Tourists to blame for wildebeest drownings?

[Sorry for the lack of updates – my dad has been visiting and he has been running me ragged all around San Diego. His idea of a vacation is seeing Everything. The man has more energy than a puppy!]

National Geographic reports that the drowning of 10,000 wildebeests on their annual migration may have been caused by tourists blocking the usual river crossing points. The article is a bit misleading – not even local conservation professionals think this particular incident was directly caused by tourists. However, they do take the opportunity to point out that there is a problem with tourist operations causing damage and harassing the animals.

This does highlight one of the perennial problems with conservation. Environmentalists have tried to develop ecotourism businesses as an alternative to extractive industries like hunting or logging. But ecotourism also comes with an often-heavy price in trampling or harassment or the development that comes along with needing infrastructure for lots of people. Whale watches come to mind – it’s great that so many people want to see whales, but getting chased around by loud motorboats just can’t be too much fun for the whales.

Personally, I think ecotourism is generally a Good Thing, but there needs to be enough education and supervision to minimize the inevitable damage. That’s something concrete and important that western nonprofits can focus on – getting funds to developing countries so that they can hire enough rangers to keep the tourists (and hopefully also the poachers) in line.

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3 Responses to Tourists to blame for wildebeest drownings?

  1. what i think a lot of ecotourism schemes lack at the outset is consideration of the tourism carrying capacity for the destination… we see this all the time in popular coral reef destinations… every year a new operator (or five) appear to carry visitors to the reef… the resultant overload of bodies on reef systems leads to painful proclamations by environmentalists such as “we are loving our reefs to death!”

    eww…

    anyway, sussing-out carrying capacity as well as characterizing the limits of acceptable change on the environment (since any tourism will have concommitant impact) need to be more of a reflex MO for conservationists… and once we get those baselines, we need to be mindful to update and revise as both the environment and tourism changes…

    my 2 cents…

  2. I’m reminded of your post a while back on tourist sunscreen/urine potential impacts on the reef – lots of little things really do potentially add up. Boy, would I love to see “carrying capacity” analyses – but how do you think that would play in local politics? I imagine trying to limit economic growth could be very controversial in many places and lead to mighty cry of “imperalism!”

  3. come into the field with me next time we are facilitating a carrying capacity discussion with tourism stakeholders… talk about becoming persona non grata real quick… yeah, it’s all great at the start when everyone wants to sound green and talk up sustainability, but then when the first indication appears that they may have to actually give some ground and set limits, it all gets ugly…

    and it’s actually a somewhat easier process in less developed areas like png, indonesia, or fiji… in hawaii or mesoamerica, it’s always business and bottom line first…

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