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I’ve been studying for the GMAT over the last month so you must excuse the structure of this blog post; I used it to practice my analysis of an issue analytical writing assignment, (short for can you compose sentences in English). Eco-tourism as a tool for development really is an important topic to debate and one I’ve gone back and forth on in my time here for and against. As of now, I’m pro but I’d love to hear others opinions on the subject. Some abbreviated thoughts…

The use of eco-tourism as a tool for development and conservation of endangered species like the Gourma elephants is a critical question for communities and organizations in Africa and around the world. Most certainly eco-tourism can provide economic revenue for a community, thereby encouraging the community’s investment in the animal’s protection and continued existence. However the corrupted local government officials, and tourist overridden poor villages who have pursued tourism as a source of income and sold their culture and livelihood for the lowest price serve as examples of how tourism can treat and damage a culture and heritage. Yet we must draw distinctions between tourism and eco-tourism and with the standards and principles of ecotourism, it can be an integral and successful means for a community to not only preserve and honor their patrimony but also to profit and aide future generations.

The needs, desires and standards that an eco-tourists expects from his or her experience are the first means that benefit the community and the environment. The definition of eco-tourism requires not only an “eco” attraction but also the sustainable practices to protect and conserve the eco-system and its natural wonders. An eco-tourist expects energy efficiency, water conservation, and proper waste management among other green environmental practices. Activities where the tourist can actually help the community or the protected eco-system in some way are also offered at many eco-tourism sites. Working with the community and by leaving little to no impact on the environment they are enjoying, the eco-tourism experience allows a tourist to not only appreciate the eco-system but help protect it as well. Eco-tourism also promotes responsible sustainable living in the community itself. The example and standards that an eco-tourism campement or resort can set teach the community responsible environmental practices that they can adopt or imitate in their own lives. These ideas and techniques have yet to be employed in the Gourma region but are starting to be introduced in other parts of Mali and Africa

Additionally, within the village, the income generated from eco-tourism addresses one of the main barriers to conservation, namely money. In developing countries like Mali and other parts of Africa, the poorest communities which cohabitate with the endangered species may not be concerned with conservation when they struggle to provide food for their families. Farming or herding in a protected area reserved for the elephants or even hunting for ivory are not inconceivable when no other options exist. When communities or even individuals of the community can see that profits are to be had in eco-tourism, they can be more supportive and even active in protecting the endangered species. The communities in the Gourma region can be more engaged in protecting the elephants if they see a tangible benefit in their conservation.

This photo was taken during a workshop hosted by WILD and STE with local community members about the benefits of conservation for the community.

Finally from the income eco-tourism can generate, revenues can go towards education and conservation so that the community can understand how they in turn can benefit monetarily and environmentally from conservation efforts. Education and eco-tourism are inextricably linked, especially for the populations who don’t feel the immediate monetary profits. They must understand how and why they will benefit even if they aren’t employed in the tourism trade.

For all these reasons, eco-tourism can be an effective means to protect an endangered species while also ensuring benefits and financial profits to the community. Of course eco-tourism must be regulated and monitored to protect the integrity of the industry and the communities implicated but with sufficient standards and requirements established, this new way of traveling could radically change the tourism industry while simultaneously protecting our remaining natural treasures.

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