How tourism planners are already helping to save endangered species
There are few sights as majestic as seeing the Earth’s finest animals roaming freely and safely in their open, natural habitats. Whether that be the African ‘Big 5’, the sprawling Kangaroos and Koalas of Australia, or Monarch Butterflies in Mexico, the travel sector has capitalised on all these natural assets through responsible forms of wildlife tourism.
Popular with domestic and international tourists globally, wildlife tourism is often celebrated for its educational and experiential benefits, bringing awe and wonder to millions annually; as we mark Endangered Species Day, wildlife tourism must also be recognised for its measurable and hugely important contribution to the conservation of endangered species.
The grass-roots guardians, rangers and conservationists protecting many of these species are acutely aware of the inherent risk of their profession, playing bodyguard to some of the Earth’s most valued gems as poaching rages on.
Responsible wildlife tourism has proven itself to be a far more valuable trade than poaching, though; the tourism value of a shark in the Galapagos, for example, is $5.4 million compared to just $200 for a dead shark. Of course, a healthy family of sharks may be respectfully viewed thousands of times during their lifespan, while a dead one may only yield profit once.
Wildlife tourism has thus helped to engender an economic understanding that wildlife is worth more alive than dead, giving more of an imperative for investing in the animals’ safety.
Today, you will read a lot about the risks that vulnerable animal populations face and see saddening statistics on extinction rates. Take note, they’re important. Here, however, we want to celebrate some of the more uplifting, redeeming stories that give a lot of reason to hope. Taken from the World Travel & Tourism Council’s (WTTC) Global Best Practices Recognition Initiative, here are three stellar examples of where tourism planning has helped not only to protect endangered species but to actively replenish populations and preserve their natural habitats:
The Rwandan government, in partnership with the Fossey Fund charity, operates a system of controlled visitation to protect the 12 gorilla families inhabiting the Volcanoes National Park, including 365-day a year ranger protection.
A restricted number of high-value tourist permits are issued, with a maximum of 96 permits issued per day, generating an estimated $18 million per annum. 10% of this animal-based revenue then directly sponsors human-centred development providing water access, health centres and schools in neighbouring towns, while the daily protection of the gorillas also provides locals with lucrative employment opportunities.
This unique public-charity partnership has had tremendous success in the conservation of the gorilla population; in 1981, a mere 254 gorillas roamed the National Park, with forecasts predicting that they would be extinct by the millennium. With intensive tracking and anti-poaching operations, however, there are now over 600 gorillas in the Park as the species elevates itself out of the ‘critically endangered’ category.
Home to the largest elephant population in the world, 20% of Botswana’s surface area is made up of designated wildlife reserves. To preserve its wildlife, Botswana positioned itself as a high-end destination whereby tourist numbers are kept to a minimum while tourist dollars are maximised. The country has financed anti-poaching forces and National Parks through its high-value, low-impact model of tourism. What is impressive about this plan is not necessarily its luxury appeal, but rather the commitment to reinvesting in community and conservation.
In a public-private partnership with the diamond group De Beers, the Botswana government has also had significant success with rhino conservation. Once a bleak situation whereby wild rhinos had to be moved away from the territory because of the threat of poaching, Botswana and De Beers have revitalised the population by hosting an undisclosed number of the animals in a secret location with 24-hour protection. To strengthen this group of rhinos, they now ship animals in from other parts of the continent to widen the gene pool and keep the population healthy.
As we know from the countless David Attenborough documentaries we’ve viewed over the years, animal habitats are crucial to species survival, so as well as providing direct support for wildlife, we must also be reticent of conserving land, space and forestry. On this, we look to Costa Rica.
Costa Rica has made sustainable tourism part of its DNA, focusing its entire value proposition around the development of sustainable products and services with low environmental impact and a positive impact on the wellbeing of its local communities.
Understanding the long-term value of its rich natural resources, Costa Rica has created tourism offerings to enable tourists to discover its unique natural heritage, while making the preservation of natural assets a top priority. In fact, across a 26-year period, Costa Rica has recovered a significant proportion of its forestry, not only stopping deforestation but actively reversing the process. In 2013, 52.4% of Costa Rican territory was thus forestry compared to just 21% in 1987. The first tropical country to stop deforestation, the forest growth rate in Costa Rica stands at 0.5% per year.
This post was written by Chloe Wynne, Assistant Communications Manager, World Travel & Tourism Council.