Close Encounters with Wild Animals: Evaluating a New Form of Wildlife Tourism
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Over the last few decades, many tourists have become increasingly interested in close interaction with wild animals: referred to as human-wild animal interaction (HWAI) within this paper. The array of HWAI activities includes: very close approach, feeding, touching, and swimming in the company of wild animals. The focus of my Master’s Project is on HWAI tourism involving dolphins and manatees in the United States. As “swim with” tourism grows in popularity, a thorough examination of HWAI tourism is necessary to assess the potential negative impacts of such activities on the target species. This paper is an examination of why interaction with wild dolphins and manatees has become so popular, what effects the interactions could have on the target species, and what policy alternatives could best protect the species. A variety of factors can motivate people to seek out and value interaction with wild animals, including certain physical and behavioral characteristics, entertainment and film, and species status. Legislation protects dolphins and manatees against harassment, but few studies have examined the direct effects of HWAI on the target species. It is likely that HWAI results in various sub-lethal effects, such as modifications to activity and energy budgets, but we have little direct information regarding the consequences of such behavioral changes. This makes management of the HWAI tourism industry difficult, because enforcing agencies must first demonstrate how a particular action harms a species in order to prosecute. I recommend a suite of policy alternatives that could help to protect target species based on existing knowledge, including increased educational efforts and changes to the current permitting process and regulatory regime. I conclude by identifying areas where more monitoring and research are necessary.
DepartmentNicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences
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