The impacts of wildlife tourism on animals

Wildlife tourism has many negative impacts on animals. Breeding and feeding patterns are disturbed. Direct death is also a big problem for wildlife.

impacts of wildlife tourism on animals

Wildlife tourism has many negative impacts on animals.  Breeding and feeding patterns are disturbed.  Direct death is also a big problem for wildlife.

Wildlife tourism:

Wildlife tourism is big business around the world.  The tourism industry itself has a turnover of over 6% of the global GNP.

Many people go on wildlife holidays because of the urbanisation of society.  More people live in large towns and cities.  It is rare that they ever come into contact with ‘wild’-life.  Naturally they want to experience nature and view this wildlife.

Wildlife holidays are considered to be eco friendly.  This is because there is a focus on these trips to help conservation projects.  They provide a large source of income for these projects and help protect animal habitats.

But there is a big potential for any wildlife holiday to seriously impact the lives of the animals being viewed, in a negative way.

Disturbed breeding patterns

There are a number of ways that wildlife tourism disturbs the breeding patterns of animals.

Nest desertion:

Nest desertion is a big problem caused by wildlife tourism.  Many birds will abandon their nests or their young because of close human contact when they are breeding.  This is very damaging for the species populations in wildlife tourism areas.  The eggs and young will die from hunger or by predators.  Unnatural population decreases in animals affect the whole ecosystem not just the individual species.

An important question to ask then, is how close is too close?  And should tourists even visit known nesting sites of animals and birds? Penguin numbers in New Zealand and the Antarctic do decrease in areas where wildlife tourists regularly observe them.

Egg trampling:

A negative impact of wildlife tourism that most people are unaware of is the problem of egg trampling.  Tourism brings roads and tracks and paths that may be located alongside nesting sites, which vehicles or humans can easily damage.


Disturbed feeding patterns

Wildlife tourism can disturb feeding patterns for animals.  Perhaps the most obvious way this can be seen is through hand feeding.

Hand feeding:

People argue for and against the use of hand feeding.  However, more studies are showing that hand feeding can increase stress levels and aggression in animals.

There are a number of instances around the world where animals are becoming aggressive towards humans.  These animals have become acclimatised to human interaction and have lost their fear of us.  This can be seen in Australia where dingoes, cassowaries and male kangaroos have to be removed from certain areas for the safety of humans.

In South Africa problems with baboons has led to conflict with humans.  Baboons have been killed because they are overly aggressive to humans.


The problems of spotlighting, especially in Australia is only now just becoming known.  Until recently it was not seen as a harmful activity for animals.  But the use of spotlights can change the feeding patterns of nocturnal mammals.

They get stressed by the lights and choose to forage away from their preferred areas.  New research may also show that these lights temporarily blind flying and gliding animals.

Parental-off spring bonds:

Wildlife tourism can and does cause disruption to parental-offspring bonds.

Animal curiosity:

Research has shown that in the Canadian Gulf of St Lawrence, the time spent between harp seal mothers and their young decreases with human contact.  The mothers spent less time nurturing their pups and watching wildlife tourists.


Whales in particular can become confused by human interaction.  Whale calves maintain constant body contact with their mothers.  However, if they are separated, whale calves can become confused and attach themselves to the side of tourist boats.  Without a strong parental bond, these young animals are vulnerable to predators.

Direct death by wildlife tourism:

Wildlife tourism can cause the direct deaths of animals.  Most of the time this is because of vehicle accidents.


Car parks:

Road kills often happen around car parks.  As more car parks are built to sustain tourist numbers, there is a higher chance of a road accident with an animal.  This happens in Cape Town (South Africa) where cars strike baboons as they scavenge for food.

Remember, these animals have become desensitised to human interaction, and in the case of baboons, they will often climb through car windows, or open car doors to get at food.

It is not only in car parks where vehicle accidents can happen.  Tourists on a safari can hit animals.  Boats can strike manatees and other marine life.

Positive impacts of wildlife tourism:

We have seen how wildlife tourism can have some harmful negative impacts on wildlife.  But there are many benefits that increased human interaction can bring to wildlife.  Whether these benefits outweigh the impacts is hard to measure.

It is hard because there are so many factors involved.  The positive impacts for one species may be a negative impact for another.  Also negative impacts will be different in each place because of human numbers, types of species viewed, foraging sites, tour locations etc.

Conservation breeding:

Wildlife tourism supports the conservation of rare and endangered species.  These will bring high number of human traffic to a zoo or safari park, resulting in more financial support.  The rare animals are released into suitable habitats when it is possible.

Financial support:

Tourism is the largest industry in the world.  Tourism can bring financial support to any number of conservation efforts.


Wildlife tourism offers a great opportunity to educate tourists on wildlife and ecosystems.

Research and monitoring:

The financial support from wildlife tourism helps organisations to monitor wildlife numbers.  It also helps conduct research for conservation purposes.


Poaching, especially in Africa is a huge problem.  Increased wildlife tourism makes it more difficult for poachers.  The money from tourism can go to fund more anti-poachers and park rangers to protect animals.

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