Wildlife Viewing Preferences of Visitors to Protected Areas in South Africa: Implications for the Role of Ecotourism in Conservation
Ecotourism has a potentially vital role to play in conservation by generating economic incentives for nature conservation. However, some authors contend that this potential may be limited by narrow viewing preferences among visitors to protected areas, suggesting that most tourists are primarily interested in seeing charismatic mega-fauna largely confined to government or privately-owned parks. We assessed viewing preferences among tourists at four protected areas in South Africa to test the validity of this contention. Mega-herbivores and large carnivores were the most popular species, particularly among first-time and overseas visitors, but African visitors and experienced wildlife viewers were more interested in bird and plant diversity, scenery, and rarer, less easily-observed and/or less high-profile mammals. Several of these favored species are extinction prone and often absent from wildlife areas due to sensitivity to human encroachment and competition with more abundant species. Hence, ecotourism may provide incentives for the conservation of intact guilds, and management for ecotourism may align more closely with biodiversity conservation objectives than suggested by critics. This potential could be enhanced by diversification of tour operator advertising to feature aspects of biodiversity other than the ‘big five’. Nonetheless, charismatic mega-fauna have a vital flagship role by attracting most overseas and first-time visitors to protected areas.
Journal of Ecotourism