Good Green Reading: Wildebeest in a Rainstorm

When Jon Bowermaster isn’t writing for us here on Earthkeepers, he’s documenting his travels for other publications and in his own films and books.  His latest book, Wildebeest in a Rainstorm is a fascinating compilation of stories and observations from some of Jon’s greatest adventures with such notable companions as Wangari Maathai, Richard Branson and Bobby Kennedy, Jr.

The following excerpt is from his essay “Endangered Species,” in which he and preeminent field biologist George Schaller discussed the environmental importance – and inherent danger – of ecotourism:

“I’ve never been interested in anything but the outdoors,” he confesses.  Today he insists his primary goal is to help alert the public’s attention to a global “century of destruction” in which he believes that humans are destroying natural resources, particularly plants and animals, at such a rate that mankind will ultimately be threatened.  Though hardly a typical tourist, Schaller believes the current boom in ecotourism – if done properly, by skilled and committed companies – is one avenue for preserving both wilds and wildlife.

“For many areas of the world good tourism – which means limited numbers of strictly controlled people that are aware of the environment, that are knowledgeable about what they are up to, that don’t litter, that don’t disturb the animals, that treat the local people with respect – can have a real benefit.  Otherwise such regions might just disappear.  In an area has foreigners coming and looking and the money from their visit stays there, local people will be more likely to protect it.  If nobody ever visits, say the rainforest, the more likely it will be logged.”

He worries, as do many in the tourist and conservation industries, that ecotourism has become a buzzword, a gimmick, a sales pitch with little more meaning than “New” or “Improved” printed on a box of soap flakes.  “Most ecotourism has never really helped local people,” says Schaller, “because they make very little money.  It’s the middlemen and the politicians who make the money; very little trickles down.  Until there is a code of conduct, guidelines for companies that they have to meet before they’re allowed to call themselves ecotourism, it will not truly help.”  He remains a constant critic of many wildlife policymakers because he truly cares not only about the animals but also the places that have been his focus, his life’s work.

To read more from Jon Bowermaster and to buy Wildebeest in a Rainstorm, visit his website.

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