By Greg Dickinson, The Telegraph
Wildlife tourism contributes five times more to global GDP than the illegal wildlife trade, according to a study released today.
In 2018, wildlife tourism accounted for $120.1bn of Global GDP, compared to $23bn attributed to the illegal wildlife trade.
The World Travel & Tourism Council (WTTC) study, launched to coincide with World Elephant Day, found that viewing and experiencing animals in their natural habitat comprised 4.4 per cent of all direct tourism GDP last year. Wildlife tourism also directly created over 9 million jobs across the world and indirectly supported 21.8 million jobs.
Gloria Guevara, President and CEO of WTTC said: “Our message to tourism businesses, employees and visitors across the globe is that wildlife is worth far more alive than dead.
“Wildlife tourism is a rich segment of the industry, showing how our precious species can legitimately enrich tourism businesses without being harmed.
“In fact, the wildlife tourism market is so strong – worth five times more than the illegal trade – that it provides a strong incentive for communities to protect and display animals to the world rather than killing them for a one-off cash bonus.”
Asia-Pacific is the biggest regional market for wildlife tourism, contributing $53.3bn in direct GDP and responsible for 4.9 million jobs. Africa has the second-largest wildlife tourism industry; 3.6m people are employed through wildlife tourism, which contributed $29.3bn to global GDP last year.
The report shows a positive trend, although the illegal wildlife trade continues to prop up a significant black market. Millions of individual animals and thousands of species worldwide are still being killed or captured from their natural habitats and sold as exotic pets, for medicine, food, jewellery or decorations. The scales of pangolins, for example, are ground up and used for their purported healing powers.
In some instances, poaching is the primary reason why an animal is at risk of extinction. More than 100,000 elephants were killed between 2014 and 2017 for ivory, and more than a thousand rhinos are slaughtered each year for their horns.
There’s a human cost to the illegal wildlife trade, too. In the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s Virunga National Park, more than 170 rangers have been killed during the last two decades.
The campaign to replace poaching with wildlife tourism has been going for some time. Writing for the Telegraph in 2012, Ian Craig of the Northern Rangelands Trust said: “Tourism plays a huge role in persuading local people that there is a future in community-led conservation; there is now a series of lodges available to holidaymakers, run by local people, for local people, that are the equal of anything national parks can offer.
“These communities now realise that when an elephant is killed, they are losing an asset. It is becoming, in effect, a neighbourhood-watch scheme: local communities are on the lookout and will challenge their brothers.
“If welfare, education and employment are being jeopardised by the killing of an animal, they won’t let it happen.”
In 2015, the wildlife conservation charity Tusk launched the Tusk Wildlife Ranger Award to celebrate the individuals fighting against poaching and the illegal wildlife trade.