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From the Serengeti to Austin Texas—Watching Wildlife is Bringing in the Bucks

Migratory Species Treaty Underlines Role of Wildlife Tourism for Development Goals at Biological Diversity Meeting

Nairobi, 24 March 2006 - Wildlife watching is fast becoming a multi-million if not multi-billion dollar industry with the potential to fight poverty by pumping vital income into local communities and conservation initiatives.

The findings come from a new report launched today at the meeting of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD) taking place in Curitiba, Brazil.

Robert Hepworth, Executive Secretary of the United Nations Environment Programme’s Convention on Migratory Species of Wild Animals (UNEP/CMS) which commissioned the report, said the study underlined that many wild animals were “worth far more alive than dead”.

“It is clear that sensitive and well managed whale, dolphin, gorilla and bird watching can generate real and long lasting economic returns when compared with the often short term income from catching them for food, processing and trade,” he added.

People whale watching, for example, are spending over a billion US dollars a year on this activity benefiting close to 500 communities globally says the report Wildlife Watching and Tourism.

“Indeed the report goes further, showing that a far wider range of species are attracting tourists and sight seers: from bats and butterflies in the United States up to sting rays in the Cayman Islands," he added.

The report, produced in collaboration with the tourism group TUI, focuses on 12 case studies to highlight the growing economic importance of wildlife watching while flagging some of the pitfalls that may arise through poor or insensitive management.

Visitors can cause changes in animal behaviour and physiology including increased levels of stress hormones in the blood and reduced time spent feeding or resting.

Meanwhile, excessive visitation can damage habitats such as coral reefs or turtle nesting sites.

Some birds can be highly sensitive to noise, flash photography, and brightly coloured clothing. Glow worms reduce intensity of their glow – used to attract other insects – if caught in torchlight beams used to guide tourists on glow-worm watching tours.

A string of concrete recommendations are made on how best to promote environmentally, economically and socially sound wildlife watching, including advice to visitors, drivers and divers.

Zoning schemes, special management areas, fee programmes and visitors schemes are meant to regulate the activity on a broader scale.

Paola Deda, coordinator of CMS’s wildlife watching initiative, said: “The motto ‘Watch—Don’t Touch' might sum up the advice emerging from this research. Tourists need to also respect basic rules. These include: no physical contact with animals, safety distances and no visits if you are ill, up to the removal of litter and the sensible use of flash photography. This should be accompanied by careful planning on the part of the responsible local or national authorities”.

Some Case Studies from the CMS Report


The Praia de Forte Turtle Visitor Center, part of a network of centers under Brazil’s Projecto TArtaruga MARinha (TAMAR) initiative, is receiving half a million visitors a year. In 2003, this one centre generated net revenues of close to $500,000 – equivalent to around 17 per cent of Projecto TAMAR’s annual budget of nearly $3 million.


Crane watching has become a popular past time at Müritz National Park over the last decade or so. The park now generates over Euro 13 million, up from zero in 1990, supporting nearly 630 full-time jobs.

The indirect value of the park and its wildlife are considerably higher with the location and its migrant birds helping to promote tourism in the region during the low season.


An estimated 150,000 people visit the Serengeti annually in order to see its famous wildlife. Based on 2003 figures, the park generates income of $ 5.5 million from tourists.

United States

Congress Avenue Bridge in Austin, Texas, is home to 1.5 million Mexican free-tailed bats which flock in the evening to feed. The spectacle attracts between 200 and 1,500 people daily.

The overall economic value resulting is more than twice the direct expenditure of the visitors of more than $3 million on meals, accommodation and transport.

This does not include the benefits to local farmers and others from the 14,000 kg of insects eaten by the bats each summer night!!

Other revenue raising case studies include:

• Little penguin watching at Phillip Island Nature Park in Australia where admission fees raise over AUS $6 million a year with another AUS $ 2.5 million generated by sales of souvenirs, food and drinks.

• Gorilla watching in Uganda – here some 8,000 visitors a year pay about $350 each for permits.

• Whale shark watching in the Seychelles generates $35,000 in direct income of which $20,500 went to support the Marine Conservation Society’s whale shark monitoring programme. There is $1.75 million in indirect expenditure by visitors.

TUI is also developing support via tourism for the conservation of various species including whales and dolphins in Tenerife and La Gomera, Canary Islands and in Samana Bay in the Dominican Republic.

“International tour operators can contribute to improving performance and supporting conservation” states Dr. Michael Iwand, Executive Director of Corporate Environmental Management at TUI.

“The health of ecosystems and species is very much at the heart of the tourism business, as animals are often one of the main attractions in tourist destinations. This means, however, that it is necessary to understand thoroughly the effects of tourism on wildlife to provide better monitoring, visitor management and controls on wildlife watching,” he added.

Notes to Editors

The full text of the study is available at:


The 8th Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, Curitiba, Brazil, 20 to 31 March www.biodiv.org

For more information please contact Nick Nuttall, Spokesperson, Office of the Executive Director, United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), Nairobi, Kenya.Tel: +254 20 7623084, Mobile in Kenya +254 (0) 733 632755, Mobile when traveling +41 79 596 57 37, Fax +254 2 623692, e-mail nick.nuttall@unep.org

If there is no prompt response, please contact Elisabeth Waechter, UNEP Associate Media Officer, on Tel: +254 20 7623088, Mobile: +254 720 173968, E-mail: elisabeth.waechter@unep.org

Paola Deda, External Relations, Partnerships and Media, CMS Secretariat, Bonn, Germany on Tel: +49.228.815 2462, e-mail: pdeda@cms.int

Wolf Michael Iwand, Executive Director, Group Head Corporate Environmental Management, TUI AG, Tel. +49.511.566 2200, e-mail: iwand@tui.com

UNEP News Release 2006/20




Further Resources

Wildlife Watching and Tourism
full text of the report

Conference of the Parties to the CBD
Third meeting of the Conference of the Parties serving as the meeting of the Parties to the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety Curitiba, Brazil, 13-17 March 2006

Secretariat of the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD)

Convention on Migratory Species (CMS)

TUI corporate website

Projecto TArtaruga MARinha (TAMAR)

Great Apes Survival Project (GRASP)


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