Ecotourism for Sale in Malaysia

A curious trade was  included during the closing of the  two week Seventh Conference of Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity (COP 7) which was attended by delegates from 120 countries.
Put on sale by various environmental groups, the mock sale of ecotourism sites, among others include: The Mulu national park in Sarawak, Russian national parks, Peruvian potato genes. Also on sale were genes of an indigenous man, a Bengal mangrove, even a nano particle.

imageAccording to organizers of the sale, they are meant to be a cynical stab at bio-piracy and exploitation of biodiversity and genetic resources for profit. The buyer? An international tourism company, which has plans to build a golf course and swimming pools on the site – in the name of ecotourism.

So, wither ecotourism?  Is it really beneficial to the community? Is it doing more harm than good?

Even the experts are debating on the exact definition of “ecotourism” according to Anita Pleumarom from Third World Network’s Tourism Investigation And Monitoring .” Ecotourism now merely focuses on the environment and biodiversity.

“Many countries with high biodiversity are either pursuing industrial ecotourism, or developing plans to do so. It does not take into account the indigenous peoples, who should also benefit from these activities,” says Plemarom. “So far ecotourism has caused more harm than good to the overall biodiversity and the indigenous people. The threats have constantly been underestimated, and a denial that tourism has only good effects.”

Most of the time, tourism in an area is the product of a corporate company, which does not include the local communities. Ian Redmond from Great Apes Survival Project ( GRASP ) in his paper addressing the problem of declining population of great apes worldwide, calls it “ape tourism.” Tourists pay large amounts of money to watch great apes in their natural habitat. It is a moving experience.

It is big money in Uganda and Rwanda, where tourists pay almost US$100 just to see chimpanzees in their natural habitat, and up to US$250 to see gorillas in the wild. The high price limits the number of tourists to a minimum, and visitors have to keep a safe distance to avoid contacting diseases. 

“Malaysia is underestimating and underselling the orangutans. Anyone can just pay a minimal price to visit the orangutan reserve, which leaves the door open to floods of tourists, and exposing the apes to the risk of infection. It is like visiting a zoo.”

“Malaysia can be a leader in the conservation of great apes as it is one of the most developed among the 23 range states.”

Many experts, including Redmond, predicts the orangutan will disappear within 5 -20 years if the current rate of decline continues. He has been helping countries to develop sustainable tourism opportunities involving  mountain gorillas.

“Great apes are popular animals with a very high profile and are much-loved all over the world. If  we cannot even save these high-profile species, what hope do we have of saving other lesser known and less popular species in the world, ” added Redmond. Worldwide, an estimated 170.000 people go on sea turtle tours each year. “Turtle Tourism ” also creates more jobs than taking their eggs for sale, and helps to improve the livelihoods of coastal communities.

“Non-consumptive tourism – sea turtle watching – will generate greater income” says Dr Susan Lieberman from WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Species Program. Income from sea turtle tourism is worth more than the sale of of their meat and eggs for consumption.

Rantau Abang, in Malaysia, was a popular prime nesting beach for the now near-extinct leatherback turtle,  where tourists gather to watch turtles lay their eggs. Collection of their eggs caused  a steep decline in hatchlings, resulting in a drop of visitors from a high of up to 10,000 visitors per year. 

Dr. David Suzuki, an award-winning scientist and environmentalist (who was among 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including the majority of laureates in the sciences who in November 1999 warned humans and the natural world are on a collision course ) emphasized his plea: the only thing we can manage is ourselves. 

“Man is the cause of of all the destruction” If left unchecked, our actions will place plants, animals and humans at risk.”

Under the Kids for Forests Program, run by Greenpeace , 30 children from France, Brazil, Germany and Cameroon were among those who spoke, asking leaders to stop environmental destruction of forests and oceans, spend money  on conservation and keep their promises.

They asked leaders to do all in their power to ensure a good future for children on earth.” If you don’t know how to fix it, please stop breaking it.”

By Y. Sulaiman
eTN Malaysia

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