges de Lima 6 , 7 &
  • Ronda J. Green 8 , 9  

Part of the book series: Geoheritage, Geoparks and Geotourism ((GGAG))

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This introductory chapter highlights the major conceptual and practical issues regarding wildlife tourism worldwide. A series of events have brought concerns that the status and conditions of wild animals in the tourism needs further critical discussion, with current study cases being in the spotlight for analysis. There is a web of complexities permeating the field of wildlife tourism in terms of planning and management, not to mention the ethical issues. The current state of wildlife tourism draws attention to the need of in-depth reflections and insights on the use of animals as attractions as well as the needs and attitudes of tourism personnel and visitors. A change in perception of the natural world on the whole is needed, from a fully utilitarian view to a more compassionate one. The Earth is not home only for humans, so we need to break away from a predominantly anthropocentric view in our society. Indeed, within these epistemological and philosophical frames, ‘ecological’ and ‘conservation’ aspects have been regarded as fundamental for bringing a certain consensus to the equation on a morally acceptable human-nature relation for the 21st Century. This introductory chapter begins by presenting conceptual and disciplinary approaches to environmental social sciences, as well as human and political ecology, pertinent to this volume. It then presents some of the polemic cases involving wildlife and visitors, such as Cecil the lion, the tigers in the Thai Buddhist Temple, and, the killing of gorilla Harambe. The chapter concludes by presenting a summary of each chapter providing unique and original content to making this volume an exciting reading experience to update the readers' knowledge and understanding of the current state of wildlife tourism and issues facing it, as part of the bigger picture of our practical and ethical viewpoints of humans and the rest of nature on our planet.

This book gathers a great selection of case studies that fill gaps in the literature on wildlife tourism, by critically and insightfully informing the readers on theoretical and practical issues with regards to human and wild animal encounters, and the ways to approach, understand and manage this complex and intricate relationship.

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Ismar Borges de Lima

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Ronda J. Green

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Borges de Lima, I., Green, R.J. (2017). Introduction: Wildlife Tourism Management and Phenomena: A Web of Complex Conceptual, Theoretical and Practical Issues. In: Borges de Lima, I., Green, R. (eds) Wildlife Tourism, Environmental Learning and Ethical Encounters. Geoheritage, Geoparks and Geotourism. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-55574-4_1

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What Is Ecotourism? Definition, Examples, and Pros and Cons

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Ecotourism Definition and Principles

Pros and cons.

  • Examples of Ecotourism
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Ecotourism is about more than simply visiting natural attractions or natural places; it’s about doing so in a responsible and sustainable manner. The term itself refers to traveling to natural areas with a focus on environmental conservation. The goal is to educate tourists about conservation efforts while offering them the chance to explore nature.

Ecotourism has benefited destinations like Madagascar, Ecuador, Kenya, and Costa Rica, and has helped provide economic growth in some of the world’s most impoverished communities. The global ecotourism market produced $92.2 billion in 2019 and is forecasted to generate $103.8 billion by 2027.

A conservationist by the name of Hector Ceballos-Lascurain is often credited with the first definition of ecotourism in 1987, that is, “tourism that consists in travelling to relatively undisturbed or uncontaminated natural areas with the specific object of studying, admiring and enjoying the scenery and its wild plants and animals, as well as any existing cultural manifestations (both past and present) found in these areas.”

The International Ecotourism Society (TIES), a non-profit organization dedicated to the development of ecotourism since 1990, defines ecotourism as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education [both in its staff and its guests].”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) looks at ecotourism as a significant tool for conservation, though it shouldn’t be seen as a fix-all when it comes to conservation challenges:

“There may be some areas that are just not appropriate for ecotourism development and some businesses that just won’t work in the larger tourism market. That is why it is so important to understand the basics of developing and running a successful business, to ensure that your business idea is viable and will be profitable, allowing it to most effectively benefit the surrounding environment and communities.”

Marketing an ecosystem, species, or landscape towards ecotourists helps create value, and that value can help raise funds to protect and conserve those natural resources.

Sustainable ecotourism should be guided by three core principles: conservation, communities, and education.


Conservation is arguably the most important component of ecotourism because it should offer long-term, sustainable solutions to enhancing and protecting biodiversity and nature. This is typically achieved through economic incentives paid by tourists seeking a nature-based experience, but can also come from the tourism organizations themselves, research, or direct environmental conservation efforts.


Ecotourism should increase employment opportunities and empower local communities, helping in the fight against global social issues like poverty and achieving sustainable development.


One of the most overlooked aspects of ecotourism is the education component. Yes, we all want to see these beautiful, natural places, but it also pays to learn about them. Increasing awareness about environmental issues and promoting a greater understanding and appreciation for nature is arguably just as important as conservation.

As one of the fastest growing sectors of the tourism industry, there are bound to be some downsides to ecotourism. Whenever humans interact with animals or even with the environment, it risks the chance of human-wildlife conflict or other negative effects; if done so with respect and responsibility in mind, however, ecotourism can reap enormous benefits to protected areas.

As an industry that relies heavily on the presentation of eco-friendly components to attract customers, ecotourism has the inevitable potential as a vessel for greenwashing. Part of planning a trip rooted in ecotourism is doing research to ensure that an organization is truly providing substantial benefits to the environment rather than exploiting it.

Ecotourism Can Provide Sustainable Income for Local Communities

Sustainably managed ecotourism can support poverty alleviation by providing employment for local communities, which can offer them alternative means of livelihood outside of unsustainable ones (such as poaching).

Research published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that communities in regions surrounding conservation areas in Costa Rica had poverty rates that were 16% lower than in areas that weren’t near protected parks. These protected areas didn’t just benefit from conservation funds due to ecotourism, but also helped to reduce poverty as well.

It Protects Natural Ecosystems

Ecotourism offers unique travel experiences focusing on nature and education, with an emphasis on sustainability and highlighting threatened or endangered species. It combines conservation with local communities and sustainable travel , highlighting principles (and operations) that minimize negative impacts and expose visitors to unique ecosystems and natural areas. When managed correctly, ecotourism can benefit both the traveler and the environment, since the money that goes into ecotourism often goes directly towards protecting the natural areas they visit.

Each year, researchers release findings on how tourist presence affects wildlife, sometimes with varying results. A study measuring levels of the stress hormone cortisol in wild habituated Malaysian orangutans found that the animals were not chronically stressed by the presence of ecotourists. The orangutans lived in the Lower Kinabatangan Wildlife Sanctuary, where a local community-managed organization operates while maintaining strict guidelines to protect them.

Ecotourism May Also Hurt Those Same Natural Ecosystems

Somewhat ironically, sometimes ecotourism can hurt ecosystems just as much as it can help. Another study in the journal Trends in Ecology and Evolution found that ecotourism can alter animal behaviors in ways that put them at risk. If the presence of humans changes the way animals behave, those changes may make them more vulnerable by influencing their reaction to predators or poachers.

It's not just the animals who are at risk. As ecotourism activities become too popular, it can lead to the construction of new infrastructure to accommodate more visitors. Similarly, more crowds mean more pressure on local resources, increased pollution, and a higher chance of damaging the soil and plant quality through erosion. On the social side, these activities may displace Indigenous groups or local communities from their native lands, preventing them from benefiting from the economic opportunities of tourism.

Ecotourism Offers the Opportunity to Experience Nature

Renown conservationist Jane Goodall has a famous quote: “Only if we understand, will we care. Only if we care, will we help. Only if we help, shall all be saved.” It can be difficult to understand something that we haven’t seen with our own eyes, and ecotourism gives travelers the opportunity to gain new experiences in natural areas while learning about the issues they face. 

Ecotourism also educates children about nature, potentially creating new generations of nature lovers that could someday become conservationists themselves. Even adult visitors may learn new ways to improve their ecological footprints .


The East African country has some competitive advantages over its neighbors thanks to its rich natural resources, paired with the fact that it has allocated over 25% of its total area to wildlife national parks and protected areas. Because of this, an estimated 90% of tourists visit to Tanzania seeking out ecotourism activities. Ecotourism, in turn, supports 400,000 jobs and accounts for 17.2% of the national GDP, earning about $1 billion each year as its leading economic sector.

Some of Tanzania’s biggest highlights include the Serengeti, Mount Kilimanjaro , and Zanzibar, though the country still often goes overlooked by American tourists. Visitors can take a walking safari tour in the famous Ngorongoro Conservation area, for example, with fees going to support the local Maasai community.

The country is also known for its chimpanzees , and there are several ecotourism opportunities in Gombe National Park that go directly towards protecting chimpanzee habitats.

Galapagos Islands

It comes as no surprise that the place first made famous by legendary naturalist Charles Darwin would go on to become one of the most sought-after ecotourism destinations on Earth, the Galapagos Islands .

The Directorate of the Galapagos National Park and the Ecuadorian Ministry of Tourism require tour providers to conserve water and energy, recycle waste, source locally produced goods, hire local employees with a fair wage, and offer employees additional training. A total of 97% of the land area on the Galapagos is part of the official national park, and all of its 330 islands have been divided into zones that are either completely free of human impact, protected restoration areas, or reduced impact zones adjacent to tourist-friendly areas.

Local authorities still have to be on their toes, however, since UNESCO lists increased tourism as one of the main threats facing the Galapagos today. The bulk of funding for the conservation and management of the archipelago comes from a combination of governmental institutions and entry fees paid by tourists.

Costa Rica is well-known throughout the world for its emphasis on nature-based tourism, from its numerous animal sanctuaries to its plethora of national parks and reserves. Programs like its “Ecological Blue Flag” program help inform tourists of beaches that have maintained a strict set of eco-friendly criteria.

The country’s forest cover went from 26% in 1983 to over 52% in 2021 thanks to the government’s decision to create more protected areas and promote ecotourism in the country . Now, over a quarter of its total land area is zoned as protected territory.

Costa Rica welcomes 1.7 million travelers per year, and most of them come to experience the country’s vibrant wildlife and diverse ecosystems. Its numerous biological reserves and protected parks hold some of the most extraordinary biodiversity on Earth, so the country takes special care to keep environmental conservation high on its list of priorities. 

New Zealand

In 2019, tourism generated $16.2 billion, or 5.8% of the GDP, in New Zealand. That same year, 8.4% of its citizens were employed in the tourism industry, and tourists generated $3.8 billion in tax revenue.

The country offers a vast number of ecotourism experiences, from animal sanctuaries to natural wildlife on land, sea, and even natural caves. New Zealand’s South Pacific environment, full of sights like glaciers and volcanic landscapes, is actually quite fragile, so the government puts a lot of effort into keeping it safe.

Tongariro National Park, for example, is the oldest national park in the country, and has been named by UNESCO as one of only 28 mixed cultural and natural World Heritage Sites. Its diverse volcanic landscapes and the cultural heritage of the indigenous Maori tribes within the create the perfect combination of community, education, and conservation.

How to Be a Responsible Ecotourist

  • Ensure that the organizations you hire provide financial contributions to benefit conservation and find out where your money is going.
  • Ask about specific steps the organization takes to protect the environment where they operate, such as recycling or promoting sustainable policies.
  • Find out if they include the local community in their activities, such as hiring local guides, giving back, or through initiatives to empower the community.
  • Make sure there are educational elements to the program. Does the organization take steps to respect the destination’s culture as well as its biodiversity?
  • See if your organization is connected to a non-profit or charity like the International Ecotourism Society .
  • Understand that wildlife interactions should be non-invasive and avoid negative impacts on the animals.

Ecotourism activities typically involve visiting and enjoying a natural place without disturbing the landscape or its inhabitants. This might involve going for a hike on a forest trail, mountain biking, surfing, bird watching, camping, or forest bathing . 

Traveling in a way that minimizes carbon emissions, like taking a train or bike instead of flying, may also be part of an ecotourism trip. Because these modes of travel tend to be slower, they may be appreciated as enjoyable and relaxing ecotourism activities.

The Wolf Conservation Center ’s programing in New York State is an example of ecotourism. This non-profit organization is dedicated to the preservation of endangered wolf species. It hosts educational sessions that allow visitors to observe wolves from a safe distance. These programs help to fund the nonprofit organization’s conservation and wildlife rehabilitation efforts.

Stonehouse, Bernard. " Ecotourism ." Environmental Geology: Encyclopedia of Earth Science , 1999, doi:10.1007/1-4020-4494-1_101

" What is Ecotourism? " The International Ecotourism Society .

" Tourism ." International Union for Conservation of Nature .





" Galapagos Islands ." UNESCO .

" About Costa Rica ." Embassy of Costa Rica in Washington DC .


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Wildlife tourism

In studying the impacts of wildlife tourism we examined 48 types of wildlife tourist attraction (representing thousands of individual institutions), ranging from poorly-attended street performances, like snake charming, bear dancing and macaque shows, to large, established attractions such as dolphinaria and tiger interactions, which have tens of thousands of visitors every year. We audited 24 of these types in detail, collectively visited by 3.6–6 million tourists per year. We found that up to 4 million tourists who visit non-zoo tourist attractions involving wildlife are likely to be contributing to large-scale animal welfare abuses and declines in species’ conservation status – and are typically unaware of their impacts.

Moorhouse, T. P., Dahlsjö, C. A., Baker, S. E., D’Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). The customer isn’t always right—conservation and animal welfare implications of the increasing demand for wildlife tourism .  PloS One ,  10 (10), e0138939.

Examining the feedback left for wildlife tourist attractions on TripAdvisor we discovered that at least 80% of tourists left positive feedback for attractions they had visited – even for those attractions with the poorest welfare standards. In each case a minority (approximately 20%) of tourists left reviews that correlated with welfare standards (i.e. were positive for beneficial attractions and negative for detrimental attractions). This overwhelmingly positive feedback probably arises from a number of psychological mechanisms that make tourists unlikely to consider the ethical dimensions of their consumption, and also likely to retrospectively diminish the severity of their contribution if they suspect the conditions at a given wildlife venue were not what they would usually have wanted to be involved in.

Moorhouse, T., D’Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2017). Unethical use of wildlife in tourism: what’s the problem, who is responsible, and what can be done?.   Journal of Sustainable Tourism ,  25 (4), 505-516.

Our findings have led us to advise that any wildlife attraction reviewed on TripAdvisor with 80% positive reviews or less (four stars or fewer), may be more likely to have detrimental impacts on wildlife. We are also working directly with TripAdvisor to create an information platform to educate tourists on the consequences of attending wildlife tourist attractions, and to support them in choosing beneficial, rather than exploitative.



Our current project examines whether making potential wildlife tourists aware of the ethical dimension of their decisions – at the time when they are deciding which tourist attractions to visit – might lead them to preferentially choose attractions that have beneficial (for animal welfare and species conservation) impacts.

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Examining our recreational use of wildlife Exotic pets and reducing demand

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Tourism Teacher

Why Wildlife Tourism Isn’t Always A Good Thing

Disclaimer: Some posts on Tourism Teacher may contain affiliate links. If you appreciate this content, you can show your support by making a purchase through these links or by buying me a coffee . Thank you for your support!

Wildlife tourism refers to any tourism that involves wildlife- from swimming with dolphins to volunteering at a turtle conservation centre. The wildlife tourism industry is diverse, taking many different shapes and forms. However, the wildlife tourism industry is also very controversial and has been subject to a lot of negative media coverage in recent years.

In this article I will teach you about what wildlife tourism is and I will introduce you to the different types of wildlife tourism that occur around the world. I will also explain to you why this is a very important industry and the many advantages of wildlife tourism. Lastly, I will outline some of the negative aspects that are associated with wildlife tourism and provide suggestions on how wildlife tourism can be responsible.

What is wildlife tourism?

Zoos and aquariums, animal rescue centres and sanctuaries, birdwatching, whale watching, hunting and fishing, swimming with dolphins, playing with lions and tigers, cuddling a panda, elephant riding, shark cage diving, gorilla trekking, monkey forests, ostrich riding, conservation, breeding porogrammes, economic benefits, job creation, mistreatment of the animals, introduction of disease, wild animals can be dangerous, changes in animal behaviour, reduced breeding success, do your research before you go, don’t get too close, sanctuaries and rescue centres are better than zoos, don’t mess with nature, animal souvenirs, eat carefully, raise awareness about wildlife tourism, wildlife tourism: further reading.

selective focus photography of brown deer on green grass field

Put simply, wildlife tourism is tourism that involves wildlife. But the important question is, what is wildlife? And when does a wild animal stop being ‘wild’?

Most types of animal tourism involves the use of animals that are or were once living in the wild. Whether its a stray cat who was taken into a shelter, or a zoo-based rhinoceros that was rescued from poachers, unless bred in captivity, the majority of animals that we see in the tourism industry come from the wild.

As such, wildlife tourism, in its broadest sense, encounters all types of tourism that involves animals. Types of wildlife tourism can then be segregated into two categories: animals in captivity and animals in the wild.

Types of wildlife tourism

There are many different types of wildlife tourism.

The United Nations estimates that tourism involving wildlife accounts for around 7% of all tourism around the world. However, they exclude animals in captivity, so unreality this figure is likely much higher. From safaris in Tanzania to diving at then Great Barrier Reef, there are plenty of ways that tourists can watch and get up close and personal with wildlife.

Below, Have outlined the most commonly found types of wildlife tourism around the world, with examples.

five zebra grazing on grass field

A safari takes place in an animal’s natural habitat. Safari’s usually involve the use of a small safari vehicle and a ranger, who will drive tourists to areas where there are likely to be animals.

Safari is traditionally associated with Africa, but can also be found in other parts of the world.

Popular safari destinations: Tanzania; Kenya; South Africa

white and black killer whale on blue pool

A zoo or an aquarium is a place where animals are kept captivity, usually in cages. Zoos are renowned for having small enclosures and for domesticating animals.

Some zoos and aquariums have important research projects and breeding programmes. Many will also take on rescue animals or marine life.

Popular zoos: San Diego Zoo; Singapore Zoo; Australia zoo, London Zoo

Popular aquariums: Georgia aquarium; Marine Life Park, Sentosa, Singapore; Dubai Mall Aquarium

white rabbit in brown wooden box

Many farms around the world have been commercialised to allow visitors in to see the animals. They may include feeding experiences and the opportunity to interact with the animals, such as stocking the rabbits or riding the horses.

Farms are usually small, independently owned businesses that are not famous around the world, but that are well known within the local area.

wood animal cute tree

Animal rescue centres and sanctuaries are businesses who rescue animals and then care for them.

Oftentimes they will look like a zoo, and may be commercialised in a similar way. However, the funds made should be reinvested into the business, rather than for profitable gain.

Popular animal rescue centres and sanctuaries: Elephant Nature Park, Thailand; Lonely Pine Koala Sanctuary, Australia; Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica ; The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya; Panda Research Centre,Chengdu, China

flamingo spreading its wings

Birdwatching, also referred to as birding, occurs in a bird’s natural habitat. It involves watching the birds, often from a distance with the use of binoculars.

It can also involve the use of a webcam, facilitating virtual tourism .

Popular birdwatching destinations: The Gambia ; The Galapagos; The Pantanal, Brazil

whale s tail

Whale watching usually occurs on tours, when tourists will be taken out to sea on a boat in search of whales. There will usually be a guide who will provide details about the whales and who is able to spot them easily through a trained eye.

Popular what watching destinations: Australia; Iceland; South Africa ; Canada

fishing landscape nature man

Hunting is the practice of pursuing and capturing or killing wild animals. Many animals are hunted for enjoyment throughout the world, from deer to pigeon to bears.

Hunting can be both legal and illegal depending on where it takes place and what is being hunted.

Likewise, fishing is a popular activity around the globe. Some people fish for enjoyment and return the fish to the water once caught and others eat or sell the fish.

Popular hunting animals: Deer; pigeon; rabbit; bears

photo of a person snorkeling

Diving is a popular form of wildlife tourism, enabling tourists to experience life beneath the sea.

Many people will undertake PADI courses or similar to enable them to dive deeper and swim further.

Popular dive sites: the Great Barrier Reef, Australia; The Red Sea,Egypt ; Blue Hole,Belize, Gili Islands, Bali

Wildlife encounters

Many people are keen to get up close and personal with wildlife.

Back in the 2000’s everyone was doing it. If you had a photo of you and a baby tiger as your Facebook profile picture you were one of the cool kids. Upload that same photo today and you will likely experience a barrage of abuse from your nature-loving friends and connections.

Some types of wildlife encounters are great. Take volunteer work, for example. There are many conservation projects around the world that are desperate for volunteer tourists to help run their operations.

However, most animals encounters are not so good. Animals are often drugged or abused to keep them calm around the tourists. They are kept in inhumane conditions and treated unethically- I mean, would you want to walk up and down the road all day long with people on your back?!

Here are some the most common wildlife encounters around the world:

Wildlife tourism

You can swim with dolphins in the wild in a handful of places around the world.

It is more common, however, to swim with dolphins that are in enclosures. These animals are taken out of their natural habitats and asked to perform trips and entertain tourists.

Popular places to swim with dolphins: USA, Mexico, Bahamas , Portugal.

Wildlife tourism

There are plenty of places that allow you to have an up close and personal experience with lions and tigers.

Naturally, these are dangerous animals, so that instantly raises alarm bells to me. Oftentimes these animals are drugged and abused to ensure that they ‘perform’ for the tourist.

Popular places to play with lions and tigers: Thailand, India , South Africa

Wildlife tourism

Cuddling a panda is a thing of the past unless you are a volunteer tourist (and still many would argue even this is unethical). The last commercial activity which enabled you to cuddle and have your photograph taken with a panda stopped operations in 2018.

However, there are still plenty of opportunities to visit the famous giant pandas, most of which are in China .

Popular places to visit pandas: China

Wildlife tourism

Elephant riding is most commonly found in Asia. Elephants are used to carry tourists around as a leisure activity. There have been many ethical debates about this, which has resulted in a reduction of elephant rides taken around the world.

Now, many elephant organisations are trying to appeal to tourists who take a more ethical approach by transforming their organisation into an ‘elephant sanctuary. Whilst these are sometimes genuine, with ethical practices, some are not so- they simply disguise their unethical approaches by giving themselves the title ‘sanctuary’.

Popular elephant riding destinations: Thailand , Cambodia, India

Wildlife tourism

A cat cafe is a venue that houses a variety of cats, whilst also serving basic food and beverages. People pay an entrance fee or hourly rate to sit with the cats. You can play with the cats and stroke them. Cat cafes are most commonly found in Asia and are particularly popular in Japan, although you can also find them in other parts of the world.

Some cat cafes claim to be rescue centres or sanctuaries, but most operate on a for-profit business. Some do not allow young children in, for fear off them scaring or hurting the animals. Others have no such rules. A cafe is obviously not a natural place for a cat to live, and some argue that the concept in unethical.

Popular destinations with cat cafes: Japan, Thailand ,

Wildlife tourism

Shark cage diving is essentially underwater diving or snorkelling whilst inside a cage. A process called chumming ( baiting the sharks with minced fish) is used to lure the sharks towards the cage.

Shark cage diving can be dangerous both for the person inside the cage and for the shark. The methods are also questionable. Encouraging the sharks to behave in a way that they wouldn’t usually will lead to lasting behavioural changes, which will inevitably have a knock on effect on other marine life and the wider ecosystem.

Popular shark cage diving destinations: South Africa, Florida

Wildlife tourism

Gorilla trekking occurs in remote areas on the African continent . The concept is quite simple- tourists go hiking in search of gorillas.

Gorilla trekking is a unique experience, and tours are pricey. Tourists generally keep their distance and there have been few negative impacts reported.

However, there is always potential for abuse. Careful regulation and monitoring needs to remain in place to ensure that the gorillas are not tempted into certain areas with food or disturbed by the presence of trekkers.

Popular gorilla trekking destinations: Rwanda, Uganda

Wildlife tourism

A monkey forest is a wooded area where monkeys live. This could be the monkeys’ natural habitat, but more likely they have been placed there intentionally.

Visitors will usually pay an entrance fee. They are then free to roam around the forested area and interact with the monkeys. Some monkey forest areas are relatively natural, whereas others may have monkey shows or circuses.

It can be dangerous to visit a monkey forest. As a result of human interaction and loss of natural habitat and feeding grounds monkey often become vicious. It is common for them to bite tourists, which then requires the person to visit a hospital for a rabies jab.

Wildlife tourism

Ostrich riding occurs mostly on ostrich farms and was a popular tourist activity until fairly recently. In 2017, ostrich riding was banned in South Africa, which is where it most commonly occurred.

Ostrich riding as a form of wildlife tourism was/is unethical. This is because the weight of the tourist can seriously hurt the ostrich. It is also not good to make the ostrich spend its day running up and down with people on its back.

Popular places to ride an ostrich: South Africa

Benefits of wildlife tourism

Wildlife tourism can be a great thing. There are many positive impacts of wildlife tourism including; conservation, research, breeding programmes and economic benefits.

For many wildlife tourism businesses, conservation is their top priority. In fact, most places where the focus is conservation would rather not have any tourists come to visit at all, however it is the tourists that pay the bills and allow their business to operate.

Wildlife tourism businesses can be fantastic for conservation and can raise a lot of money. These types of businesses are usually charities or trusts. They do not make a profit and their intentions are wholesome.

sea turtle swimming under blue clear water

Wildlife tourism also facilitates important research. Research can help us to further understand the animals and therefore to better cater for them, both in the wild and in captivity.

Many wildlife tourism projects have successful breeding programmes. From Siberian tigers and pandas in China to koalas in Australia to lions in Botswana, there are successful breeding programmes underway around the world.

Many of these programmes would not be able to operate without the money raised from tourists.

There are many positive economic impacts of wildlife tourism.

Wildlife tourism brings tourists to a given area, and they bring money with them! They spend money on hotels, on food and on transport.

This money can then be reinvested into the economy and spent on areas such as healthcare and education.

Another economic advantage of wildlife tourism that is worth mentioning is job creation. Whatever type of wildlife business it is, it will require staff. This helps to boost employment figures in the area as well as helping the boost the overall economic prospects resulting from wildlife tourism.

Disadvantages of wildlife tourism

Sadly, there are also many disadvantages of wildlife tourism. Whilst there is great potential for wildlife tourism to do good, many businesses are poorly managed and demonstrate unethical practices. This most commonly includes; the mistreatment of animals, introduction of disease, dangerous behaviour, changes in the animal’s behaviour and reduced breeding success.

Mistreatment of animals is common, especially in developing countries.

Fortunately, there is a lot more awareness of this nowadays than there once was. Recent years have seen many laws and regulations introduced in the name of animal welfare all over the world. This has helped to reduce the mistreatment of animals in the wildlife tourism business.

Nevertheless, mistreatment does still occur and it is pretty common. There are still circuses that use animals and attractions that make animals perform tricks for tourists. From elephant camps in Thailand to monkeys dressed as babies in Morocco, there are many examples of mistreatment around the world.

brown elephant with chain

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, I think that all understand animals can pass disease onto humans. And this also works the other way around.

When tourists are allowed to have close interaction with animals there is a risk of them passing on illnesses that the animals do not have immunity to. A common cold might not be a big deal for a human, but it could kill a lion cub, for example.

Many of the people who work in animal tourism are not trained in this field and could unintentionally introduce disease either to humans or to the animals that they are working with.

Animals are unpredictable and can be dangerous. Elephants can easily trample people, sharks can bite and monkeys can give a person rabies.

Using animals in a tourism setting can have serious implications for its welfare and wellbeing.

How would you respond if you were locked in a cage and only let out to perform tricks? I bet your behaviour would change!

These behavioural changes can be unpredictable and dangerous, for both the tourist and the animal.

When animals are taken away from their usual habitat and exposed to tourists they may have trouble breeding.

For businesses that claim to be conservation centres, this can actually have the opposite effect. Instead of protecting the species it can exemplify and exhasberate its extinction.

Responsible wildlife tourism

two person riding kayak

The moral of the story here is this- wildlife tourism can be great, but it needs great management. When wildlife tourism is bad, it is very bad.

Wildlife tourism businesses need to operate under sustainable tourism practices. In recent years we have seen many wildlife tourism organisations change their practices. This is perhaps most common in Thailand, where many elephant riding companies have become sanctuaries.

But it’s not just down to the business, it’s down to us tourists too! Here are some of the things that can do to ensure responsible wildlife tourism.

This is sometimes easier said than done, because there isn’t always a great deal of information available about every wildlife tourism attraction. Nonetheless, you should always try to research the place that you are considering visiting before you do so.

There are many wildlife conscious people around in today’s world, and if it is a major attraction that you are thinking about going to then there will be reviews on Trip Advisor and other review sites. And if there is mistreatment of the animals then you will most likely find information about it here.

If the reviews are bad then I urge you not to go. Yes, you might get to have a cuddle with a lion cub, that’s cute. But think about the picture picture here.

Getting too close to animals can have a number of negative impacts. It can scare the animals, it can cause changes to their behaviour, it can cause them to stop breeding or relocate town area that is less safe. It can also be dangerous.

Be sensible and keep your distance from animals.

If you really want an animal experience, you should choose to visit a sanctuary or research centre rather than a zoo. From the outside, the differences might not be that obvious, but from the inside the differences are big.

The treatment of the animals should be better, to start with. Plus sanctuaries have underlying motives that are not about making money. They are there to protect, rehabilitate and conserve the species, not to exploit it. For these types of organisations, allowing visitors is a means of making enough money to support the conservation project, not a way to get rich as the expensive of a poor animal(s).

Beware, however. Some places label themselves as sanctuaries, when there is in reality little conservation involved. It is simply cover up for their less altruistic intentions. This is why doing your research is important- don’t just read what you see on the tin!

Let nature be nature. Don’t put clothes on animals, don’t feed them and don’t interfere with them.

All of these things lead to instant and progressive changes in animal behaviours. The wildlife that you are seeing today won’t be the same in 10 or 20 or 30 years if you keep messing with it.

Be mindful of souvenirs that you are buying. Sometimes souvenirs are made with ivy or animal fur, for example. This has inevitably involved the death of an animal. So be careful when you go shopping and think before you buy.

There’re also a number of destinations that use wildlife in their food and drink.

In Vietnam, for example, many backpackers think it is funny to drink snakes blood or drinks theatre made bu drowning live snakes in them. There is nothing funny our cool about killing a snake. End of.

In countries such as China and Japan, it is common to see (often endangered) shark on the menu un restaurants. And in Iceland you can eat whale or puffin. I’m not a vegetarian, but I draw the line on eating endangered animals, and you should too.

The most important thing you can do is raise awareness.

If you visit wildlife attraction that you think is doing a great job, write a review on Trip Advisor, tell your friends. Every little helps to support their cause.

Likewise, if you see an attraction that is operating unethically, then you should definitely speak out. This is especially important with smaller, lesser known attractions. If nobody tells you, then you don’t know, right?

I hope you have enjoyed reading this article about wildlife tourism and that you have learnt something new today! If you want to learn a bit more, then I recommend the following:

  • Wildlife Tourism – A landmark contribution to the rapidly growing field of wildlife tourism, especially in regard to its underpinning foundations of science, conservation and policy. 
  • Wildlife Tourism Futures: Encounters with Wild, Captive and Artificial Animals – An excellent book focussing on future wildlife tourism development and management; the experiential value, educational components and ethical relevance of tourism-animal encounters; and the technology applied to wildlife tourism. 
  • Marine Wildlife and Tourism Management: Insights from the Natural and Social Sciences – This book demonstrates that through scientific approaches to understanding and managing tourist interactions with marine wildlife, sustainable marine tourism can be achieved.

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The International Ecotourism Society

What Is Ecotourism?

Conservation, offering market-linked long-term solutions, ecotourism provides effective economic incentives for conserving and enhancing bio-cultural diversity and helps protect the natural and cultural heritage of our beautiful planet., communities, by increasing local capacity building and employment opportunities, ecotourism is an effective vehicle for empowering local communities around the world to fight against poverty and to achieve sustainable development., interpretation, with an emphasis on enriching personal experiences and environmental awareness through interpretation, ecotourism promotes greater understanding and appreciation for nature, local society, and culture., the definition., ecotourism is now defined as “responsible travel to natural areas that conserves the environment, sustains the well-being of the local people, and involves interpretation and education” (ties, 2015). education is meant to be inclusive of both staff and guests., principles of ecotourism, ecotourism is about uniting conservation, communities, and sustainable travel. this means that those who implement, participate in and market ecotourism activities should adopt the following ecotourism principles:.

  • Minimize physical, social, behavioral, and psychological impacts.
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect.
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts.
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation.
  • Generate financial benefits for both local people and private industry.
  • Deliver memorable interpretative experiences to visitors that help raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climates.
  • Design, construct and operate low-impact facilities.
  • Recognize the rights and spiritual beliefs of the Indigenous People in your community and work in partnership with them to create empowerment.

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More From Forbes

What’s the future of sustainability in tourism here’s anguilla’s answer.

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Lithium-ion batteries at Zemi Beach House in Anguilla. The resort says soon it will have enough ... [+] capacity to supply its own electricity.

Endless rows of solar panels. Hydroponic farms. A massive reverse osmosis plant.

Ask the people who run Anguilla's resorts about the future of sustainability, and that's their answer. At forward-looking properties such as Aurora Anguilla Resort & Golf Club and Zemi Beach House , owners are trying to build a greener future.

But there's one more thing that this Caribbean island has that could keep it sustainable for generations to come. And it's the last thing anyone would expect.

A weathered billboard promised a plastic- and styrofoam-free Anguilla by 2020. The island is still ... [+] struggling to rid itself of single-use plastics.

What's going on in Anguilla?

Anguilla is a small Caribbean island known for its Technicolor reefs and serene beaches with sand the texture of powdered sugar. Part of its appeal is that it's remote. Most visitors fly from North America to St. Martin and then take a half-hour ferry ride to Anguilla. U.S. airlines have recently added more direct service to the island.

Like many other Caribbean destinations, Anguilla has struggled with sustainability. The previous government promised to do away with plastic bags and styrofoam by 2020, but it's been easier said than done. Today you can still get plastic bags at the island's small grocery stores.

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Anguilla is not alone. The entire region has charted an uneven path toward sustainability. The interests of commerce are often in conflict with conservation. And unless residents and visitors see a reason to transition to more sustainable energy and recycling, the struggle is likely to continue.

But there is hope. There are nonprofit organizations working quietly to save the fragile Caribbean environment. Many hotels have found that even when the destination is moving slowly, they don't have to. There are financial reasons for accelerating the pace toward sustainability, but ultimately, it also motivates the destination as a whole — and perhaps even the people who come there to visit. No matter where you go in the Caribbean, tourists hold the key to sustainability.

This is the final article in an eight-part series about sustainable tourism in Central America and the Caribbean. Here's part one about sustainability in Panama , part two about saving Bonaire's number one tourist attraction , part three about Aruba’s struggles to stay sustainable , part four about Curaçao’s conservation efforts , part five about Grenada’s attempt to go green , part six about how Barbados is trying to save its environment , and part seven about sustainability in Antigua .

Paulo Paias, general manager of the Zemi Beach hotel, surveys the resort's solar farm.

Vast solar farms at Zemi Beach House

At the Zemi Beach House, a luxury hotel in the northeastern part of Anguilla, multiple sustainability efforts are underway.

On a recent tour of the property, maintenance workers were removing single-use soaps and lotions, and replacing them with refillable bottles. Paulo Paias, general manager of the resort, says it's the most visible part of the hotel's sustainability program. But there's more happening behind the scenes.

The hotel just installed 2,750 solar panels, part of an ambitious plan to go energy independent. The solar farm, which seems to go on forever, is capable of taking the property off the grid during the day, and there are plans to continue upgrading it until the property no longer needs to buy power from Anguilla.

There's a financial reason for this: Businesses pay about 40 cents per kilowatt hour for power, which is roughly four times as much as it costs in the U.S. Getting off the grid makes sense, not just for the environment but also for Zemi Beach's bottom line. A solar plant like the one Zemi Beach has can pay for itself in about a year.

But the hotel didn't leave well enough alone. It also started recycling water for its landscaping, collecting rainwater and groundwater in cisterns and redistributing it for irrigation.

"We wanted to do more in terms of sustainability," says Paias. "We wanted to really be green."

Paias said sustainability has been a struggle for Anguilla. It didn't quite meet its goal of getting rid of plastic by 2020, but if people knew how destructive landfill-clogging plastics were, they might push for more sustainability initiatives.

"It really comes down to education," he says.

Roberto Fernandez, the director of engineering at Aurora Anguilla,

Hydroponic farms redefine the farm-to-table experience at Aurora Anguilla

Roberto Fernandez, the director of engineering at Aurora Anguilla, is proud of his hydroponic garden. When you talk about farm-to-table food in a place like Anguilla, there's not much to discuss. Virtually all food is imported.

So why go through the expense of building several greenhouses and growing everything from heirloom tomatoes to mint? Fernandez says the cost of growing the vegetables is about the same as importing them.

"But you're reducing all the transportation costs," he says. "And all the carbon emissions that happened through the transportation of this produce,"

Aurora Anguilla is on the southern side of Anguilla. Its minimalist Mediterranean-style villas have a stunning view of a white sand beach and St. Martin in the distance. Fernandez says the resort offers tours of its sustainable hydroponic farm. But the most impressive part of its sustainability remains off-limits because it's still under construction.

Across the road and behind the golf course, Aurora is building a high-capacity reverse osmosis plant, capable of supplying the entire resort with desalinated water. It may be one of the largest desalination plants on this island, if not in this part of the Caribbean. And Fernandez also has big plans for the solar array, which currently supplies about 10% of the resort's electricity.

Aurora Anguilla will add new, more efficient solar panels and a variable frequency drive, a specialized electronic device that controls the speed and operation of a solar-powered water pump.

"I'm pretty sure that will take us completely off the grid most of the time," he says.

Resorts like Aurora and Zemi have owners who are deeply committed to environmental conservation and are not afraid to invest in sustainability. But what about the rest of the island?

Vince Cate, manager of the .ai domain, in The Valley, Anguilla.

Anguilla’s sustainability is online

Physical sustainability programs are important in Anguilla, as they are in the rest of the Caribbean. But only Anguilla has this: A top-level domain name that ends with .ai.

AI, as in Anguilla. As in artificial intelligence.

Vince Cate, the manager of the .ai domain name, says it's an untapped resource that could solve many of Anguilla's problems.

"It's Anguilla's golden goose," he says.

That's no exaggeration. Currently, Anguilla administers more than 400,000 .ai domains, which bring in more than $4 million. All of the money goes directly to the Anguillian government and currently makes up about one-third of the island's budget.

Cate projects the number of .ai registries will double within the year and could double again in a year to 18 months, if historical patterns hold.

"Domains don't run out," says Cate. "It's an unlimited resource."

If Anguilla manages this resource correctly, it could become something like Norway's sovereign wealth fund or Alaska's Permanent Fund — money that ensures the sustainability of the entire island.

There are also exciting ways the money could be used to reverse some of the environmental problems in Anguilla. They could fund clean energy projects in the future, lessening the island's dependence on fossil fuels. They could also be used to fund more ambitious recycling programs and to pay for environmental conservation efforts.

Farah Mukhida, executive director of the Anguilla National Trust, in her office in Anguilla. The ... [+] trust is involved in educational efforts aimed at increasing the island's sustainability.

"You don't have to make compromises on the environment"

It would be easy to take a closer look at the sustainability and tourism in the Caribbean and come away with the impression that the solution is in creating more programs that harness green energy or better recycling and conservation plans.

But that would not be accurate, says Farah Mukhida, executive director of the Anguilla National Trust , an organization that sustains the island’s natural and cultural heritage. The single biggest problem facing a place like Anguilla — and indeed, many other Caribbean destinations — is unchecked development.

Governments have a hard time saying no to new resorts, timeshares or airports. The economies of the islands are so dependent on tourism that there is no "off" switch. When there's a conflict between commerce and conservation, commerce usually wins.

"But you don't have to make compromises on the environment," she says.

Her organization has been working on educational efforts in Anguilla — teaching schoolchildren about the importance of environmental stewardship. The National Trust sponsors beach cleanups and works with private landowners to remove rodents that threaten local wildlife.

For sustainability to have a chance, she says people have to change their mindset.

The environment doesn't have to lose out when developers want to build a new resolrt. They can build with sustainability in mind — recycling water, growing vegetables, harvesting wind and solar power.

With some thoughtful planning, it can be a win-win.

But time is short. As we've seen in this series, the Caribbean is being threatened by overdevelopment and by the pressure of too many visitors. Coral reefs are being bleached. Tourists in ATVs are crushing the nests of endangered birds. Sea turtles are disappearing. The islands are being paved over with four-lane highways and are often indistinguishable from suburban strip malls in the United States.

And there is this undeniable fact: Travel itself destroys the environment. It leaves an oversize carbon footprint and devours finite natural resources. If you truly care about preserving natural resources and reversing climate change, you have to avoid travel, which ironically would destroy the livelihood of most Caribbean islands. Everyone wants to find middle ground.

What will bring about meaningful change? It is not governments, although they are responsible for executing an island-wide sustainability plan. It is not hotels, cruise lines or tour operators, although they can provide leadership and pay for some of the sustainability initiatives.

Ultimately, nothing will happen unless visitors want it. And the most effective way they can communicate that is by booking a sustainable destination, a sustainable hotel, a sustainable tour.

In other words, if you want the Caribbean to be sustainable, it's up to you.

About this series

When I traveled to the Caribbean to research this series, I expected to discover a part of the world where people were deeply conscious of the environment and racing to repair the damage that too much tourism had done to the islands.

Instead, I met a small collection of hotel owners, environmentalists and nonprofit workers trying to change a ruinous trajectory on which the Caribbean finds itself. They were surrounded by a tourism industry that cared mostly about attracting more visitors to their island.

The two were often in conflict.

Sustainability is an elusive subject. As I noted in the first part of this series , it's hard to define it, let alone agree on how to make a destination more sustainable. Too often, destinations exploit that ambiguity — proclaiming their sustainability on the one hand but allowing unmonitored and unsustainable development on the other hand.

Many destinations were helpful and willing to discuss their sustainability efforts. They provided access to government officials and allowed me to tour their sustainability projects.

Others, not so much. Sometimes, tourism officials didn't show up for interviews. Invitations to visit islands were abruptly withdrawn. One publicist said she would only cooperate if I promised to write a positive story about her client. I refused.

I'm grateful for the opportunity. It was an honor to write about the places that take sustainability seriously and to document their journey.

The islands that didn't want me to cover them — well, they performed a valuable reader service, too. If you note the islands that I did not include in the series, you can easily create an alternative map of the Caribbean where sustainability is just an empty marketing slogan.

So what can you do about sustainability in a place like the Caribbean?

Over and over, I heard from hoteliers and tour operators that for all the talk about sustainability, no one was really asking for it. Instead, they said visitors just want a quiet beach and a cold drink in their hand, and they want it cheap.

That has to change. And until it does, the Caribbean will never become a sustainable destination for tourism. Instead, it will be a place that is being slowly depleted until everything you love about the islands — the beaches, the blue ocean, the friendly people — is gone.

I hope that day never comes. But at the rate we are going, we are probably closer to it than you think.

Christopher Elliott

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