On Feb. 2, a Scottish tourist on holiday in Thailand was trampled and gored by an elephant, which was part of a trekking tour allowing tourists to explore Thailand’s natural beauty on the back of an elephant. The killing has raised concerns over the company in charge of the trek, and the connection between endangered animals and tourism. For a long time now the money gathered from tourism and conservation efforts have been linked. However, with ever increasing profits comes the possibility of cutting corners and lowering safety standards. This lowering of standards not only endangers the tourists themselves, as in the case explored above, but has the potential to harm conservation efforts. It is ultimately an unfortunate paradox of funding conservation by potentially harming the very things we seek to save.
While it may be easy to demand a stop to endangered wildlife tourism, for many people, tourism helps to promote local economic development. Through joint ventures with local communities, wildlife encounters can be both profitable and sustainable. In many instances these locally managed wildlife experiences flow directly into economic development such as building new infrastructure and supporting indigenous people. Building infrastructure, creating industries, and the flood of international tourists lead to the adverse effects on endangered wildlife. In India, local tour guides drive inappropriately and recklessly; each for better views of the animals and therefore better tips from tourists. This example shows that an increase in profits and visitors leads inevitably to an increase in damage to both the animals and their habitats. Not only that, but the very industry of ecotourism means that many endangered animals depend on the influx of tourists to survive. In many countries the sole reliance on profit from visitors means that any fluctuation in attendance can have serious consequences for the endangered animals. However this profit seeking industry not only threatens the safety of the animals they attempt to protect, but also the lives of their visitors
In 2015, Special Effects Editor for the series Game of Thrones Katherine Chappell was mauled to death by a lioness while on safari in South Africa. This well-known example and many others show the damage ecotourism can have on the visitors themselves. As businesses attempt to save costs and lower safety standards they run the risk of killing those they are supposed to protect. In many ways this also relates to the animals. The irony of this lucrative system is that it attempts to raise money to protect animals. Instead it creates a perpetual loop, in which increased tourism raises money to help protect endangered wildlife. Yet as tourism increases, that same wildlife is increasingly put at risk of destruction by the system designed to protect it. In addition, humans are also faced with the possibility of death if interactions with or close to endangered animals goes awry. Some authors have suggested finding new ways to raise conservation funds by focusing on donations instead of ticket sales. However most companies still disproportionately rely on visitors for profit, proving that the current reliance on ecotourism for conservation funds seems likely to remain.
It is difficult to be angry at people attempting to support their families and build their communities through ecotourism profits. By the same token, it is hard to blame those of us who wish to view the natural beauty of our planet in person. Yet these two groups have only seemed to hurt the very industry they wish to protect and see grow. The irony is that this never-ending cycle of profit can be acknowledged, but shows no signs of stopping. Our endangered wildlife increasingly needs funds from ecotourism, and in turn ecotourism threatens these very animals. Humanity can only hope that this system can be changed in time before the very things we are sworn to save join the ranks of the extinct.