3 years ago

The importance of vegetation density for tourists’ wildlife viewing experience and satisfaction in African savannah ecosystems

Matthias Schleuning, Ugo Arbieu, Katrin Böhning-Gaese, Claudia Grünewald
Southern African protected areas (PAs) harbour a great diversity of animals, which represent a large potential for wildlife tourism. In this region, global change is expected to result in vegetation changes, such as bush encroachment and increases in vegetation density. However, little is known on the influence of vegetation structure on wildlife tourists’ wildlife viewing experience and satisfaction. In this study, we collected data on vegetation structure and perceived mammal densities along 196 road transects (each 5 km long) and conducted a social survey with 651 questionnaires across four PAs in three Southern African countries. Our objectives were 1) to assess visitors’ attitude towards vegetation, 2) to test the influence of perceived mammal density and vegetation structure on the easiness to spot animals, and 3) on visitors’ satisfaction during their visit to PAs. Using a Boosted Regression Tree procedure, we found mostly negative non-linear relationships between vegetation density and wildlife tourists’ experience, and positive relationships between perceived mammal densities and wildlife tourists’ experience. In particular, wildlife tourists disliked road transects with high estimates of vegetation density. Similarly, the easiness to spot animals dropped at thresholds of high vegetation density and at perceived mammal densities lower than 46 individuals per road transect. Finally, tourists’ satisfaction declined linearly with vegetation density and dropped at mammal densities smaller than 26 individuals per transect. Our results suggest that vegetation density has important impacts on tourists’ wildlife viewing experience and satisfaction. Hence, the management of PAs in savannah landscapes should consider how tourists perceive these landscapes and their mammal diversity in order to maintain and develop a sustainable wildlife tourism.

Publisher URL: http://journals.plos.org/plosone/article

DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0185793

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