In all the reserves where Wildlife ACT works in is tourism. Tourism is necessary for pay the costs of the reserve, because not all of the reserves get paid by the government. And if a reserve receive money from the government it is not enough for the support of the reserve. All the animals in the reserve can live in their natural habitat. But when there are a lot of cars with people around a group of resting lions can a lion still live in their natural habitat? So what is the impact of tourism on the natural behaviour of the lion?
Conservation in Africa is becoming increasingly dependent upon the economic benefits provided by ecotourism (Lindsey et al. 2005, 2009). Lions Panthera leo Linnaeus, 1758 are amongst the most sought after animals to view by tourists (Boshoff et al. 2007, Lindsey et al. 2007). Hence, any reduction in their visibility by tourists could have economic ramifications as tourists seek other sites where lions are more visible. Ultimately, this would reduce the economic benefits of ecotourism ventures compared to agriculture and risk losing the benefits of habitat conservation in private lands that are necessary to conserve viable populations of wildlife to sustain an ecotourism venture (Lindsey et al. 2005, 2009).
Stress is known to increase breathing and heart rate (Wareham et al. 1997, Eston et al.1998), and hence energy expenditure (Cohen et al. 1975), and ultimately reduce immunity to disease (Ellenberg et al. 2006). There are several behaviours of felids that may indicate stress or discomfort. Yawning is a behaviour that felids use to warn conspecifics not to approach any closer (Estes 1999). Sitting up from a lying/ sleeping position, standing and moving indicate a readiness for activity that can be caused by the approach of tourists or their behaviour/noise. These behaviours also incur an energetic cost, albeit minor, that may not have occurred had the animal remained lying or asleep. Conversely, grooming is a relaxation behaviour in felids (Estes 1999). Breathing rate is an indirect measure of energy expenditure (Wareham et al. 1997, Eston et al. 1998) that have been used to measure the energetic costs of tourists on lions. Similar physiological responses were used to identify the impacts of tourists on penguins (Ellenberg et al. 2006) and cheetahs (Eaton 1974).
Lions incur energetic costs (albeit minor) attributable to the presence of tourists through an increased frequency of energetically expensive behaviour. The increased rate of breathing is also an indicator of stress, which may compound the impact of the increase in disturbance related behaviours. The impact of tourists on lions in Addo may be an underestimate compared to other sites throughout Africa. Addo has a relatively low visitation rate (150 000 per year) and offers dense vegetation that can act as a refuge for lions from tourists (Bradfield 2005). Numerous ecotourism sites around Africa have a much higher visitation rate, which may increase the frequency of lions being observed at close proximity by tourists. Other sites are far more open (notably the Serengeti – Mara ecosystem) and lions have little refuge habitat. Private game reserves offer opportunities to observe predators at very close proximity and game drives can leave the road to follow moving animals. This may mean that predators cannot get refuge from harassment and may lead to much greater behavioural modification and energetic costs (Hayward et al. 2009).
While the stress and energetic impacts of tourists on lions do not appear great and may not have population-level consequences, it is feasible that continued presence may lead to chronic impacts and consequences. If these impacts do become chronic, then wildlife may become more susceptible to disease, which may ultimately threaten small populations, particularly those that are enclosed. While stress has not been shown to have population level consequences in lions, such impacts have been observed in a range of penguin species (Ellenberg et al. 2006).
Recent research suggests that other supposedly resilient species are also impacted by human presence (eg spotted hyaenas Crocuta crocuta in the Masai Mara, Kenya; Kolowski and Holekamp 2008). Strict adherence to roads is one way to minimize tourist impacts, as well as ensuring wildlife gets some refuge sites where they can avoid humans. Spatial displacement of animals into refuge from tourists can lead to excess energetic costs however (Rode et al. 2006).
In the reserves with a lot of tourism are only a few roads. Some roads are none tourist allowed. In the reserves it is against the rules to drive off the road. There is enough space and vegetation for the lions to avoid humans. That concluded there is none impact of tourism on the natural behaviour of lions in the reserves where Wildlife ACT works in.
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