Not just the Big Five: African ecotourists prefer parks brimming with bird diversity

Ecotourism helps sustain protected areas (PAs) that in turn conserve Africa’s declining fauna. Identifying ecotourist preferences and which species and landscapes benefit from ecotourism could therefore support African biodiversity conservation efforts. Due to historic associations with trophy hunting and subsequent ecotourism marketing efforts, ecotourist preferences have been thought to traditionally center around the ‘Big Five’: elephant, lion, buffalo, leopard, and rhinoceros. But these preferences may be evolving. Here, we ask two questions, one about the drivers and one about the consequences of ecotourism: (1) Which species and landscapes do ecotourists most prefer based on realized visitation data? And (2), differently, which species and landscapes benefit most from ecotourism? We gathered data on average annual tourist visits, the occurrence of nine mammals, bird species richness, forest cover, national wealth, local human population and accessibility for 164 Sub-Saharan African PAs. To address our first question, we used a Bayesian multivariable model to identify whether bird and megafaunal diversity explain visits to PAs while controlling for other factors. To address our second question, we used Bayesian univariate models to analyze the relationships between park visitation and each species/landscape. We found that tourist preferences extend beyond the Big Five to include bird diversity. We also observed that ecotourism may be well suited to conserve bird diversity, lion, cheetah, black and white rhinoceros, African wild dog and giraffe species. Collectively, our results may help inform how to leverage ecotourism to conserve African fauna.

Publish DateOctober 20, 2022
Last UpdatedOctober 20, 2022