Ecotourism, which can loosely be defined as, ‘nature-based tourism which protects nature as well as enjoying it,’ has been developing as a concept over the last 30 years. Ecotourism suggests a predominantly non-consumptive approach to wildlife, that complements the aims of biodiversity conservation. Ecotourism ventures can generate revenue for conservation efforts and increase quality of life for local communities. Destinations associated with protected areas have seen the greatest growth in this segment of the tourism and recreation market. After three decades, ecotourism as an identifiable recreational activity is now entering a mature phase of development. It is now that we are beginning to see the returns in terms of conservation and support that were promised many decades ago.
Ecotourism in the Peruvian Amazon is already generating significant funds for private and state-led biodiversity conservation efforts. Most reserves and national parks now charge entrance fees, which can be reinvested in improving existing management systems and controlling illegal extraction of natural and mineral resources from poaching or mining. The ecotourist lodges and local homestays that have sprung up in and around many protected areas also tend to invest heavily in protecting their lands from encroaching poachers. This process buffers protected areas from the effects of gradual encroachment and provides a line of proactive defense against gradual deforestation and degradation of wildlife habitats.
We have been involved in monitoring the changing pace of tourism in Madre de Dios since 1997. Our efforts have focused on researching the impacts of tourism on wildlife populations, as well as advising on the creation and protection of areas reserved for ecotourism activities. We believe the funds generated from tourism activities can be effectively channelled into conservation when well managed. Furthermore, the active involvement of our scientists and conservationists brings their expertise to bear in managing protected areas, while our volunteer tourists support such work by providing funds and a willing workforce.