Ecotourism is causing infant mortality among Tibetan Macaques

According news bite of a long term study of Tibetan macaques (Macaca thibetana) in the Mount Huangshan Scenic Area of China’s Anhui Province, ecotourism is doing more harm than good. Tibetan MacaqueIn the October edition of the International Journal of Primatology, the results of a 19 year long study will show that skyrocketing infant mortality coincided with an influx of ecotourism.

From National Geographic News,

“[Tibetan macaques] regularly compete for corn in a small open area within view of spectators. [Which] likely triggered adult aggression toward each other and toward their young… As a result, less than half of the infants survive into adulthood.

The results suggest that ecotourism can be deadly when not managed properly, said study co-author Carol Berman

Berman’s team studied the Tibetan macaques for six years before ecotourism began in 1991.

They also collected data while tourists visited the animals between 1992 and 2004, including a span in 2003 when tourism was suspended.

Infant mortality had been low prior to ecotourism and was primarily caused by disease, the team found.

But exposing the monkeys to tourism was linked to high death rates caused by aggressive behavior among adults and toward infants. Although they didn’t witness all the attacks, many of the infant corpses Berman’s team found had bite wounds indicative of adult macaques.”

The National Geographic news piece on this publication goes on to interview Frans De Waal on his thoughts about ecotourism. He agrees with Berman that ecotourism works when it is managed properly.

The article goes on to cites that ecotourism for gorillas in Rwanda has helped out their case, but I beg to differ. We are seeing an influx of gorillas die from human acquired diseases. Many of these diseases like E. coli are not directly due to ecotourism, but other diseases… specifically communicable ones, take the common flu, can do serious damage to primate populations without acquired immunity to these pathogens.

In both of these cases, we see ecotourism not panning out to be what it was intended for — to spread awareness and help the conservation of primates. On the contrary ecotourism has serious side effects that we have no way of really calculating nor controlling.

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