[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.