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Teaching Tropical Rainforest Biology

Tropical Rainforest Ecotourism

Ecotourism is sometimes referred to as adventure travel. While the exotic destinations of ecotours inherently assure the traveler an adventure, I believe ecotourism has a more important focus. I like to think of ecotourism’s focal point as education in regards to the natural history (ecology) and culture of the chosen destination.

Not everyone agrees that ecotourism is a good idea. Even a half century ago, the eminent conservationist Aldo Leopold recognized the paradox of wilderness tourism, " the scarcity of wild places … reacting with advertising and promotion, tends to defeat any deliberate effort to prevent their growing still more scarce."

It would be difficult to argue that the experience of tropical rainforest travel is not degraded when the site one visits is crowded with other tourists. Not only is the place "less wild" but seeing wildlife becomes nearly impossible in larger, and inevitably, noisier groups. Practical problems such as waste disposal will occur as a result of ecotourism too.

Ecotourism can easily turn into exploitation as well. For example, the Lonely Planet Guide to Ecuador relates how the Huaorani Indians are inappropriately affected by ecotourism. Inexperienced local guides take tourists into Huaorani homes while they are unoccupied, often treat the Huaorani in a degrading manner, and visitors expose the Huaorani to a host of material goods the natives are unable to possess. In this particular case, most Huaorani, who have a history of isolation protected aggressively, prefer not to see tourists and thus should not have to.

In spite of these negatives, I believe that ecotourism is a useful tool in tropical rainforest conservation. First, as I have stated before, population and economic pressures will force local peoples to utilize the rainforest. If this utilization does not come in the form of hosting visiting ecotourists, the only other alternatives may be logging, farming, or ranching. Certainly, these practices are not conducive to maintaining the forests. Second, recall the observation by Baba Dioum that to conserve a thing we must love it, to love we must understand, and to understand we must be taught. E.O. Wilson has suggested that this is an important component of human behavior in regards to conservation. He states that, "the better an ecosystem is known, the less likely it will be destroyed", thus the importance of ecotourism.

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