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Saturday, March 06, 2004

Ecotourism Hurts Wildlife

Penguins in Antarctica. Dolphins in Scotland. Dingoes in Australia. They all face the same danger: Ecotourism. Ecotourism has been touted as the progressive answer to conserving land in less developed countries and regions -- allowing tourists from wealthy developed nations to come spend money in the name of visiting rain forests, safaris, and endangered species. The idea being that countries can preserve their natural heritage while making money -- in many cases, more money -- by bringing in vacationers. But ecotourists often create new problems and bring others with them, thus ecological and animal advocates need to think twice before signing on to promoting such an agenda uncritically.

Via: Independent UK

The silence is nerve-tingling. The lioness is poised to spring on her prey, in the dusty African savannah. Then comes the attack: a struggle, a bite, and the antelope is downed, and dying.

And that is followed by a new sound: walkie-talkies crackling to life with urgent messages, the gunning of Land Rover engines as another score of tourists are driven to the site of the kill to gawp at one of the world's fastest-dwindling species living out its life. To the bewildered lioness, the clicking of camera shutters and the sight of rhinoceros-sized metal beasts is just something she has to deal with - even, or especially, when she is eating. And these days, many companies will be happy to label such a trip "ecotourism".

"That's the worst kind of ecotourism," said Dr Nigel Dunstone, lecturer in zoology at the University of Durham, who has been investigating the effects of ecotourism on animal species since 1985. "But the real problem is that it has become too big a category. You can even find some white-water rafting holidays being called 'ecotourism'. It can cover everything from holidays where everything you do is sustainable, including the way you get to the destination and what you do there, right through to places that just concrete over a huge area for a landing strip and put up a great big concrete hotel."

There are two other things about ecotourism: it is big - no, huge - business, involving as many as 20 per cent of tourists; and in some cases it is harming the very species that it is meant to be helping. Like the "green" supermarket products launched in the environmental fever of the 1980s, its meaning has dissipated amid the eagerness by entrepreneurs in western and developing countries to take advantage of the huge profits on offer.

There is plenty of argument about who the first ecotourist was. One plausible suggestion is that the title should be bestowed on Henry Thoreau, who used to go to the American state of Maine in the 1840s and ponder on its vast wilderness while exploring it in detail, often guided by native trackers. He would trek, hike, camp, climb mountains, fish, canoe and study plants - studies recorded in his book The Maine Woods. Apart from the book-writing bit, it is the sort of itinerary that would not sound out of place in a modern travel agent's brochure attached to somewhere verdant.

But through the turn of the 20th century and on to the Second World War, animals and environments tended to be treated as infinite resources; and the absence of the jet plane meant that few people had access to far-flung places with rare species. The tourism that went on was not environmentally friendly, but it was, thankfully, limited. That has changed with the coming of cheap air travel, allied to the advent of television with big-name botanists who have opened our eyes to the wildlife to be found in distant parts, which means that most western people over the age of five know about exotic species and that you can go and see them, somehow.

That would be all right - but scientists have discovered that, above a certain local level, ecotourism and animals simply do not mix. A report in New Scientist magazine today cites a number of cases, and increasing expert unease, about the way that "nature tourism" is harming the very species it is meant to help.

Wildlife can become infected with human disease: mud and dirt from clothing and vehicles, and the outflow of sewage carry pathogens that can infect native species. Gorillas in East Africa have picked up intestinal parasites following the arrival of tourism. Mongooses and meerkats in Botswana acquired human tuberculosis - which killed an entire group of meerkats in the Kalahari desert. In Antarctica, an especially pristine wilderness, the risk of diseases being passed to wildlife that has been isolated from the germs of the world is a particular concern. And it may already have happened: there have been deaths of thousands of animals including Adélie penguin chicks, sea lions and crabeater seals, but no cause has been isolated. "We need to be vigilant, to limit the possibility of human activity introducing disease into Antarctica's wildlife," Knowles Kerry, of the Australian Antarctic division, told the magazine.

And even if they are not passing on their illnesses, ecotourists can upset animals simply by being there. Rochelle Constantine of the University of Auckland in New Zealand, who has led a team monitoring the behaviour of bottlenose dolphins since 1996, reports in a paper to be published in the journal Biological Conservation that the dolphins become "increasingly frenetic" where tourists' boats are present: when three or more boats are close by, the animals rest for as little as 0.5 per cent of the time, compared with 68 per cent of the time when there is just a single research boat.

That is unusual behaviour which is "potentially serious for the population", according to Gordon Hastie, an expert in marine mammals from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver. His team's observations of dolphins in the Moray Firth in Scotland found that they spent more time surfacing together when there were boats around than otherwise: that could lead to them needing to rest more at night, and hence cut the time they have to forage for food and to socialise.

As New Scientist notes, the list goes on: polar bears waiting for the ice to freeze at the Hudson Bay in Canada, so they can start hunting seals, are much more alert when there are vehicles around - as has been the case since the early 1980s, when ecotourist visits first started in the region. That extra alertness burns up energy that the animal might need later. In Australia, nearly 350,000 tourists visit Fraser Island off the Queensland coast every year, often hoping to see its native dog-like dingoes. Then in April 2001, two dingoes attacked and killed a nine-year-old boy; the authorities culled 31 of the animals to prevent more attacks.

In fact, Dr Constantine argues that the effects of such ecotourism on animals' breeding could take years to appear, by which it might be too late to reverse. Her PhD study - into the effect of "swim with dolphins" boat trips on the dolphins themselves - suggested that less than 20 per cent of dolphins want to take part; and that it can actually be detrimental to a mother and calf to have a human leap into the water with them.

But the reality is that ecotourism is not going away. Conservation International, a organisation based in Washington DC, estimates that "nature tourism" - of which ecotourism is a subcategory - is growing at between 10 and 30 per cent annually, compared with just 4 to 5 per cent for tourism; and it is reckoned to account for one in every five tourists worldwide. The UN declared 2002 the "International Year of Ecotourism". But it could have done that every year this century and not have been wrong.

But can the destinations bear it? According to Dr Dunstone, only if there are fewer than 30 people in a location. Above that, it is impossible to do it sustainably. "If you have anything bigger, up to 50 or 100 people, then you are always going to have an adverse effect." His own studies in the 1980s, and investigations into the impact of ecotourism on the distribution and behaviour of mammals in the Manu National Park, Peru, found (by radio tagging of the animals the tourists wanted to view) that above that 30-person ceiling the human trails become too wide, the need for clean water and fresh food and sewage disposal too great, and the animals too disturbed by the intrusion for anyone to benefit.

Dr Chris Southgate, who teaches the ecotourism course at the University of Central Lancashire and has worked with projects in Kenya, thinks that what is really needed is a kitemark - rather like the "Fairtrade" symbol - that will tell western consumers who might be paying between £200 and £300 per night that the visit they are going to make will not leave harm behind.

"Ecotourism should actually distance tourists from wildlife so that there isn't this impact on feeding, behaviour, migration and so on," said Dr Southgate. "The problem is that the label is used too broadly - just as all 'ecological' labels have been, not only in tourism. We need tourists to know what is genuine ecotourism, and what's exploitative."

Yet Dr Dunstone thinks that ecotourism, done correctly, is a wonderful idea. "At the very least it means people are putting money into the local economy, coming to view animals rather than hunt, shoot and eat them," said Dr Dunstone. "I'm absolutely for it, so long as it's done under controlled circumstances. Surprisingly, it works best when it's high-end: Belize at one stage banned backpackers, because it wanted the tourists who would pay top dollar. I think it was rather clever - it meant a lot of income for the local people."

The advantage to local communities cannot be underestimated. "The phrase 'poacher turned gamekeeper' is really true; the best guides are the ones who used to be poachers and now are showing people where to go to view the animals," Dr Dunstone said.

There is another way to do as much ecotourism as you want, and in the process add to the sum of knowledge about those animals. It's called scientific research. "Yes, it's true - and in effect you get paid to do it," said Dr Dunstone. "But don't tell anyone. We don't want them all to find out."

Posted by Richard
3/06/2004 05:38:03 PM | PermaLink

Thursday, March 04, 2004

More Mad Cow

Dave Louthan wrote in this email today...I do think that it is interesting that in the wake of the Mad Cow scandal and initial 15 minutes of attention given to this guy's story, everything has gone mostly silent in mediasville. We know that the US is attempting to make major international deals to get US beef back in foreign markets, but the underlying story remains yesterday's news.

Hi Dave Louthan here,

I'm the guy who shot the mad cow. I am also the guy who has been beating the hell out of the USDA. Well Mexico has caved in to Ann Veneman. A few days ago she said Mexico's reluctance to open their borders was frustrating her. Well, apparently she dragged out the Federal checkbook and now that border is open. Our friends south of the border are going to be able to enjoy some good American contaminated beef.

She's telling the world she has done all these wonderful scientific things to stop the spread of BSE when in fact she has not done a damn thing except suspend all BSE testing. When Creekstone Farms said they wanted to test 100% of their beef the USDA told them they would be violating Federal law and stopped them.                                                               

The FDA is trumpeting how they finally got around to protecting the feed supply. Hello people, the cows we are eating right now have been eating the contaminated feed since birth. They are toxic as hell, their calves are toxic and their calves will be toxic. BSE doesn't care about regulations, it's already in the animals. When you sit down to dinner tonight, you are going to be eating Prions. They are going to kill you and your children.

Spit that meat out of your mouth it's bad. THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT HAS BEEN LYING TO YOU SINCE THE VERY MINUTE THE MAD COW WAS DISCOVERED. They claimed it was a downer. They forced Rodney Thompson, the USDA vet on duty that day, to change the paper work on that cow from being a walker to being a downer. And now they are going to prosecute him for it.

Then they banned the slaughter of downers for consumption. What they really did was stop all BSE testing. We were only supposed to be testing downers. If there are no more downers then that means no more testing, Get it. That cow was a walker and got tested only by accident. All of you must realize that by now. IT WAS A FLUKE.

You people in the media need to go to Washington D.C. and ask Ann Veneman how many cattle intended for human consumption she has tested since Dec. 26. The answer is 0. None. It's a damn white wash and you people are buying it hook, line, and sinker. If somebody doesn't help me to stop the Government from spreading mad cow disease it's just going to get worse and worse.

The hospitals are going to fill up with the dead and dying victims of a government controlled by Billionaire beef producers who don't give a damn about you or your kids. Each and every one of you have got to help me anyway you can think of.

If you're a reporter you have got to ask the hard questions again and again until they are forced to tell the truth. If you work for the Government you need to reach down inside yourself bring up some courage and confront the people you work for and call the media and tell them the truth. If you are a meat consumer you have got to stop buying that contaminated beef.

Throw the meat you have in your refrigerator away. It's loaded with Prions. CALL YOUR CONGRESSMAN AND TELL HIM TO FIX THE MEAT PROBLEM TODAY; Not tomorrow, not next year. TODAY. Right now. THE GOVERNMENT IS TRYING TO KILL YOU IN THE NAME OF PROFIT. You have got to stand tall now. Have courage. Speak loud and long. Make the food you feed your children safe.

Posted by Richard
3/04/2004 08:12:25 PM | PermaLink

Wednesday, March 03, 2004

What’s Really in Pet Food? A Report by the Animal Protection Institute

This is an edited version of the Animal Protection Institute’s eye-opening investigative report, “What’s Really In Pet Food,” and FAQ sheet, “Selecting a Commercial Pet Food.” To read the report in full, print FAQ sheets, or learn more about API, visit

Via: Satya

Plump whole chickens, choice cuts of beef, fresh grains, and all the wholesome nutrition your dog or cat will ever need.

These are the images pet food manufacturers promulgate through the media and advertising. This is what the $12.5 billion per year U.S. (roughly $30 billion worldwide) pet food industry wants consumers to believe they are buying when they purchase their products.

While manufacturers may appear to have the best interests of your companion animals at heart, they are generally more concerned about their stock prices and bottom lines. This may be especially true of pet food manufacturers owned by large, diversified, multinational parent companies. What this means for you is that if an inexpensive ingredient is available to replace a costlier one, many companies will make the substitution to save money. A few companies pride themselves on their “fixed formulas,” meaning that they always use the same ingredients. This may be good... if the ingredients are of acceptable quality to begin with.

What most consumers don’t know is that the pet food industry is an extension of the human food and agriculture industries. Pet food provides a market for slaughterhouse offal, grains considered “unfit for human consumption,” and similar waste products to be turned into profit. This waste includes intestines, udders, esophagi, and possibly diseased and cancerous animal parts.

The majority of pet food companies in the U.S. are subsidiaries of major multinational companies with one, Nestlé, controlling about a third of the U.S. industry and a fifth of the global market. (Alpo, Fancy Feast, Friskies, Mighty Dog, and Ralston Purina products such as Dog Chow, ProPlan, and Purina One), Del Monte (9 Lives, Amore, Gravy Train, Kibbles-n-Bits, Nature’s Recipe), Colgate-Palmolive (Hill’s Science Diet Pet Food). Other leading companies include Procter & Gamble (Eukanuba and Iams), Mars (Kal Kan, Mealtime, Pedigree, Sheba, Waltham’s), and Nutro (Natural Choice and Max Cat/Dog Food).

From a business standpoint, this is an ideal relationship. The multinationals have increased bulk-purchasing power; those that make human food products have a captive market in which to capitalize on their waste products, and pet food divisions have a more reliable capital base and, in many cases, a convenient source of ingredients.

There are hundreds of different pet foods available in this country. And while many of the foods on the market are similar, not all companies use poor quality or potentially dangerous ingredients....

Posted by Richard
3/03/2004 10:15:40 PM | PermaLink

Monday, March 01, 2004

UVA Med Students Will No Longer Use Dogs

We are already beginning to see, and will continue to witness, the major research universities de-emphasizing animal vivisection in favor of technological and other alternatives. Each shift in policy helps usher in the much needed new paradigm....

NY Times

The University of Virginia says it will no longer use dogs to teach lifesaving procedures to medical students -- a practice criticized by animal rights activists, local residents and some students.

The university, which made the announcement Thursday, had used canines in medical school training for at least 20 years. Officials said about 100 healthy dogs per year were put to death after being cut open in class.

Third-year medical students used the dogs to learn how to insert chest tubes, open an airway by cutting into the windpipe, insert IV needles into veins and remove the spleen.

Dr. Arthur Garson, dean of the medical school, said three of the four procedures could easily be taught on computerized mannequins.

However, university officials said they would not rule out the use of other animals to train students. A decision on that issue is expected by the end of June.

The change came after local residents got word of the practice and animal welfare groups raised an outcry. The issue also created a rift among medical students.

"We think it's great to know that animal suffering and euthanasia will no longer be a part of medical education at U.Va.,'' said Peter Wood, a research associate with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

Posted by Richard
3/01/2004 09:05:11 PM | PermaLink

Sunday, February 29, 2004

The Precautionary Principle Project

The Department of Environmental Studies at the University of Redlands announces the launching of the Precautionary Principle Project, The purpose of the Project is to provide researchers with relevant resources for assessing the contours of the Principle, including most importantly, means of operationalizing the principle at the local, national and international level. Resources on the site, which will be updated and supplemented on a regular basis, include the following:

1.      The text of more than 400 local, state, national, and international ordinances, laws, treaties and soft law instruments that incorporate the precautionary principle;
2.      A bibliography of gray and peer-reviewed literature that currently contains more than 450 citations (hundreds more will follow soon);
3.      Links to online reports
4.      A discussion list devoted to the PP (low volume and strictly moderated);
5.      Announcements of upcoming pertinent meetings and conferences

Posted by Richard
2/29/2004 07:42:45 PM | PermaLink