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Impacts of birdwatching on human and avian communities

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Abstract

Ecotourism can be a vehicle for community-based conservation if it is conducted with an emphasis on the well-being of local ecosystems and human communities. Birdwatchers form the largest group of ecotourists, and are, on average, well-educated, wealthy and committed. This makes them ideal ecotourists for community-based conservation. Therefore, there is a need for a comprehensive review of birdwatching from a conservation biology perspective. Specific objectives here are: (1) to review the economic potential of non-residential birdwatching for community-based conservation; (2) to outline the potential benefits and problems associated with this activity; and (3) to provide suggestions for improving the conservation value of birdwatching. Birdwatching tourism has a high potential to improve the financial and environmental well-being of local communities, educate locals about the value of biodiversity and create local and national incentives for successful protection and preservation of natural areas. However, there needs to be more research on the economical and environmental impacts of this hobby, birdwatching-related disturbance needs to be reduced, and much has to be done to increase the financial contribution of birdwatching to local communities.
Environmental Conservation 29 (3): 282–289 © 2002 Foundation for Environmental Conservation DOI:10.1017/S0376892902000206
SUMMARY
Ecotourism can be a vehicle for community-based
conservation if it is conducted with an emphasis on the
well-being of local ecosystems and human communi-
ties. Birdwatchers form the largest group of
ecotourists, and are, on average, well-educated,
wealthy and committed. This makes them ideal
ecotourists for community-based conservation.
Therefore, there is a need for a comprehensive review
of birdwatching from a conservation biology perspec-
tive. Specific objectives here are: (1) to review the
economic potential of non-residential birdwatching
for community-based conservation; (2) to outline the
potential benefits and problems associated with this
activity; and (3) to provide suggestions for improving
the conservation value of birdwatching. Birdwatching
tourism has a high potential to improve the financial
and environmental well-being of local communities,
educate locals about the value of biodiversity and
create local and national incentives for successful
protection and preservation of natural areas. However,
there needs to be more research on the economical and
environmental impacts of this hobby, birdwatching-
related disturbance needs to be reduced, and much has
to be done to increase the financial contribution of
birdwatching to local communities.
Keywords: bird disturbance, birdwatching, community-based
conservation, ecotourism, profit leakage, protected areas,
sustainable use
INTRODUCTION
The International Ecotourism Society’s definition of
ecotourism is ‘Responsible travel to natural areas that
conserves the environment and improves the well-being of
local people’ (Honey 1999). Ideally, ecotourism creates a local
incentive for conserving natural areas by generating income
through operations that are sustainable, low-impact
(environmental and social), low-investment, and locally-
owned (Boo 1990; Goodwin 1996; King & Stewart 1996;
Isaacs 2000). Unfortunately, this ideal is rarely reached, in
part due to what may be an inherent paradox: ecotourism
aims to combine market-driven consumption of goods and
services with sustainability (Isaacs 2000). In some cases,
ecotourism actually creates new financial incentives for
encroachment of natural areas through land speculation (Yu
et al. 1997). Add to that the exclusion of local people from
most of the benefits, leakage of profits out of the area, distur-
bance of wildlife, pollution, and even the outright habitat
destruction that many ‘ecotourism’ operations cause (Honey
1999; Page & Dowling 2002), and it is easy to see why some
consider ecotourism just another environmentally-destruc-
tive marketing device (Boo 1990; Giannecchini 1993).
Adoption of only a few superficial aspects of ecotourism
without making substantial changes to business practices that
are not environmentally sound has been called ‘ecotourism
lite’ (Honey 1999), and is likely to do more damage than
good. In fact, activities ranging from powerboat trips through
narrow gorges to chasing elephants with paint-guns have
been called ‘ecotourism’ (Watkins 2000). Nevertheless, true
ecotourism is preferable to alternative forms of economic
development, such as logging, mining, or agriculture,
because properly conducted ecotourism has the potential to
protect natural areas and benefit local people at the same time
(Weaver 1998).
Birdwatching is the act of observing and identifying birds
in their native habitats. Birdwatchers are one of the best
sources of ecotourism income since they form the largest
single group of ecotourists, are educated, and have above-
average incomes (Ceballos-Lascuráin 1996; Cordell &
Herbert 2002). Because of the zeal of many birdwatchers and
the resources these people are willing to invest in this
activity, birdwatching is becoming the most rapidly growing
and most environmentally conscious segment of ecotourism
and provides economic hope for many threatened natural
areas around the world (Cordell & Herbert 2002). For the
purposes of this paper, I will not consider residential
birdwatchers since they do not engage in any birdwatching-
related travel.
The rapid growth of birdwatching and its high potential
for providing a financial motivation for local people to protect
natural areas merits a comprehensive review of birdwatching
from a conservation biology perspective. The specific objec-
tives of this review are: (1) to outline the economic potential
of birdwatching for community-based conservation; (2) to
examine the potential benefits and problems associated with
this hobby; and (3) to provide suggestions for improving the
conservation value of birdwatching.
Impacts of birdwatching on human and avian communities
C
.AG
¯AN H. S
.EKERCI
.OG
¯LU*
Center for Conservation Biology, Department of Biological Sciences, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305-5020, USA
Date submitted: 5 October 2001 Date accepted: 20 May 2002
*Correspondence: Dr C
.ag¯an S
.ekerciog¯lu Tel: 1 650 724 6355
Fax: 1 650 723 5920 e-mail: cagan@stanford.edu
ECONOMIC POTENTIAL OF BIRDWATCHING
According to the estimates of the most recent USA national
survey on recreation and the environment (NSRE) about
69.0 million people over age 16, or about a third of the human
population of the USA over 16, viewed, identified or
photographed birds in the 12 months preceding the survey;
this was as many people as did any fishing or day hiking in the
preceding 12 months (Cordell & Herbert 2002). Even though
NSRE standards for what constitutes birdwatching are very
broad, 28% of birdwatchers, or an estimated 19.3 million
people, reported birdwatching more than 50 days per year.
Since 1983, the number of birdwatchers in the USA has
increased by 332%, making birdwatching the fastest-growing
outdoor recreational activity in the country (Cordell &
Herbert 2002).
In general, birdwatchers are educated and affluent. The
average income of a birdwatcher in the USA is over
US$ 50 000, and about a third have at least a college degree
(Cordell & Herbert 2002). This makes them ideal ecotourists,
since they are likely to have a high awareness of nature and
also spend significant amounts of money in pursuit of birds.
Birdwatching-related expenses were estimated to be over
US$ 23 billion in 1996, contributing to the employment of
almost 800 000 people (US Department of the Interior, Fish
and Wildlife Service and US Department of Commerce,
Bureau of the Census 1996). In that year alone, an estimated
17.7 million birdwatchers travelled more than a mile from
their homes in order to observe birds and spent about
US$ 7.6 billion on trip-related expenses, excluding equip-
ment. The annual economic impact of five major birding sites
in the USA was estimated to be US$ 2.4 million to US$ 40
million (Kerlinger & Brett 1995). Munn (1992) estimated
that each macaw visiting a clay lick in south-eastern Peru can
potentially generate US$ 750–4700 in tourist receipts in a
year and US$ 22 500–165 000 over its lifetime.
According to Kellert (1985), 300 000 American bird-
watchers can be considered committed. These committed
birdwatchers form the core group of international birding
trip participants. Based on the 1994 American Birding
Association membership survey (American Birding
Association 1994), 49% of committed birdwatchers travel out
of the country for birdwatching. Of those, 32% have taken
part in an organized bird tour. There are at least 127
companies that offer birdwatching tours worldwide (see, for
example, Birding.com 2001), and considering that the
average trip to a less developed country (sensu Weaver 1998)
from one of the largest six birding companies (over 150
birding tours per year) has 12 participants and costs over
US$ 4000 per person, the financial impact of international
birdwatching can be substantial.
Birdwatchers often visit places outside the tourist
season or places that have no other tourist attractions
(Kerlinger & Brett 1995). In addition to contributing to a
country’s economy through the purchase of typical travel
goods and services, independent birdwatchers and bird-
watching tours may also hire local nature guides, some-
times paying as much as US$ 150 per day, even in
low-income countries like Kenya and South Africa. In
1999, the Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) estimated
that 41% of the US$ 1 billion tourism income for that year
was from tourists who came to Costa Rica for bird-
watching (R. Arias de Para, personal communication
2001).
ECONOMIC AND ECOLOGICAL IMPACTS OF
BIRDWATCHERS
Birdwatchers, like most ecotourists, are highly educated,
both in terms of conventional education, as well as in terms
of ecological knowledge and their higher awareness of conser-
vation issues (Cordell & Herbert 2002). For example, about
two-thirds of the 600 000 members of the National Audubon
Society, a prominent conservation organization, are self-
proclaimed birdwatchers (Dickinson & Edmonson 1996).
Compared to the average ecotourist, birdwatchers are also
more independent, focused and committed (Page & Dowling
2002). The high expectations of many birdwatchers,
combined with their high average incomes, can result in large
financial contributions to the localities visited (Kerlinger &
Brett 1995).
Given their education and high expectations, bird-
watchers are more likely to make efforts to reduce their
environmental impact, to appreciate the distinctness and
significance of different ecosystems and to pay the required
protected-area fees while travelling, than other ecotourists,
although there has been very little research on these issues
(Hill et al. 1997). Birdwatching also has a lower environ-
mental impact than many other outdoor activities that are
mislabelled as ecotourism, such as multiple vehicles chasing
cheetahs in Masai Mara, jet boats roaring through New
Zealand canyons or off-road vehicle trips destroying the top
soil in various parts of the world (Weaver 1998; Page &
Dowling 2002).
Below, I present a detailed analysis of the pros and cons of
having birdwatchers in ecologically-sensitive areas and
provide some recommendations for minimum-impact bird-
watching practices that would benefit local communities
(Table 1). My focus is on birdwatching in less-developed
countries, especially in the tropics, from where there are
hardly any data on the ecological, economical and social
aspects of birdwatching (Groom et al. 1991; Munn 1992).
Consequently, I will use a few examples from my bird-
watching experience in over 30 less-developed countries to
supplement the published data.
Benefits of birdwatching
Why commodification may be a good thing
Birdwatchers’ knowledge of birds and expectations of seeing
a variety of species provide a direct link between avian biodi-
versity of a region and local income. Although birdwatchers
Birdwatching and conservation 283
284 C.H. S
.ekerciog¯lu
are sometimes criticized for commodifying nature through
‘twitching’ or ‘listing’ (the intensive practice of making lists
of bird species seen), this commodification actually makes it
possible for local communities in areas with many and/or
rare bird species to generate more income from hosting bird-
watchers than other tourists. However, many rare bird
species are highly sensitive to disturbance and are threatened
(BirdLife International 2000), so birdwatchers and guides
should be particularly careful to minimize the disturbance of
rare species.
Because most birdwatchers know what they want to see
and have high expectations of seeing certain species, they are
likely to spend more money in order to see bird species in
their natural environment than the average ecotourist who is
not particularly interested in birds. The consequent increase
in the local awareness of the value of bird biodiversity may be
one key to preserving many natural areas near human popu-
lation centres. Local people who derive direct monetary
benefits from biodiversity as a result of showing various
species to birdwatchers are more likely to conserve ecosys-
tems that harbour unusual birds. That would not be as likely
if locals mostly hosted ecotourists for whom a muddy forest
trail, a waterfall and a few unusual organisms may constitute
an exotic adventure.
Increased value of local differences due to unique bird species
One of the biggest concerns with regard to the effectiveness
of market-based initiatives in limiting negative impact on
ecosystems is global competition between ecotourism sites.
For many people, the differences between natural areas
around the world may not be significant, resulting in these
places becoming competitors in a single market (Isaacs 2000).
This is especially the case for rainforests, which, although
highly differentiated and diverse, may seem identical to
tourists with limited knowledge.
Competition and fear of profit loss may make it less likely
that operators will follow more costly environmental princi-
ples as a marketing strategy, especially if clients do not
discern habitat-quality differences between sites (Yu et al.
1997). Operators may try to minimize expenses and may stop
taking costly measures to limit pollution, habitat disturbance,
harassment of wildlife and other detrimental consequences of
tourism. They may seek vertical integration and may contract
with an international chain to take advantage of economies of
scale to reduce costs and uncertainty (Isaacs 2000). This often
results in less local control and lower economical returns to
local communities, violating one of the most important prin-
ciples of responsible ecotourism.
Since the premise of birdwatching, especially that of
listing, is based on the identification of distinct bird species,
the differences between distinct bird communities become
highly significant. This reduces global competition between
natural areas and results in a more even distribution of bird-
watching tourism across the globe, as can be seen from the
itineraries of birdwatching tour companies (see Birding.com
2001). Differentiation of birdwatching destinations increases
the amount of local control, as well as the profits for any given
area, resulting in increased incentives for local people to
protect the environment (Isaacs 2000). In addition, the
importance of specific destinations provides a greater incen-
tive for birdwatching tour operators to make sure their
destinations are well-protected.
Inclusion of areas without official protection
Better ecological knowledge and higher expectations of bird-
watchers also result in the preservation of many areas without
A link between avian diversity and local
income
A financial incentive to conserve wildlife
Less impact and more income than typical
tourism
Increased local control due to unique bird
species
Visitation of areas outside traditional tourist
itineraries
Protection of unprotected areas with desired
species
Valuation of local natural history knowledge
Education and employment of local guides
Generation of funds for bird conservation
Contribution to ornithological knowledge
Disturbing birds by playing tapes and by
approaching
Increased nest predation and nest
abandonment
Increased disturbance of rare and/or
threatened birds
Visitor-related pollution and habitat
destruction
Cash leaks from local communities
Resentment by excluded locals
Cultural degradation associated with
tourism
Adhere to and insist on ethical birding conduct
Avoid nests and young as much as possible
Show particular care with threatened and
rare species
Minimize tape use and try to minimize
being seen
Do not approach further once a bird notices
you
Stick to established roads/trails/walkways
Use scopes for observation and photography
Educate locals about birds and their
financial benefits
Support local and low-impact
establishments
Contribute to NGOs active in bird
conservation
Table 1 Impacts of birdwatching and some recommendations to minimize disturbance and maximize local involvement.
Positive impacts of birdwatching Negative impacts of birdwatching Recommendations for optimal
birdwatching
official protection. Birds do not pay attention to park bound-
aries and many species can only be observed outside officially
protected areas. It is not uncommon to find rare bird species
surviving in small forest remnants, and the constant presence
of birdwatchers and associated income may create local
incentives to protect these small patches from further
destruction. There is also a growing number of private nature
reserves, such as Rara Avis and Monteverde in Costa Rica
(Dworetzky 1992; Aylward et al. 1996), where good bird
habitat is protected in order to obtain income from visiting
birdwatchers, as well as from other ecotourists.
Birdwatching guides
A knowledgeable guide is key to the success of any organized
birdwatching trip, and for independent birdwatchers with
high expectations, hiring a local guide is highly beneficial
because it increases the chances of seeing the less common
and local species, contributes to the local economy and
creates an incentive to protect birds. For example, in
Sivrikaya, Turkey, Mustafa Sari maintains a chain across a
dirt road to prevent illegal hunters from driving to the remote
leks of Caucasian grouse (Tetrao mlokosiewiczi), a potentially
threatened species (BirdLife International 2000) and his main
source of income.
In many places, indigenous people lack the education and
essential financial resources required to invest in ecotourism
and they usually qualify for the most menial and low-paid
jobs (King & Stewart 1996). Guiding for bird watchers,
however, is less demanding, better paid, values knowledge of
natural history and has minimal language requirements. The
names of local bird species comprise the only English many
successful guides speak. Although knowledge of natural
history was crucial to many indigenous communities around
the world, the dependence on market economies has resulted
in the disappearance of this knowledge from many areas. The
incentive to earn income as a birdwatching guide may restore
this knowledge into native communities. Many birdwatchers
do prefer guides who speak the birdwatchers’ language and,
as a result, expatriate guides (who may also be more knowl-
edgeable) may be preferred to local guides. However, using
local guides whenever possible often delivers the greatest
number of bird species for the money, as well as contributing
to the local community.
Birdwatching companies, non-governmental organiz-
ations (NGOs) and ornithologists working in less-developed
countries can promote ecotourism and conservation with
guide-training programmes. For example, a project to train
rural residents as nature guides in Costa Rica has been very
successful (Paaby et al. 1991). Out of 22 graduates inter-
viewed after 5 months, six had become full-time nature
guides and 16 had become part-time nature guides, hired by
national parks, research stations and private tour operators.
Such training programmes can supply field assistants and
birdwatching guides, and can provide local employment
while increasing environmental awareness.
Problems with birdwatching
Disturbing birds
The high expectations of many birdwatchers are not always
beneficial and the excessive zeal of some birdwatchers to see
or photograph certain species may have harmful conse-
quences. A review of 27 studies on the effects of wildlife
observation and photography on birds reported negative
effects on birds in 19 of the studies (Boyle & Samson 1985),
even though most of these may be due to photography rather
than birdwatching (Klein 1993; Tershy et al. 1997). Here,
‘disturbance’ mainly refers to intrusion and excludes habitat
modification.
Unfortunately, there are few well-designed, long-term
studies of bird disturbance by birdwatchers and other nature
observers (Hill et al. 1997) and the data are from fewer than
100, mostly temperate species, obtained mainly during the
breeding period (Cooke 1980; Boyle & Sampson 1985;
Holmes et al. 1993; Klein 1993; Knight & Gutzwiller 1995;
Fernández-Juricic et al. 2001). Well-designed, long-term
studies are sorely needed, especially in the tropics where
there has been almost no published bird disturbance research
(Groom et al. 1991; Burger & Gochfeld 1993). Impacts of
disturbance are complex, with responses differing between
species, between individuals of the same species, and even
between different periods for the same individuals
(HaySmith & Hunt 1995; Knight & Temple 1995).
Nevertheless, I provide some recommendations to minimize
disturbance by birdwatchers, based on the patterns that
emerge from the data available (Table 1).
The majority of the birds studied were most sensitive to
disturbance during the breeding period (Götmark 1992;
Knight & Cole 1995). Human presence around bird nests
increased nest abandonment and egg loss due to nest preda-
tors (HaySmith & Hunt 1995; Hanson 2000), so
birdwatching activity should be minimized around nests and
young, especially around nesting colonies, which can be
deserted as the consequence of the disturbance induced by
just one person (Larson 1995). However, when visitors are
concentrated in a small part of albatross and penguin alba-
tross breeding colonies, nesting birds habituate to people and
do not respond to human presence as a stressor (Burger &
Gochfeld 1999; Fowler 1999). Many birdwatchers play calls
of secretive species to lure them out of their hiding places
and, during the breeding period, this may stress birds, as well
as leave nests exposed to predators. There have been no
studies on the effects of tapes on birds and this should be a
research priority of bird disturbance researchers.
Even outside the breeding period, birdwatchers should
minimize flushing of birds, since this has high physiological
costs for many species (Gabrielsen & Smith 1995) and can be
fatal to birds during times of food shortage (Knight & Cole
1995). Minimizing bird disturbance and flushing will also
improve the quality of birdwatching and may increase bird
abundance and species richness (Gutzwiller 1995;
Fernández-Juricic 2000). Larger and more specialized
Birdwatching and conservation 285
species, birds of prey, birds in groups, and birds far from
vegetation cover tend to be flushed more easily (Holmes et al.
1993; Hill et al. 1997; Fernández-Juricic et al. 2001). Because
of the variations between species and individuals (Knight &
Temple 1995), the alert distance, which is the distance at
which a bird becomes aware of the observer(s), should be
used as the minimum approach distance (Fernández-Juricic
et al. 2001).
Birds are less sensitive if they are visually shielded from
observers (Knight & Temple 1995), so birdwatchers should
make use of inconspicuous clothing (Gutzwiller & Marcum
1993), blinds, vegetation and other ways to minimize being
seen by birds (Larson 1995). Birdwatching telescopes should
be used whenever possible; even in tropical forests, these can
be surprisingly effective and often provide superb views of
perching birds (Munn 1992) in addition to limiting distur-
bance. In combination with inexpensive digital cameras,
telescopes can also be used to obtain high-quality images
from a safe distance (Ingraham 2001).
If birds have to be approached, a slow approach from an
oblique angle is preferable (Knight & Cole 1995) and they are
more tolerant of vehicle approaches than people (Holmes et
al. 1993). Since birds are highly sensitive to noise and the
number of people (Knight & Cole 1995), groups should be
kept small, preferably under 10 people. Birds that come into
contact with people more frequently are more habituated and
approachable, provided that they are not hunted (Cooke
1980; Knight & Cole 1995). Birdwatching in areas with some
human traffic, such as dirt roads, would minimize distur-
bance of pristine areas and allow closer views of birds.
Birdwatchers should be particularly careful with threat-
ened and near-threatened species (BirdLife International
2000). These species are usually more sensitive to people
because of their biology, increased exploitation and greater
disturbance by birdwatchers seeking them out.
Birdwatchers should not contribute to the extinction of
threatened birds.
Guides also have an important role to play in minimizing
disturbance of birds by birdwatchers. In fact, this makes good
business sense, since the long-term presence of ‘staked-out’
birds will increase a guide’s success rate and reputation.
Unfortunately, some guides, especially those who are uncer-
tified and uneducated, often contribute to the disturbance of
wildlife (Groom et al. 1991). Rigorous training, certification,
and regulation of guides, especially in less-developed coun-
tries, by governments and by birdwatching companies, are
integral to educating tourists and minimizing disturbance (de
Groot 1983; HaySmith & Hunt 1995).
Indirect impacts
Because birdwatchers have high average incomes, they may
demand more luxurious accommodation than the average
ecotourist. This could potentially lead to increased environ-
mental impact (HaySmith & Hunt 1995; Page & Dowling
2002) and transfer of profits from local communities to
foreigners and urban dwellers who are far more likely than
rural residents to own luxury establishments in less-
developed countries (Ceballos-Lascuráin 1996; Weaver
1998; Page & Dowling 2002). Local people who are
excluded from protected areas and who do not benefit from
tourists are likely to resent them and resist conservation
policies. In addition, areas visited can be contaminated by
tourist waste, and construction of buildings and facilities
may result in habitat clearance (HaySmith & Hunt 1995;
Weaver 1998).
However, for many birdwatchers, birds take priority over
comfort. Many will stay in basic local establishments in order
to see the species of interest (Page & Dowling 2002).
Additionally, some luxury resorts attract birdwatchers by
minimizing environmental impact, maintaining private
reserves, and hiring local birdwatching guides. These estab-
lishments are likely to benefit the local communities more
than lodges without a birdwatching focus. If birdwatchers
wish to aid local communities as much as possible, they
should make an effort to frequent locally-owned establish-
ments with environmentally sound practices.
Overview of birdwatching impacts
Despite the potential for disturbance, birdwatching,
especially if properly conducted, is far preferable to land
clearing, hunting and other exploitative, unsustainable activi-
ties. In addition, ‘citizen science’ projects, where
ornithological data are collected by dedicated amateur bird-
watchers (for example, the Christmas bird counts that take
place around Christmas and counts during breeding bird
surveys), can contribute substantially to ornithological
knowledge, especially in tropical areas with few researchers
(Ehrlich et al. 1988; Mason 1990; Cornell Laboratory of
Ornithology 2000). Birdwatchers should always aim to mini-
mize their negative impact on birds by adhering to
established ethical guidelines (American Birding Association
1997), while contributing as much as possible to local
economies. They should do so in the face of high expecta-
tions of finding species of interest and be particularly careful
with threatened or near-threatened species. Birdwatchers
should insist on certified guides and should criticize any
improper conduct of guides. Contributing to the local
economy, educating local people, and minimizing wildlife
disturbance will enable communities to preserve good bird
habitat and will help ensure the continuous presence of birds
to be watched.
Independent birdwatcher versus birdwatching tour
Independent birdwatchers are more likely to contribute to
low-budget local establishments and in a more even manner
since, unlike tour groups, they frequent smaller and more
modest establishments (Page & Dowling 1992). Since they do
not benefit from a tour guide, independent birdwatchers
often hire local guides and are less likely to be isolated from
the communities they are visiting. However, independent
birdwatchers are usually not subject to monitoring by a bird
286 C.H. S
.ekerciog¯lu
guide who is trained in low-impact practices. As a result, they
may be more likely to disturb birds.
Birdwatching tours (especially those originating from
more-developed countries), although significantly more
expensive than independent birdwatching, may contribute
less to local economies than independent birdwatchers.
These tours have their own guides and often make use of the
best operations and accommodations available, which are
likely to be owned either by foreigners or the urban elite
(Weaver 1998). Nevertheless, it is important not to draw
hasty conclusions about economic leakage due to bird-
watching companies, since data on the kinds of
establishments birdwatching tours use in less-developed
countries are sparse and there are exceptions to this pattern.
In addition, when they make use of a local establishment, tour
companies are likely to contribute significantly greater
amounts per birdwatcher to the local economy. Many tour
companies also hire local guides, and such companies are
likely to pay significantly more than independent bird-
watchers.
Not only should these companies perceive a moral obli-
gation to contribute to the conservation efforts of the
less-developed countries in which they operate, but it is also
in their long-term interest to create financial incentives for
conservation. Only one of the top six international bird-
watching companies (Birding.com 2001) made any mention
of conservation on its web page in 2001 and only this
company seems to have made any direct contributions to
conservation, as cited in the relevant literature (Boo 1990).
SUGGESTIONS FOR IMPROVING THE
CONSERVATION VALUE OF BIRDWATCHING
Research, promotion and education
Overall, there is a pressing need for data on the financial
contributions and environmental impacts of independent
birdwatchers and tour companies focusing on birdwatching,
especially in less-developed countries (Kerlinger & Brett
1995). Financial data on birdwatching would increase the
likelihood of tourism ministries becoming aware of the
potential benefits of organizing and promoting birdwatching
in their countries. Even in well-known birdwatching desti-
nations such as Ecuador, promoters of tourism know very
little about birdwatching possibilities in their country. The
fact that Costa Rica, a small Central American country that
has distinguished itself by emphasizing conservation and
ecotourism, was estimated to generate US$ 410 million from
birdwatching in one year (R. Arias de Para, personal
communication 2001) should be enough to convince any
country of the financial significance of birdwatching.
With additional information on the monetary flows from
different kinds of birdwatching tourism, the promotion of
this industry can also be enhanced. For example, one good
way to promote birdwatching and create revenues is through
the organization of birdwatching festivals. There are over 240
bird-related festivals in the USA, bringing millions of US
dollars to many small towns in 47 states (Kerlinger & Brett
1995; DiGregorio 2002). There are, however, very few
examples of birdwatching festivals in less-developed coun-
tries (BirdLife International 2001a). The creation of such
festivals could increase earnings, as well as educate local
people about the importance of birds, conservation and the
potential of birdwatching as an alternative source of income.
Another possibility is to donate some of the income from
birdwatching festivals in more developed countries to bird
conservation programmes in less developed countries. One
successful example is the British Birdwatching Fair that
raises funds for tropical conservation and has raised over
US$ 190 000 in 2000 to protect threatened Cuban wilderness
(BirdLife International 2001b).
It is also essential to educate the governments, companies,
and individuals interested in birdwatching on the potential
negative environmental impacts of birdwatching, as well as
on ways to minimize these. Not only this is an important
conservation priority, it is also integral to the long-term
success of birdwatching tourism.
Tour companies
Birdwatching companies should be more involved in
promoting and supporting conservation at their tour
destinations, possibly by making contributions directly
related to the number of species seen on their trips. This will
have significant financial and symbolic value for local
communities and will provide publicity for the companies
involved. For example, they might contribute US$ 1 to the
local partner of BirdLife International or another conserva-
tion NGO for each species seen by each participant of a
birdwatching tour, and promote this in their advertising to
prospective clients. Substantially greater sums might be
donated for each threatened species (for example, US$ 20)
and for each near-threatened species (for example, US$ 10),
which would mean more funds for countries with species at
risk.
I analysed the prices of 272 birdwatching tours to 62 less-
developed countries included in the online catalogues of the
top six international birdwatching companies (Birding.com
2001). The tour prices did not include the prices of flights to
the tour destinations, and botanical tours, ship-based tours
and trekking tours were excluded from the analysis. Given
the fact that the average tour of one of the top six companies
has 12.12 clients, runs for 15.18 days, costs US$ 264.4 per
day, and that the maximum number of species seen per day
for trips over a week is 10–25 in most countries, US$ 1 per
species per observer would amount to a modest price increase
of 3.8–9.5% per trip participant. For example, after a three-
week birdwatching tour in Kenya during which 517 species
were observed by 12 people, the company would contribute
US$ 6204 to a Kenyan NGO involved in bird conservation
while charging the clients a total of about US$ 66 500.
Independent birdwatchers should also try to contribute 5%
Birdwatching and conservation 287
of their trip budget (excluding airfare to the country) to local
bird conservation NGOs.
When properly conducted, tourism-revenue sharing,
although marginal for the companies and birdwatchers
involved, can add up to significant amounts for the less-
developed countries visited, show a one-to-one link between
biodiversity and income, increase local support of conserva-
tion (Archabald & Naughton-Treves 2001), and give
competitive advantages to the tour companies who demon-
strate their environmental concerns. International NGOs
that undertake ecotourism research, such as BirdLife
International, Conservation International, and the World
Conservation Union (IUCN), can work with major bird-
watching companies to increase the contributions of these
companies to the local economies of the places that they visit.
In exchange, these NGOs can certify the companies that
make significant contributions to community-based conser-
vation. Certification would provide beneficial publicity for
the companies involved, profiting both sides.
CONCLUSIONS
Birdwatching is a most promising branch of ecotourism
because birdwatchers comprise a large and increasing pool of
educated and wealthy individuals who desire to observe birds
in their native habitats and whose activities have relatively
low environmental impact. Among various kinds of
ecotourism, birdwatching has the highest potential to
contribute to local communities, educate locals about the
value of biodiversity, and create local and national incentives
for successful protection and preservation of natural areas.
The governments of less-developed nations, local and inter-
national NGOs, and birdwatching companies should give
priority to birdwatching promotion and education. These
organizations should also strive to increase the contribution
of birdwatching to rural communities and local grass-root
organizations since birdwatching has a significant potential to
generate income through the protection and promotion of
natural areas.
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
Iamgrateful to Thomas Brokaw, Walter Loewenstern and
Ward Wilson Woods Jr for supporting my research. I thank
Carol Boggs, Gretchen Daily, Paul Ehrlich, Jessica Hellman
and two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments
regarding this manuscript. I am especially grateful to
Amanda Stronza, whose valuable course on the anthro-
pology of tourism provided the final impetus for this
review.
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