(Mirror Daily, United States) – Ecotourism is no longer a niche reserved for the richest, rising in prevalence among people interested in having all of the adventure with none of the guilt. But even friendly ecotourists could endanger wildlife.
Travelers are promised the best views on Earth in companionship with various species, while also feeling better about learning more about the world’s ecosystems. However, no matter how innocent this scenario sounds, researchers found that taming animals for the sake of ecotourism can prove to be detrimental to wildlife creatures.
A new study shows that teaching animals to be friendly towards humans may also cause them to lower their guard around predators. The prevalence of vacations in the wildlife has given the animals the chance to experience human interaction, but in spite of the harmless vibe of such endeavors, researchers warn they might pose a new threat for the species involved.
Increasing the human presence in the very habits of these creatures represents an altering factor that teaches the animals new behaviors that have a profound effect on other aspects of their lives, even though it doesn’t look harmful at first.
Leading author Daniel Blumstein of the University of California, Los Angeles, explained that teaching animals to interact with humans in non-violent ways teaches them to let down their guard and develop a new dangerous boldness. When practiced around real predators, this new behavior can lead to higher death cases.
Ecotourism is nothing but another form of habituation – taming the animals in their natural habitat. Domestication is also often detrimental to animals; such is the case of the silver fox: researchers found domesticated silver foxes are more obedient and less scared, which is mainly the result of frequent human contact.
Both in their natural environment and in urban locations animals are influenced by the seemingly benign contact with people. Domesticated fish have been observed to have fewer reactions to attacks from predators, while birds and squirrels are growing bolder, as they take longer to take off when people approach them.
Encouraging ecotourism can also cause smaller animals to feel safer and thus less vigilant. Humans in wildlife temporarily drive away natural predators, but their prey learns fewer protecting behaviors this way. Researchers found that animals exposed to tourists are more interested in feeding activities than their own protection.
Blumstein hopes more research on humans’ impact on wildlife will spring from this study, providing the world with a new perspective of how different species react to human presence.
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