The Role of Ecotourism in Wildlife Conservation: A Conversation with Chris Weber
Advocating for wildlife conservation is a core aspect of an Earth-friendly lifestyle. Climate change has not only negatively impacted human beings and the environment, but also wildlife because as global temperatures rise, wildlife populations and habitats fall more at risk. As a result, animals that have difficulty adjusting to a lack of available food or warmer climates will be at risk of extinction.
The path to turning the tides on climate change and its negative effect on wildlife involves education and exposure. Former Google coworkers Chris Weber and Jan Otte bonded over their love for animals and knew they could strengthen the public’s understanding of and bond with animals. Their website, Animals Around the Globe, uses experiences with animals, animal-related news, and lessons from animal experts to spread awareness and hopefully change the negative trajectory of climate change.
Today, Weber and Otte are committed not only to providing top-tier content through the Animals Around the Globe site, but also to bettering the world through authentic experiences and a focus on the role of ecotourism in wildlife conservation.
What is ecotourism?
Many people have shifted their focus to sustainability in everything they do — from buying clothing to commuting to their jobs. Travel can also be sustainable. “Ecotourism is about combining the fun of vacationing with a focus on sustainability and conservation,” says Weber.
On their site, Weber and Otte showcase authors who have traveled to over 100 countries, showing the best of what ecotourism has to offer. “Our authors have dived with Great White Sharks off South Australia and the African Coast,” Weber shares. “They saw gorillas in the Virunga Mountains in Uganda and hiked with Grizzly Bears in the Mountains of Banff National Park in Canada.” These experiences are shared with millions of visitors to Animals Around the Globe to illustrate what ecotourism can entail.
Ecotourism seeks to minimize the negative impact of visitors to different areas of the world. “People who hike or visit trails and National Parks may have seen signs that say ‘take nothing but memories, leave nothing but footprints,’ and this is a great way to describe ecotourism,” says Weber.
Ecotourism is considering the human impact on habitats and conservation measures, and doing everything to reduce the negative human impact.
Wildlife conservation through ecotourism
“We believe in a world where animals and humans live next to each other,” says Weber, highlighting how ecotourism is a step toward this worldview. Simply by considering the impact of our travel, we can improve wildlife conservation efforts.
Ecotourism destinations focus on preserving natural habitats and keeping animals safe from overdevelopment and pollution. The visitors to these spots are tasked with remaining as respectful as possible of the natural environment they are visiting.
“Some great examples of ecotourism include visiting protected National Parks and conservation areas, experiencing wildlife in their natural habitats, or even learning about the biodiversity in your own backyard,” explains Weber. “Activities from walking tours to boat tours and diving excursions can help people become more aware of animals and the importance of habitat conservation, while simultaneously serving as a unique travel experience.”
Through the conservation of natural habitats and the support of protected areas, like National Parks, more species can stay in their natural areas and avoid being pushed out by the effects of the changing climate or development of their habitats by humans. With travel money spent on this type of ecotourism, these conservation efforts are supported.
Ecotourism is not a new concept. The Oxford English Dictionary defined ecotourism in 1982 as “tourism to areas of ecological interest (typically exotic and often threatened natural environments), [especially] to support conservation efforts and observe wildlife; [specifically] access to an endangered environment controlled so as to have the least possible adverse effect.” However, in the decades since then, the term has moved from a pastime of a specific group — namely those who could afford the premium prices of many ecotourism activities — to a more widely enjoyed vacation option.
The positive effects of ecotourism
“Today’s ecotourists want to know that they are making a positive impact on wildlife and the environment,” Weber explains. According to statistics, as more people take a vested interest in climate change and protecting wildlife, the ecotourism market is expected to grow to over $300 billion by 2027.
“By keeping one’s carbon footprint in mind while traveling, positive impact can result,” explains Weber. What results is a domino effect on wildlife habitats, better funding of conservation areas, and a bounceback of endangered species overall.
“The more people invested in the animal kingdom and conservation of wildlife, the more prevalent ecotourism will become,” Weber adds. Through Animals Around the Globe, Weber and Otte are showing that there is a different way of traveling the world — one that minimizes negative impact and helps conserve habitats for endangered wildlife.