3 years ago

Sustainable close encounters: integrating tourist and animal behaviour to improve rhinoceros viewing protocols

J. R. Muntifering, W. L. Linklater, R. Naidoo, S. Uri-≠Khob, P. D. Preez, P. Beytell, S. Jacobs, A. T. Knight

Abstract

Tourism may benefit conservation, but some wildlife viewing practices threaten the sustainability of both business and conservation initiatives. In north‐west Namibia, conservation‐oriented tourism provides tourists with an opportunity to encounter the critically‐endangered black rhinoceros Diceros bicornis on foot. We used 123 tourist‐rhinoceros encounters and employed a statistical modeling approach to: (1) identify the characteristics of human‐rhinoceros encounters that caused rhinoceros disturbance and displacement; and (2) design rhinoceros‐human encounter guidelines that improve sustainability. A model‐averaging, information‐theoretic approach identified tourist approach distance, viewing time and individual encounter exposure as the most significant predictors of rhinoceros disturbance level. A suite of rhinoceros viewing scenarios were modeled for acceptable disturbance risks, and adopted as a rhinoceros viewing policy. The policy reduced encounter displacements by 80% while maintaining a 95% positive feedback rating from guests. We demonstrate an evidence‐based, policy‐oriented management approach can help improve tourism's contribution towards the conservation of an endangered species.

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