Travel and tourism operators are constantly seeking to offer newer opportunities to tourists to experience wildlife. While, undoubtedly there can be a number of opportunities for tourist to lend their might to wildlife conservation, regrettably the big money involved has encouraged many unscrupulous agencies to exploit the very animals that are supposed to benefit. In many instances, tourists are possibly not even aware that they are funding exploitation, not eco-conservation. However, as responsible travelers, it is our duty and responsibility to educate ourselves and make the appropriate choices.
What is Wildlife Tourism?
Broadly defined, wildlife tourism is travel undertaken for the purpose of viewing or encountering wildlife. The experience can take place in the wild or in captive or semi-captive environments. The interactions too may be various; from simple viewing to feeding, touching or even hunting. Typically, wildlife tourism is understood to be non-consumptive that comprises activities like viewing, filming or photographing, and feeding; however, consumptive activities like hunting and fishing are also included, though these activities are now being hotly debated as whether they should at all come under the ambit of wildlife tourism.
Hazards Associated With Wildlife Tourism
The special draw of many animal facilities is the opportunity for tourists to take close-up photographs of the animals, pet them and feed them. Normally, such opportunities are made available for extra charges that are claimed to assist the maintenance and conservation of the animal species. However, it has been observed that often these animals are housed very poorly, inadequately fed, and also sedated so that they do not behave aggressively. Many facilities also resort to the illegal procurement of animals to offer an extra attraction to the visitors. If you undertake any of the Zion National Park UTV tours, you will be thrilled to note that no animals are kept in captivity.
A seemingly innocuous act of feeding wild animals can prove to be extremely hazardous to the health of the animals. Animals kept in captivity are deprived of using their hunting skills, and depend upon their keepers for the food. Additional feeding by tourists can only disrupt their diet. Animals become dependent and habituated to humans, which may cause increased aggression. Most responsible zoos and animal facilities restrict feeding of animals to prevent this.
If you are really concerned about the plight of wildlife in captivity or the impact of tourism on wildlife, you could think about volunteering to help out one of the innumerable wildlife protection and conservation agencies. However, selecting one can be really difficult as some are genuine while others seek to profit only. It can be a little difficult to find an NGO where you can work directly with injured, sick or displaced wildlife as it requires experience and expertise that the typical volunteer does not possess. It is more likely that most of the volunteering opportunities will be administrative or research oriented. While it may not seem as exciting, these activities are really important and a very practical way of making a valuable contribution to wildlife conservation.
What Should You Look Out For?
If volunteering is your goal then you should make an attempt to learn everything about the agency you are contemplating joining. Find out their sources of income and how they use the funds. Establish that they have a reputable management with people at the helm having the right credentials. Try and talk directly with people working in the project to get a feel of it before you pitch in. It is usually best to work with non-profits that are registered with the government authorities.