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Ecotourism, What is it?

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What Ecotourism is and why it's important

People travel; always have, always will. Germans have wanderlust, college students at spring break have sun lust, retired people have recreational vehicles (RVs),Australians go walkabout, Japanese go everywhere. In the distant past, people travelled for the most fundamental reason - to find food. During 99% of human history, people were nomads or hunter-gatherers, moving almost constantly in search of sufficient nutrition.

Then someone made the startling connection between some discarded seeds in the past and the sprouting seedlings of the present; she reported the discovery to her clan, and things have not been the same since. With the development of agriculture, travel, always an inherently risky undertaking, was less needed. Farming peoples could remain close to their familiar villages, tend crops, and supplement their diet with local hunting. In fact, we might imagine that long-distance travel and any venturing into completely unfamiliar territory would have ceased. But it didn't.

People still travelled to avoid seasonally harsh conditions, to emigrate to new regions in search of more or better farming or hunting lands, to explore, and even, with the advent of leisure time, just for the heck of it (travel for leisure's sake is the definition of tourism). For most people, still, there's something irreplaceably satisfying about journeying to a new place: the sense of being in completely novel situations and surroundings, seeing things never before encountered, engaging in new and different activities. During the final quarter of the 20th century arose a new reason to travel, perhaps the first wholly new reason in hundreds of years: with a certain urgency, to see natural habitats and their harboured wildlife before they forever vanish from the surface of the Earth.

Eco-tourism or eco-travellers travel to (usually exotic) destinations specifically to admire and enjoy wildlife and undeveloped, relatively undisturbed natural areas, as well as indigenous cultures. The development and increasing popularity of ecotourism is a clear outgrowth of escalating concern for conservation of the world's natural resources and biodiversity (the different types of animals, plants, and other life forms found within a region). Owing mainly to peoples' actions, animal species and wild habitats are disappearing or deteriorating at an alarming rate.

Because of the increasing emphasis on the importance of the natural environment by schools at all levels and the media's continuing exposure of environmental issues, people have enhanced appreciation of the natural world and increased awareness of environmental problems globally. They also have the very human desire to want to see undisturbed habitats and wild animals before they are gone, and those with the time and resources increasingly are doing so. But that is not the entire story. The purpose of eco-travel is actually twofold. Yes, people want to undertake exciting, challenging, educational trips to exotic locales - wet tropical forests, wind-blown deserts, high mountain passes, mid ocean coral reefs - to enjoy the scenery, the animals, the nearby local cultures.

But the second major goal of ecotourism is often as important. The travellers want to help conserve the very places - their habitats and wildlife - that they visit. That is, through a portion of their tour cost and spending into the local economy of destination countries - paying for park admissions, engaging local guides, staying at local hotels, eating at local restaurants, using local transportation services, etc. - eco-tourists help to preserve natural areas.

Ecotourism helps because local people benefit economically as much or more by preserving habitats and wildlife for continuing use by eco-travellers than they could by "harvesting" the habitats for short-term gain. Put another way, local people can sustain themselves better economically by participating in ecotourism than by, for instance, cutting down rainforests for lumber or hunting animals for meat or the pet trade. Preservation of some of the Earth's remaining wild areas is important for a number of reasons.

Aside from moral arguments - the acknowledgment that we share the world with millions of other species and have some obligation not to be the continuing agent of their decline and extinction - increasingly we understand that conservation is in our own best interests. The example most often cited is that botanists and pharmaceutical researchers each year discover another wonder drug or two whose base chemicals come from plants that live, for instance, only in tropical rainforest. Fully one-fourth of all drugs sold in the USA come from natural sources - plants and animals.

About 50 important drugs now manufactured come from flowering plants found in rainforests, and, based on the number of plants that have yet to be catalogued and screened for their drug potential, it is estimated that at least 300 more major drugs remain to be discovered. The implication is that if the globe's rainforests are soon destroyed, we will never discover these future wonder drugs, and so will never enjoy their benefits. Also, the developing concept of biophilia, if true, dictates that, for our own mental health, we need to preserve some of the wildness that remains in the world. Biophilia, the word coined by Harvard biologist E. O. Wilson, suggests that because people evolved amid rich and constant interactions with other species and in natural habitats, we have deeply ingrained, innate tendencies to affiliate with other species and actual physical need to experience, at some level, natural habitats.

This instinctive, emotional attachment to wildness means that if we eliminate species and habitats, we will harm ourselves because we will lose things essential to our mental well-being. If ecotourism contributes in a significant way to conservation, then it is an especially fitting reprieve for rainforests and other natural habitats, because it is the very characteristic of the habitats that conservationists want to save, wildness, that provides the incentive for travellers to visit and for local people to preserve.

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.


Picture 1, Conservation in Costa Rica, Costa RicaPicture 2, Conservation in Costa Rica, Costa Rica
Picture 3, Conservation in Costa Rica, Costa RicaPicture 4, Conservation in Costa Rica Costa Rica