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article imageStudy links wildlife tourism to decline in elephant numbers

By Tim Sandle     Apr 2, 2019 in Environment
Liverpool - Wildlife tourism has supporters (revenue introduced into low-income areas) and detractors (such as negative environmental impact). A new study raises a concern with the impact of certain types of tourism and the impact upon elephant populations.
Other arguments in favour of wildlife tourism is that it discourages poaching and because money raised can be ploughed back into conservation schemes. However, scores of tourists can equally damage ecosystems and this has an impact upon the very wildlife that people are so keen to visit.
Wildlife tourism is growing in popularity, up 10 percent year-on-year since 2013 and there are estimated to be 12 million wildlife tourism trips globally. One area that is a popular destination is Africa.
In relation to the African continent, a research group from Liverpool John Moores University, U.K. have looked at how the rise in animal-viewing is impacting upon different animals. Their research reveals that high numbers of tourists correlates with increased stress levels for animal populations. The area of greatest concern is with elephants.
It is established that elephants feel a range of emotions and are subject to, and react to, stress. That tourism impacts on increased elephant stress levels was observed over a fifteen-month period at a reserve in Africa.
Speaking with Laboratory Roots, lead researcher Dr. Isabelle Szott said: “We studied the effect of monthly tourist pressure (tourist numbers) on the occurrence of stress‐related, vigilance and conspecific‐directed aggressive behavior in 26 individually identified elephants.”
The assessment also included the impact of typically three vehicles on the direction of travel of herds. The assessment of vehicles and tourist numbers, based on observations of elephant behaviour, showed that elephants are more likely to perform aggressive behavior towards other elephants when there were more tourists in the reserve. This is regarded by animal psychologists are a sign of stress.
It is hoped that the results of the research will; encourage wildlife reserves to limit the numbers of tourists and the frequency of visits by tourists, in order to reduce animal stress levels. Furthered, it is recommended that reserves monitor elephant behaviour to identify when tourist pressure has potential effects on elephant welfare and to train guides to monitor behaviour and adjust minimum distances.
The findings are published in the Journal of Zoology. The research paper is titled “Behavioural changes in African elephants in response to wildlife tourism.”
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