Non-Consumptive Wildlife Tourism and Community-Based Conservation: a Case Study in Yunnan, China

AbstractWildlife tourism is a specialized, yet important, aspect of the tourism market. It has been heralded as a way to secure sustainable economic benefits while supporting wildlife conservation and local communities. To protect the various unique wildlife species, including Yunnan Golden Monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti), and improve the livelihoods for local communities, the Natural Conservancy and Chinese partners launched a series of protection projects in Three Parallel Rivers Area in Yunnan province.

To create sustainable ecotourism is one of the most important targets for these projects. Although there are many studies focused on ecotourism in protected areas in China, few of them discuss the status of wildlife tourism and the associated benefits it can bring to the participating communities in China’s protected areas. This report evaluates the status and value of non-consumptive wildlife tourism and found possible approaches to implement community based wildlife tourism in Laojun Mountain National Park. Key informant interviews, secondary data, and survey questionnaires were used as research tools to examine the local attitudes towards wildlife protection, tourists preference for wildlife tourism, and potential targeted ecotourists.

The study results reveal that non-consumptive wildlife tourism development in China is still in the early stage and semi-captive wildlife tourism is currently the main form of wildlife tourism development in China, especially for primate tourism. Moreover, due to misunderstanding the meaning of ecotourism and driven by financial benefit, local governments and protected area authorities have often failed to develop sustainable ecotourism so that conventional tourism has generated great negative impacts in the protected areas.

The findings indicate that with the increasing demand for outdoor activities, changing public preferences for wildlife tourism, and improving tourism infrastructures, non-consumptive primate tourism is feasible in LJMNP and with modification could be a model for future wildlife tourism in China.

Key words: Ecotourism, non-consumptive wildlife tourism, tourism impacts, tourism development, local attitudes, target tourists, Yunnan, Laojun Mountain, China.

1. IntroductionOver the past 30 years, since “Opening-up Policy” begun in 1978, tourism industry in China continues to grow and already accounts for a significant portion of the national economy. In 2012, the total visitation in China reached over 3 billion and generated 26 trillion RMB (Ren Min Bi) revenues. With more than 100 million international arrivals in the last year, China is now the third most visited destination in the world and has strengthened its foothold in the global tourism market (China National Tourism Administration, 2012).

Francesco Frangialli, Secretary General of the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), predicted that China will claim the top spot before 2020 (China to Be World’s Top Tourist Destination Before ’20. 2/8/2007). With increasing demand of nature-based tourism and the realization that tourism can negatively impact environmental attractions, the government realized the importance of developing tourism while sustaining and protecting its environment and natural resource (Wen and Tisdell, 2001).

In 1994, the concept of “nature-based tourism”, and particularly “ecotourism”, had attracted great interests from the government (NEPA, 1994). In 1999, just one year after the China’s State Forest Bureau banning the logging of natural forests in the west, the China National Tourism Administration (CNTA) announced “the 1999 is the Chinese Year of Forest Tourism”.

And ten years later, CNTA designated 2009 as Chinese Ecotourism Year and encouraged visitors to “be green travelers and experience eco-civilization” (CNTA, 2009). Following the trend of ecotourism development, the concept of wildlife tourism in China developed very fast. Wildlife tourism is a specialized, yet important aspect of ecotourism. It has been heralded as a way to secure sustainable economic benefits while supporting wildlife conservation and local communities (Higginbottom, 2004).

Having in its favor a complex array of bio-regions that represent about one-half of the country’s flora and 64 percent of its bird species (Lew, 2001), China’s Yunnan province is an ideal place for wildlife tourism. And it is the only Chinese province to  designate tourism as its leading economic sector (Albers & Grin spoon, 1997). To protect the various unique wildlife species including Yunnan Snub-nosed Monkey (Rhinopithecus bieti) and improve the livelihoods for local communities, the Natural Conservancy (TNC) and Chinese partners launched a series of protection projects in Three Parallel Rivers Area in Yunnan province. To create a sustainable ecotourism environment is one of the most important targets for these projects.

Although a variety of studies focused on ecotourism in protected area in China, few of them discussed the status of non-consumptive wildlife tourism (NCWT) and the associated benefits it can bring to the participated communities in China’s protected areas. This study sought to assess the status and value of non-consumptive wildlife tourism in China and find possible approaches to implicate community based wildlife tourism in Laojun Mountain National Park. The study is intended to enhance the capacity of ecotourism to generate benefits for both the local communities and the protected areas, and thus contribute to the sustainable development of the region more generally.

2. Classification of wildlife tourismWildlife tourism is defined as “Tourism based on encounters with non-domesticated (non-human) animals” (Higginbottom, 2004). Because it can take place in a variety of settings and involves multiple types of interactions, it is not possible to classify different forms of wildlife tourism into non-overlapping categories (Reynolds & Braithwaite, 2000). Wildlife tourism may be defined as an area of overlap between nature-based tourism, ecotourism, consumptive use of wildlife, rural tourism, and humanrelations with animals (Figure 1).

Figure 1 Wildlife based tourism (Reynolds and Braithwaite, 2000).

Some evidence suggests that public values toward wildlife and the environment in the United States changed over the latter half of the 20th century concurrent with a shift from materialist to post-materialist values (Manfredo, et al., 2003; Inglehart, 1990 & Inglehart &Baker, 2000).

Under this view, traditional values associated wildlife (i.e., as consumable resource) gave way to a value system that emphasized their ecological and spiritual benefits to human (Kellert, 1985). In addition to the direct, consumptive value of wildlife, people started to realize and explore the indirect values of wildlife–what some call the “non-consumptive” or “existence” value. Wildlife can offer important dimensions of beauty, meaning, quality, and virtue to human life and society (Kellert, et al., 1996). Importantly, these benefits are not well monetized; for example, one does not pay for the good feeling derived from a chance encounter with wildlife. Wildlife tourism, as a form of human-wildlife interaction, involves the many forms of wildlife values discussed above.

An early conceptual framework for wildlife tourism focused on three dimensions of wildlife-human interaction (Duffus & Dearden, 1990), which include hunting and fishing (consumptive use), zoos and aquaria (low-consumptive use) and wildlife observation and photography (non-consumptive use). It also created a module of three basic elements of recreational use of wildlife: ecology, the recreational user and the

historical context of human-wildlife interactions. Higginbottom (2004) in the book entitled, Wildlife Tourism Impact, Management and Planning, classified four main forms of wildlife tourism: 1) Wildlife-watching tourism (viewing or otherwise interacting with free-ranging animals); 2) Captive-wildlife tourism (viewing animals in man-made confinement); 3) Hunting tourism, and 4) Fishing tourism.

This classification is based on the distinct types of suppliers, organizational networks, environmental impacts, host community issues, stakeholders, markets and bodies of literature. Similarly, Orams (1996) emphasized a spectrum of tourist-wildlife opportunities with a number of components: interaction opportunities (the way a tourist might meet an animal in a wild, semi-captive or captive state), management strategy options, and outcome indicators for tourists and wildlife (Figure 2).

Figure 2 The spectrum of tourist-wildlife interaction opportunities (Orams, 1996).

As shown in the Orams’ model of tourist-wildlife interaction, feeding of wildlife can fall into within the semi-captive and wild categories. This classification of wildlife tourism would suitable to describe the current primate tourism status in China. I will discuss the impacts of feeding wildlife, particularly primate species, as a tourism attraction and compare it with viewing primate in the wild (as opposed to in captive or semi-captive setting) later in the paper.

2.1 Defining non-consumptive wildlife tourismComparisons of the definitions of “Wild tourism” (Orams, 1996), “Wildlife watching tourism” (Valentine & Birtles, 2004) and “non-consumptive wildlife-oriented recreation” (Duffus & Dearden, 1990), reveal that they share some of the same key ideas attributes, specifically, a “focal organism”, in its “nature setting”, “not purposefully removed”, nor “permanently affected”.

Therefore, Non-Consumptive Wildlife Tourism (NCWT) is defined as the following: NCWT is tourism undertaken to view and/or encounter the focal organism in its natural setting and without purposefully removing or permanently affecting that organism. By this definition, NCWT has the minimal effects on both the focal organism and its environment, and therefore differs from captive and semi-captive wildlife tourism (e.g., zoos, wild animal parks). Besides, NCWT experiences were perceived to be more engaging, exciting, memorable and transformative than captive wildlife viewing experience (Packer & Ballantyne, 2012).

Although wildlife watching/viewing (includes video-recording and photographing) is the most common form of NCWT and tends to be seen has zero impact, it faces criticism is that wildlife viewing is also a form of consumption. Lemelin (2006) asserted that the focal species in wildlife viewing or NCWT suffered with “ocular consumption” and that viewing too generates negative impacts on the species behavior, especially the successful hunting rate of the polar bear. Another example will be the large number of gray wolf hunted and trapped in Wyoming, Idaho and Montana just outside Yellowstone National Park during the hunting season last year (See Stable ford, D. 2012.

“World’s most famous wolf shot and killed outside Yellowstone”). In this scenario, animals viewed by tourists become habituated to people and are therefore more easily hunted. Although passive observation from a distance is the main form of NCWT, disturbances from feeding, touching or approaching wildlife are common. Still, compared with passive observation the wildlife at a safe distance, feeding and touching of wildlife is much more likely to result in negative impacts for both the health and behavior of the species (Knight, 2009; Orams, 2002 & Berman, et al., 2007). Without purposefully

removal of wildlife via consumptive uses, a well-organized NCWT has been heralded as a way to secure sustainable economic benefits from wildlife while supporting wildlife conservation and local communities (Tisdell & Wilson, 2004; Higginbottom et al., 2001, 2003 & Fredline & Faulkner, 2001). Although well-managed consumptive wildlife tourism can also be sustainable, fewer tourists can simultaneously participate in these activities.

2.2 Conceptual framework of non-consumptive wildlife tourism In order to better manage NCWT, there is a need to classify the major components of wildlife tourism, and indicates the role of and relationship between these components. Duffus and Dearden (1990) suggest a conceptual framework for non-consumptive recreational use of wildlife (Figure 3). Their model uses an interaction between ecology, the recreational user and the historical context of the human-wildlife relationship.

Figure 3 The core components of NCWT (Duffus & Dearden, 1990)

They classified the components of NCWT into three main elements: 1) The historical context of human-wildlife relations (two parts: the impacts of human on animals and their habitats; traditional perceptions towards wildlife); 2) The wildlife (the focal species or species groups and the requirements of the species for survival); 3) The wildlife user (tourists engage in NCWT). Moreover, many researchers

suggested that local economics, wildlife policies, existing tourism facilities and knowledge of tour guides (Kong, 2012; He, et al., 2008; Buckely, 2010) can be considered as other important elements facilitate the NCWT. In the following case study in Laojun Mountain National Park, I will discuss each element in turn .

2.3 Importance of non-consumptive wildlife tourismNCWT is an important segment of tourism and has grown rapidly in many countries in recent decades (Field, 2001). This can be seen in the number of different types of wildlife watching activities linked to commercial tourism, the numbers of tourism businesses that offer these activities, and the numbers of tourists that engage in them (Tapper, 2006).

Tourism agents and operators are emphasizing that tourism needs to be sustainable, and they are developing and marketing tourism products that are ‘wildlife-friendly’ (for example the WildChina, Natural Habitat Adventure, et al), as well as carbon-neutral, and which ensure that a fair share of tourist income goes to local people (Tapper, 2006). Well-developed wildlife tourism can create economic benefits to government, tourism operators and local people, while supporting conservation in protected areas. And as some have noted, there is nothing like the indelible thrill of meeting a wild animal on its own terms in its own element (Ackerman, 2003).

2.3.1 Economics of Wildlife Tourism Tourism and travel continued to grow globally in recent years. International tourist arrivals grew by 4.6% to reach 983 million worldwide, up from 940 million in 2010. International tourism receipts for 2011 are estimated at US $1,030 billion worldwide, up from US $928 billion in 2010 (UNWTO, 2012). Some estimates suggest that wildlife tourism accounts for 20 to 40% of all international tourism (Filion, 1992; Giono, 1993), though see (Tisdell & Wilson, 2004) for a critique. Beginning in 1990s, ecotourism has been growing 20% – 34% per year and in

2007, global ecotourism market expanded to US $77 billion (CREST, 2008). According to Travel weekly, ecotourism could grow to 25% of the world’s travel market by 2012. Although there are no reliable global estimates of the economic impact of wildlife tourism, as a subset of ecotourism, it has been suggested that in involves relatively large numbers of participants and generates lots of money (Higginbottom, 2004).

The most detailed research to determine the economic importance of wildlife-related recreation has been in the USA. According to latest USFWS National Survey, 71.8 million US residents observed, fed, and/or photographed birds and other wildlife in 2011 and total 22.5 million people took trips of at least one mile from home to primarily wildlife watch. Through this non-consumptive wildlife tourism, people spent $ 54.9 billion on their wildlife watching trips, equipment, and other items in 2011.

This amounted to $981 on average per spender for the year (USFWS, 2012). Due to the insufficient data on wildlife tourism in China’s literature, I will focus more generally on the economic value of ecotourism in China instead. An example of an economic benefit to the local community may be observed with Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve, Sichuan Province. When it was first opened up for tourism in 1984, the indigenous Tibetans living in six villages inside the boundary were impoverished pastoralists and herders; there was little economic activity. By 2009, and taking advantage the beautiful landscape and biodiversity, Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve attracted 3.8 million tourists.

The Tibetan communities surrounding the reserve enjoyed a per capita income of more than US$12,000 from several tourist facilities including ownership of the shuttle bus in the park, the only restaurant located inside the Park, 180 Tibetan arts and crafts souvenir outlets and several performing cultural groups and accommodation units. Income generated from these activities makes them among the richest rural communities in China, and there has been a dramatic alleviation of poverty in the six villages. The success of Jiuzhaigou National Nature Reserve is broadly recognized as the model for balancing the economic income while contributing to the conservation (Li, 2006).

2.3.2 Contribution in conservation In wildlife tourism, encounters with wild (non-domesticated) animals are a focus of the visitor experiences, thus there is increasing awareness that nature-based or wildlife tourism should create a mutualistic (the way two organisms of different species exist in a relationship in which each individual benefits) relationship between communities and wildlife conservation (Tapper, 2006; Higginbottom, et al., 2001; Roe, et al., 1997). Although wildlife tourism can have various positive effects on wildlife species and their habitats, very little systematic research has been conducted on positive effect (Higginbottom, et al., 2003). Instead, we know much more about negative effects of wildlife tourism on wildlife (Green & Higginbottom, 2001;

Blanc, et al., 2006. & Li, et al., 2012). As mentioned above, NCWT tends to set higher standard of wildlife tourism and try to minimize the negative impacts to the wildlife and their habitats. Moreover, the NCWT involves people concentrate to the wildlife or their habitats that directly increases the research of wildlife, wildlife management from government and tour operators, public environmental awareness, educational opportunity about conservation, and most importantly, it directly increases funding for conservation, especially in developing countries (Boo, 1990). A well-organized NCWT required intensive management practice, monitoring and research (Higginbottom, 2004).

Many opportunities for wildlife watching tourism were created only after years of conservation and ecological research conducted by the governments, institutions, NGOs and tour operators (Tapper, 2006). For example, after years of ecological research on wild, mountain gorillas (Gorilla beringei beringei) the Rwandan government was struggling with their conservation. Then, in 1979, the government teamed up with various NGOs and introduced gorilla tourism and education as well as anti-poaching efforts as a vehicle to achieve better gorilla conservation (The Gorilla Talks). Since then, gorilla tourism has contributed to the welfare of the conservation and local communities (Nielsen & Spenceley, 2010). Moreover, the gorilla tourism effectively reduced the anti-poaching around the gorilla habitat (Shackley, 1996).

Similar to many zoos and animal parks, which shifted their activities toward wild animals conservation and both formal and informal education (Woollard, 1998), many wildlife and nature-based tourism operators, whether from the private or the public sector, incorporate environmental interpretation and education components. Likewise, the US National Park Service incorporates active education programs for visitors. Drafted in 1918 by the National Parks Educational Committee to promote the educational opportunities in national parks, the objectives for establishment of the National Park System were clear and bold: • •

To educate the public in respect to the nature and quality of the national parks, To further the view of the national parks as classrooms and museums of nature, • To combine in one interest the sympathy and activity of schools, colleges and citizen organizations in all parts of the country, • To study the history and science of each national park and collect data for future use.

Besides the above contributions of NCWT can bring to the conservation, NCWT can provide funding for conservation. To create a successful long-term NCWT industry, the first step is to protect the natural attractions through legal designation of conservation reserves, and regional planning to ensure that conservation areas are not damaged by other industries. And this provides the nature-based tourism in conservation reserves to be the keystone industry in the region. In China, reserves were funded at US $113/km2 in 1999, which was less than the developing country average, US $157/km2 (James, 1999; Li & Han, 2000). Many China’s nature reserves generated their funding by intensive logging, building dams and even invest mining (Sofield & Li, 2011).

Following the disastrous floods in 1998, the China’s central government realized the significance of environmental protection and introduced “The natural Forest Conservation Program” that banned all logging of natural forests mainly in Southwest of China (PRC State Council, 1998). With the cessation of logging in protected area, forestry departments all over China and  communities within the conservation areas lost their main revenue stream to cover operating costs. Since then, all reserves in China tried to find alternative ways to cover the operating costs.

Unlike the “user-pay” model of wildlife conservation in North America, which the federal add in Wildlife Restoration Act (Pittman-Robertsome Act) and Sport Fish Restoration Act (Dingell-Johnson Act) have contributed more than $10 billion to fish and wildlife conservation in US through anglers and hunters (Williams, 2010), China’s government kept forbidding the consumptive use of wildlife through hunting.

Therefore, Ecotourism had become one of the major funding sources for these regions. In the report of “Resources management within nature reserves in China”, Xue (2000) estimated that most of China’s reserves obtain 20 to 80 percent of their total budget from tourism. With the growth of sustainable tourism worldwide and the travel pattern swift within the China’s newly wealthy middle class (Wu et al, 2009), China’s National Reserves will generate more funding through the growing visitation rate. For example, in 2008, a total of 274 million tourists visited the various forest parks in China and generate RMB 18.7 billion, with a total regional economic contribution estimated at > RMB 140 billion (State Forestry Administration, 2009).

2.4 Negative impacts of non-consumptive wildlife tourism Although the evidence above supports the idea that NCWT can provide various positive impacts (e.g. financial support of conservation, promote education in conservation area) the possible negative impacts of NCWT cannot be ignored. Given that wildlife tourism is predicted to grow rapidly within many developing countries (UNEP, 2011), a shift away from the hard ecotourism to a more soft form of ecotourism is forecasted (Paul, 2007), leading eventually to mass conventional tourism and more negative impacts. Many researchers have described the potential negative effects of NCWT on animal populations, behavior and welfare (Duffus & Dearden, 1990; Green & Higginbottom, 2001; Shackley, 1996).

According to Knight and Cole, negative effects of wildlife tourism on free-ranging wildlife can occur at a

hierarchy of interconnected levels, from the community or species level to the individual animal (Figure 4).

Figure 4 A conceptual model of the responses of wildlife to disturbance (Knight & Cole, 1995).

There are many ways of classifying negative effects on wildlife, some from human activities aspects (Newsome, et al., 2005) and others from animal responses aspects (Liddle, 1997). Because the non-consumptive wildlife tourism is a tourism activity driven by human and animal responses, classifying the negative effects from human activities will be crucial for understanding the disturbance and can be used for tourism management efforts. In this paper, I classify the negative effects on wildlife from two aspects based on human activities:

1) disruption from access and 2) disruption from observation. 2.4.1 Disruption from access In order to observe free-ranging wildlife at close distances, infrastructures like trails, roads, accommodations and restaurants, etc. need to be built to facilitate the tourism activities. Yet, these infrastructures may trigger avoidance behavior in wildlife, complicating the provisioning of viewing activities. Gaegory Rost and James

Bailey in the study of “Distribution of mule deer and elk in relation to road” pointed out that, mule deer and elk in rocky mountain region avoid roads, particularly areas within 200m of a road and the road becomes the barriers for their migrations. Moreover, access using vehicles may cause accidental death or injury of animals.

Green and Higginbottom discussed that wildlife tourism has the potential to increase roadkills by (a) bringing more traffic into a wildlife-rich area; (b) habituating animals to traffic and parked cars and thus making them less wary on roads and in campgrounds; and (c) creating a positive feedback in that once an animal has been converted into carrion on the road or roadside scavengers are secondarily endangered by feeding there (Green & Higginbottom, 2001).

On the other hand, accommodations like hotels, resorts and campgrounds, which are areas with high density of human presence, can drive animals away. In Kenya, for example wildlife tourists’ disruption drives cheetahs off their reserves, increasing the risk of inbreeding and further endangering the species (Roe, et al., 1997).

The infrastructures built by tourism operators and other stakeholders may also impact foraging behavior, breeding behaviors (nesting and caring for young) and resting. Besides the direct impacts on wildlife, infrastructures like roads will cause fragmentation of the habitats, reduce the size of the core forests and impact the condition of soil, water and vegetation. Leung and Marion (1999) described the common forms of recreation impacts in wilderness (Table 1), which mirrors the types of disturbances that can be expected in from wildlife tourism.

Table 1 Access disturbance of wildlife tourism (Leung & Marion,1999).

2.4.2 Disruption from observation As mentioned in the paper, the definitionof wildlife watching is straightforward—that is, tourism undertaken to view or encounter wildlife (Newsome, et al., 2005). And, as wildlife watching is a kind of experience, tourists tend to get closer to the wildlife (Moscardo, et al., 2001). Although Orams (2000) suggests that wildlife observers can satisfy their viewing experience without getting close to wildlife, wildlife tourists and tourism operators tend to create opportunities to observe wildlife from closer range (Newsome, et al., 2005).

Animals may respond in a variety of ways to the presence of humans: some may flee at the very first sight, smell or sound of humans; some may spend more time on guard before resuming their original activity; others appear to take no notice at all (although this can be only based on human’s perception), while still others may approach humans, either to be fed, to threaten, or simply driven by curiosity (Moscardo, et al., 2001). All these behaviors potentially negatively impact not only wildlife but also tourists, and may amplify when tourists tend to get closer to the wildlife. Disturbed animals may show an “active defense” response: increased heart rate and respiration, increased blood flow

to skeletal muscle, increased body temperature, elevation of blood sugar, and reduce blood flow to the skin and digestive organs (Audrey & Knight, 2003). More rarely, they may show a “passive defense” response: inhibition of activity, decreased blood flow to skeletal muscles, reduced blood flow to the digestive system, reduces heart and respiratory, and a reduction of body temperature (Gabrielsen & Smith, 1995). Burger (1981) examined the effects of humans on birds at Jamaica Bay by foot.

Birds were flushed from their ponds when people made rapid movements in order to get a closer observation. Because wild animals are generally neophobic and often times finding animals is unpredictable in the wild, human interventions to increase the sighting quality had become effective tools for tourism operators.

There are two main interventions: habituation and attraction that tend to change wildlife behaviors toward humans. And both interventions could cause serious negative impacts for wildlife and human as well. Habituation is “a waning of response to repeated, neural stimuli,” in this case, human presence (Whittaker & Knight, 1998). It occurs where an initial disposition to escape from humans wanes and is replaced by tolerance of human presence. Habituation can reduce the population fitness, and reduce danger flight response (Higginbottom, 2004; Newsome, et al., 2005 & Shackley, 1996).

In some instances, wildlife were first habituated by ecologists and other scientists, which eventually facilitated wildlife tourism by making these animals more easy to encounter. One well- known example is provided by the mountain gorillas of Rwanda, who were habituated by Dian Fossey for the purpose of primatological research. Habituation of gorillas resulted in negative effects including: increase in human-gorillas conflicts by reducing the natural fear stimuli from the gorillas, diseases transmission between human and gorillas (Blom, et al., 2002).

A study at Virunga National Park in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and Rwanda indicated that gorillas are particularly susceptible to respiratory diseases from humans (Woodford, et al., 2002). Moreover, habituation has the potential impact of facilitate poaching also due to the removal of the fear of human (Kasereka, et al., 2006). Humans can make wildlife viewable by attracting them to particular places

where they can be observed or by focusing tourism in areas where they congrega