Tigers, Trinkets, Soup and Sushi. Tourism and the Wildlife Trade.

At London’s prestigious Royal Geographical Society on Thursday the 18th of March the Born Free Foundation is hosting an evening talk and discussion (sponsored by Land Rover) considering the interface between the tourism industry and wild animals, both in their natural habitat and in captivity.

Out here at the CITES meeting in Doha, Qatar, we are immersed in issues that concern the international trade in wildlife – ivory, tuna, sharks, and more.

It got me thinking about the species I am working to protect and tourism in the countries that are home to these wildlife populations. The more I thought about it the more clear it all became.

Ivory is an obvious example. Buy an ivory trinket and an elephant dies. Tigers (heavily poached in the wild) are a top tourist attraction, but too many unregulated tourists run the risk of damaging or even destroying the environment on which wild tigers depend.

Atlantic Bluefin Tuna is on the verge of commercial extinction and restaurant-goers who buy a plate of bluefin tuna are directly contributing to its further decline. The same goes for sharks: eat sharks’ fin soup…. the link is obvious. What about coral? Tons of coral are “mined” from fragile marine environments every year. Reefs are being destroyed and the results are threefold. The reef may simply be damaged beyond any prospect of recovery; the aesthetic beauty of the reef may be lost and no longer prove an attraction for the growing leisure diving travel industry; the spawning ground for dozens of fish species will be lost with negative long-term impacts on the local communities that rely on fishing – not to mention the irreparable loss of biodiversity.

Tourism is one of the world’s greatest industries employing millions of people and generating many billions of dollars for local economies. Tourism can bring significant benefits – cultural, financial, community, employment – to global tourism destinations, but for tourism to be sustained long-term it has to increasingly embrace a responsible agenda.

In fact my hope is that, someday, irresponsible tourism will simply not exist and that the power of the tourist dollar and the commitment of the industry’s leaders will create a sustainable and compassionate industry that benefits people and wildlife.

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