UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Wildlife viewing and ecotourism : ethical, scientific, and value-based considerations Pitts, Anton D.


Management of wildlife viewing tourism, possibly as a legacy of management of hunting and trapping activities, tends to see its ultimate goal largely in terms of the sustainable human use of wildlife resources. However, where the potential impacts of human activities are non-lethal, the focus on population dynamics may not adequately address relevant societal and ethical concerns. Additional concerns include protecting tourist safety, maintaining a pristine wilderness experience, habituation (either positive, allowing for easier viewing, or negative, reducing animals’ “wildness'”), stressing animals, and showing disrespect or a lack of courtesy. Formal theories of animal and environmental ethics, while frequently conflicting and under-determinate in terms of specific prescriptions, provide a coherent basis and language for the discussion of each of these different concerns. The values extant in society, as reflected in lay writing about wildlife tourism, show that there is societal support for a variety of goals that wildlife tourism management should address. These include population-level and individual-level consequences as well as non-consequentialist goals such as fostering respect for wildlife or avoiding a “trophy photograph” mentality. Scientists attempting to assess the impacts of wildlife tourism use a variety of measures related to both individual and population responses. Especially when using individual-animal measures (behaviour, stress responses), scientists are rarely explicit about why these measures are important, relying instead on an implicit and uncertain link to population-level impacts. These measures, however, may be linked more directly to equally valid (from a management perspective) individual-level concerns. Given the variety of goals that are ethically justified and societally supported, it is inappropriate to conceptualise management as a mere scientific problem. Instead, I use a decision-analysis framework to synthesize relevant contributions from the scientific, ethical, and social-values literatures, identify their respective contributions to the decision-making process, and conclude that while good indicators exist for most of the objectives identified, thresholds at which changes in the indicators call for management action remain to be established.

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