Eco-tourism endangering wildlife it seeks to protect

Tourists aiming to vacation in like areas of our world contributing money and awareness toward preserving these areas have inadvertently been causing them harm. So says a study published this month in Trends in Ecology & Evolution. When you take an animal like a dog in, domesticate it, and make it used to living with and near humans, you can't just toss it back out in to the wild. It'll get eaten by a larger animal. Much in the same way, the presence of humans in so-called "wild" areas around the world has turned the behavior of animals in those areas to presumptuous of human interaction.

When roads are built through forests, animals that'd normally be prey for carnivores tend to hug these roads and live nearer areas where humans live. Speaking with Mother Jones this week is Taylor Phillips, owner of Eco-Tour Adventures, who suggests that "These animals are definitely comfortable with people." He says that predators are "deterred by the presence of cars and people" along main roads in areas like Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks, and that they often see moose with young calves "hugging the main roads" because of this.

Above: This photograph shows tourists enjoying snorkeling surrounded by fish (mostly 'piraputanga' Brycon hilarii) in a tributary of the Cuiabá River (Nobres, Mato Grosso, Brazil). By Benjamin Geffroy.

Daniel Blumstein of the University of California, Los Angeles, lead the research being published by Trends in Ecology & Evolution this month. He says that "when animals interact in 'benign' ways with humans, they may let down their guard. If this boldness transfers to real predators, then they will suffer higher mortality when they encounter real predators."

Whether or not eco-tourists want to believe that they're having adverse effects on the wildlife they're aiming to tour-without-harming, they most certainly are.

As such, Blumstein suggests that it'll be "essential to develop a more comprehensive understanding of how different species and species in different situations respond to human visitation and under what precise conditions human exposure might put them at risk."

You can find our more by seeking out the paper "How nature-based tourism might increase prey vulnerability to predators" by authors "Geffroy, B., Samia, D.S.M., Bessa, E., and D.T. Blumstein. This paper can be found in Cell in Trends in Ecology and Evolution under code DOI: 10.1016/j.tree.2015.09.010.