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Eco Voice Q & A: Satyajit Das, Author, on the responsibility of the ecotourist to the natural world.

Eco Voice
Eco Voicehttp://www.ecovoice.com.au
First published in 2003, Eco Voice is your go-to publication for sustainability news in Australia. Eco Voice prides itself as an independent news platform with a clear focus on sustainability, with articles coming from a diverse range of contributors – all levels of government, corporations, not-for-profits, community groups, small to medium sized businesses, universities, research organisations, together with input from international sources. Eco Voice values community, conservation and commerce. Eco Voice is a media partner of the prestigious Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards – The Peak Sustainability Awards.

Satyajit Das, Author, Wild Quests: Journeys into Ecotourism and the Future for Animals.

Background

Satyajit Das is a former banker, recognised as one of the world’s leading financial thinkers. He is the author of numerous books, including Traders, Guns & Money, Extreme Money, Banquet of Consequences and Fortune’s Fool, which examine the intersection between money and society, and the co-author, with his partner Jade Novakovic, of In Search of the Pangolin. Together they have seen many of the planet’s emblematic mammals, nearly 5,000 species of birds and more. Das is a regular festival guest and media commentator, and he appeared in the Oscar-winning documentary Inside Job.

Published by Monash University Publishing | 1 May 2024 | RRP $34.99
Purchase here: https://publishing.monash.edu/product/wild-quests/

To provide insights on the responsibility of the ecotourist to the natural world, Tim Langdon, publisher of Eco Voice, had the pleasure of facilitating a Q & A with Satyajit Das, Author, Wild Quests: Journeys into Ecotourism and the Future for Animals.

Q1. What is ecotourism?

Ecotourism traditionally involves visiting specific wilderness locations to watch animals, either independently or with a commercial guide. The definition of ecotourism, always vague, has become increasingly elastic over time as linguistic elasticity has sought to cash in on interest in the environment.

Some even argue that it is about the intent of the individual or organisation involved, and many businesses now use the term to include visiting zoos or animal rehabilitation centres, hunting, fishing and even staying at resorts with nearby wildlife. It overlaps with adventure activities, such as trekking or kayaking, or cultural heritage and wellness tourism.

Q2. Do the animals want to see ecotourists?

Not really. The animals do not want to see us! Nature’s creatures are indifferent to humans. They go about their lives despite our presence on the planet. Lions in the Serengeti or polar bears in the far north do not spend time deconstructing their relationship with us. Yet interaction with our species is at the heart of their problems: damage to habitat, hunting, shooting, killing or persecution. Even our attempts to see them in the wild can be disruptive.

Q3. Does ecotourism help to save some animals?

It should. Our whole interest in ecotourism was predicated on helping preserve wilderness areas and habitat to allow wild animals to survive. We also thought that local people might benefit. Yet what we chose to believe turns out to be untrue.

The damage to wilderness and wildlife is evident to even the casual return tourist. Alongside traditional threats – habitat destruction, over-harvesting of wild animals, damage from introduced species, (increasingly) climate change, industrial ecotourism now cynically exploits the very things it pretends to protect. There is little interest in preserving the Earth in anything close to its natural state. The focus is on short-term priorities, self-gratification and pursuing petty individual interests without regard for cost.

Much of what we have seen and once hoped to see will soon be lost, despite the best efforts of the dedicated few, beyond the next few decades.

The planet was once a place where wilderness and animals surrounded pockets of people. The future is one in which shrinking pockets of nature will barely survive, encircled by an ever-expanding human population. Much of what are now considered wild places will become little more than outdoor menageries.

Q4. How important is the natural world?

We are part of it. Destruction of the natural world will eventually lead to our own end.

Let me give you an example – Covid-19 provided a window into the interconnections between humans and nature. The virus, like SARS and ebola, was a product of zoonosis, where viral mutations crossover from animals to infect humans. Deforestation to accommodate ever-growing populations or to access resources brings humans into contact with wild animals. When biodiversity decreases, animals that thrive around human populations proliferate. Many, such as bats and rats, can transmit diseases to humans. The appetite for leisure travel helps contagious pathogens spread rapidly.
Natural barriers, such as bodies of water, mountain ranges or deserts, no longer prevent the spread of many diseases.

Industrial agriculture and livestock husbandry to feed growing populations promotes zoonotic diseases. Poor food safety, inadequate hygiene and the mixing of livestock and wild animals is common. Animal faecal matter can enter groundwater, allowing viruses and bacteria to cross species boundaries. The pandemic should not have been unexpected.

Covid-19 was a stark warning. A complex silicon chip–based civilisation was brought to a halt by the simplest life form. Humans, despite their overweening conceit, are passengers along for the ride.

Q5. Is greenwashing evident in ecotourism?

Yes. Eco-tourism, conservation, wildlife documentaries etc. are all actually industrial undertakings motivated by power and (in some cases) profit. So it is actually strip-mining a resource – human interest in seeing wild animals.

For example, conservation is caught in an unavoidable contradiction. Bad news for the environment is good news for conservation causes and NGOs. Habitat loss, climate change and extinctions provide them with power as social actors. They work within a system that contributes to environmental damage. Perversely, they cannot finish the job because it would mean putting themselves out of
one.

Q6. What can ecotourism businesses do to become more sustainable?

It must prioritize its originally purpose – the preservation of wild animals. Everything else follows from that. But we have lost that. Today, it is about catering for people – often with only marginal interest in wildlife – to pursue an ‘experience’, perhaps to keep up with or trump their peers. Ecotourism must get away from becoming just another form of consumption and exploitation of nature, albeit in a different way.

Q7. How can publications, such as Eco Voice, play their part in promoting the natural world?

It is vital to raise awareness about the issues and mobilise action. If Eco Voice can do that it might move the dial a little.

ABOUT ECO VOICE

First published in 2003, Eco Voice is your go-to publication for sustainability news in Australia. Eco Voice prides itself as an independent news platform with a clear focus on sustainability, with articles coming from a diverse range of contributors – all levels of government, corporations, not-for-profits, community groups, small to medium sized businesses, universities, research organisations, together with input from international sources. Eco Voice values community, conservation and commerce. Eco Voice is a media partner of the prestigious Australian Banksia Sustainability Awards – The Peak Sustainability Awards.

Published by Monash University Publishing | 1 May 2024 | RRP $34.99
Purchase here: https://publishing.monash.edu/product/wild-quests/

ABOUT  Wild Quests: Journeys into Ecotourism and the Future for Animals

Satyajit Das

‘Full of terrific insights, vivaciously written and gorgeously illustrated, Wild Quests combines enormous passion for wild animals with some telling truths about humanity’s wilful failure as guardians of our natural world.’ – Phillip Adams AO (Late Night Live ABC)

‘An eye-opening, honest examination of ecotourism, from the heights (birdwatching) to the depths (whale watching) and everywhere in between’ – Tony Wheeler (Founder of Lonely Planet)

A unique examination of ecotourism, a celebration of animals and an impassioned call for the need to protect our natural world.

 

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