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The History of Ecotourism

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The world's largest industry

Tourism is arguably now the world's largest industry, and ecotourism among its fastest growing segments. But mass ecotourism is a relatively new phenomenon, the name itself being coined only recently, during the 1980s. In fact, as recently as the 1970s, tourism and the preservation of natural habitats were viewed largely as incompatible pursuits. One of the first and best examples of ecotourism lies in Africa. Some adventurers, of course, have always travelled to wild areas of the Earth, but the contemporary history of popular ecotourism probably traces to the East African nation of Kenya.

Ecotourism, by one name or another, has traditionally been a mainstay industry in Kenya, land of African savannah and of charismatic, flagship, mammals such as elephants, leopards, and lions - species upon which to base an entire ecotourism industry. During most of the European colonial period in East Africa, wildlife was plentiful. However, by the end of colonial rule, in the middle part of the 20th century, continued hunting pressures had severely reduced animal populations.

Wildlife was killed with abandon for sport, for trade (elephant ivory, rhinoceros horn, etc.), and simply to clear land to pave way for agriculture and development. By the 1970s it was widely believed in newly independent Kenya that if hunting and poaching were not halted, many species of large mammals would soon be eliminated. The country outlawed hunting and trade in wildlife products, and many people engaged in such pursuits turned, instead, to ecotourism. Today, more than a half million people per year travel to Kenya to view its tremendous wildlife and spectacular scenery.

Local people and businesses profit more by charging eco-tourists to see live elephants and rhinoceroses in natural settings than they could by killing the animals for the ivory and horns they provide. Estimates were made in the 1970s that, based on the number of tourist arrivals each year in Kenya and the average amount of money they spent, each lion in one of Kenya's national parks was worth $27,000 annually (much more than the amount it would be worth to a poacher who killed it for its skin or organs), and each elephant herd was worth a stunning $610,000 (in today's dollars, they would be worth much more).

Also, whereas some of Kenya's other industries, such as coffee production, vary considerably from year to year in their profitability, ecotourism has been a steady and growing source of revenue (and should continue to be so, as long as political stability is maintained). Thus, the local people have strong economic incentive to preserve and protect their natural resources.

Current popular eco-tourist destinations include Kenya, Tanzania, and South Africa in Africa; Nepal, Thailand, and China in Asia; Australia; and, in the Western Hemisphere, Mexico, Puerto Rico, Belize, Guatemala, Ecuador, and the Amazon Basin. Costa Rica, with more than half a million tourist arrivals annually and about 300,000 visits of foreigners to their national parks, is among the best and the most popular ecotourism destinations in the world.

If you want to read about Eco-Tourism, Ecology, Behavior, Breeding and more of Costa Ricas' Fauna, we recommend to buy the Travelers' Wildlife Guide of Costa Rica by Les Beletzky (or Belesky) with beautiful illustrations by Davis Dennis. This priceless guide is our constant companion, when we travel around Costa Rica, Panama and Nicaragua.
To buy the complete book visit Interlink Books

The team of Discovery Travel World wishes you the best of times in our little paradise called Costa Rica.


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