If you have had a sense of keen touch with nature and had felt the rhythm and the effervescence of the ecological aesthetics, then you could well appreciate why ecotourism and wildlife reserves are fast becoming a big business in the world economy. From South America to Europe and from Australia to Asia and down to Africa, tourists have traversed the world to observe nature and have a feel of its naturality.
Tourism, in its broadest sense, has been one of the worlds fastest-growing industries in the past several decades. The industry started waxing in the mid-twentieth century and has continued to grow with no signs of halting or waning any time soon. In 1950, there were 25 million international tourists. Twenty years later, that number increased to 183 million, and then more than doubled within eighteen years, representing 25 percent of international trade in services. In 2017, there were a teeming 1.3 billion international tourists, generating 1.6 trillion dollars. The World Tourism Organization projects that the number of international arrivals will reach 1.8 billion by 2030.
Eco-tourism which is a specialized form of tourism with concentration on aspects of nature like vegetation, biotic components, wildlife and/or the overall ecosystem, and sometimes cultural history of pristine environments is one of the fastest growing aspect of tourism, especially in developing countries where the resources are in abundance. Tourists from the wealthy countries have increasingly sought unspoiled and pristine destinations, many of which are located in the developing world. Africa in particular has a great touristic attraction because of its highest holding of mammals and primates. Fifty percent of international visitors to Kenya want to view wild animals. According to Eltringham (1984), the main reason tourists visit Africa is to view games.
The destructive nature of mass tourism and the disturbing noise of urban life have made people to embrace ecotourism in rural settlements as a form of solace. As mass-production demands an increasing use of land and natural resources, growing numbers of affluent travelers wish to trek in tropical rainforests and take pictures of roaming wildlife. People prefer travelling to these pristine areas to learn new things, have new experiences while viewing different species of animals in their habitat including rare, endangered, endemic and abundant unique land forms; water falls of different heights and velocity of flow; lakes of different colours and sizes; springs of different temperatures; birds of different calls and plumage colours (Ijeoma & Ervang 2018).
The opportunities that are embedded in ecotourism and national reserve are quite numerous, ranging from promotion of economic growth to sociocultural awareness as well as biodiversity and therapy. The commercialization of tourism and payments by tourists have brought about huge investments in ecotourism as several stakeholders are eager to derive economic and financial benefits from the business. Ecotourism has thus become very popular and a catalyst for poverty alleviation and national development subject to how it is managed. As countries with tourism potentials attract significant number of tourists and benefits, those without unique attractive potentials have been challenged to start creating artificial attractions such as observing animals in zoos and snorkeling at national parks. In Patagonia, Argentina, marine life watching is a practice with much prominence, and people are mostly fascinated by the brilliance of the dolphins and other aquatic animals in the parks. In Australia, seal viewing is a multimillion dollars industry. And the Old Oyo National Park in Nigeria house many antelopes, like good herds of kobs, Aardvark and varieties of monkeys and baboons coupled with the ruins or relics of old Oyo empire which is an ecotourism delight for tourists.
More so, as people go on recreational tours, the effect of their travels facilitate infrastructural development, physical development, employment opportunities and addition of values to local materials. Tourists also acquire knowledge of the environment and appreciate the cultures and values of the natives. The African civet, a specie of electric fish, which is found in Akwa Ibom State, and Cross River in Nigeria uses community latrines and draw the interest of many tourists. The Lapwings that migrate from Europe to Akwa Ibom and many states in Nigeria do two weeks rehearsals before travelling back to Europe and spectre of these rehearsals triggers much interest in tourists. In Agulu, Anambra State, the chief priest Ezemmuo uses a chicken to call out about ten crocodiles from a river to satisfy the curiosities of tourists that the community is endowed with the species. Various species of Python are found in south eastern Nigeria and the Niger Delta area. Python is considered sacred in many parts of Bayelsa state and therefore can easily be observed by tourists, Ijeoma and Ervang wrote.
Research has also shown a nexus between ecotourism and the health of individual tourists. It’s been proven that interaction with nature especially plants and animals exert healing effects on tourists. According to Ijeoma and Ervang, Sights of vegetation alone can increase efficiency in recovering of sick persons.
Though still gaining momentum, ecotourism has its challenges, principal among which are poaching, mismanagement, abuse and destruction of centers as well as excessive disturbance of animals by tourists. In developing countries, especially in Africa, these problems are compounded by lacklustre government policies and poor knowledge of the significance of ecotourism. However, some states have taken good initiatives to manage these challenges and maximize the benefits of ecotourism. For instance, in Vietnam, owners of Whale Island Resort established a no-fishing reserve to forestall a decline in local fish and coral populations likely caused by overfishing and destructive fishing techniques like blasting and spraying cyanide in the water. As a result of this ingenuity, the biodiversity of the area increased. More so, following the massive destruction caused by the second world war, Germany cities of Hamburg and Dresden had their urban forests destroyed and their long tradition of keeping public green space was utterly decimated. But with serious commitment on reforestation and rebuilding of gardens, parks and recreation centers after the war, there was rapid recovery and improvements of the botanical and ecological aesthetics of the cities which attract tourists. However, according to Stilgenbauer and McBride (2010), this recovery and improvements is not solely due to policies and ideology but also due to the people’s unreserved love for their trees.
Ecotourism and wildlife reserves have huge potentials in global economy, especially in revenue generation and values exchange. By 2030 when the numbers of international tourist will have reached 1.8 billion as World Tourism Organization had projected, the revenue capacity of tourism industry will have crossed over 2 trillion dollars with ecotourism having a significant share.
Ervin Blakemore. August 13, 2019. Regrowing Germany’s Trees After WWII. https://daily.jstor.org/regrowing-germany’s-trees-after-wwii
Ijeoma H. M. and Ervang E. A. 2018. Ecotourism and National Development in Nigeria: Prospects and Challenges. Proceedings of 6th NBCB Biodiversity Conference: University of Uyo 2018 (1-122pp.)
Lina Zeldovich. August 10, 2019. Can Eco-Tourism Save Coral Reefs? https://daily.jstore.org/can-eco-tourism-save-coral-reefs/?