What comes to mind when you first think of ecotourism? Most of you are probably thinking something along the line of responsible, sustainable travel that conserves nature. Right ?
If you did, then you’re probably close to the truth although there is no one ‘dictionary definition’ of the concept. Different organisations, and indeed countries have their own ideas so just because you think you’re being sold a tour that is environmentally responsible you may want to delve deeper. Attracting 8 billion visitors worldwide it is rather alarming that as far as scientists are concerned, 1/3 of ecotourism projects are, in fact, unsustainable. In some cases this is because projects do not sufficiently benefit local communities but in ~20% of cases it is due to negative impacts on flagship species.
This is something that can, and indeed needs to, change. In some countries ecotourism is strictly regulated with companies having to meet certain standards to be able to use the term. Furthermore, if we look at great-ape tourism, there are separate regulations in place that govern all sites and companies offering great-ape visitation which include a 7m proximity rule and maximum group sizes. However there is no such regulation for visiting other primates, but there probably should be.
Not all countries and cultures hold the same opinions of wild animals. In South America it is not unheard of for people to know people that have pet monkeys. Fortunately attitudes are changing: I’ve previously worked with two companies that seek to educate people on the importance of protecting wild animals: Protecto Caraya, Argentina and Para La Tierra, Paraguay. However, as people start to learn it follows that the methods with which they seek to interact with nature will change. More people will look to ecotourism companies to allow them to view animals in their natural environment and that is why it is especially important that companies offering such experiences get it right.