National Parks were first created in the 1920s in North America. The development of nature tourism led to South American countries following suit in the 1980s. In East Africa, ecotourism originated as wildlife tourism in the 1970s.1 One of the underlying principles behind this new form of tourism was to allow for development and support of community, while maintaining wildlife migrations, ecosystems and diversity.
Ecotourism has passed a number of milestones. As a result, there has been a growing sensibility worldwide with regard to animals and the environment, as well as an increasing sensitivity towards nature and culture. Tour operators market the ecotourism logo, creating a “do good, feel good, leave no trace” ethos. Organizations such as the International Ecotourism Society (TIES) and other nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) have been building agendas and raising awareness, while an increasing number of governments are promoting policies and regulations that will create ratings and standards.2
Despite these important contributions, too little attention has been paid to the impact of conservation efforts on local peoples and, in particular, on indigenous
peoples whose traditional way of life and mode of production depends on their access to their ancestral lands. Indeed, the majority of indigenous communities who
traditionally occupied current ecotourism destinations, such as wildlife or biosphere reserves, have been forcibly evicted from these areas in order to create these spaces. An escalating number of case studies around the world confirms that the majority of these evictions were undertaken without the free prior informed consent of
indigenous communities, and/or without adequate compensation for their loss.
Many of these displacements appear to be implemented on the premise that wildlife and natural resource conservation is incompatible with human activity. This is
despite indigenous peoples’ ancestral role as custodians of the land and despite their traditional knowledge systems that ensure the sustainable use of the resources in question. In the case of semi-nomadic pastoralists, the danger of overgrazing has only become more acute as land tenure systems (which, since colonialism, fail to recognize their way of life) continue to parcel out large areas to individual and commercial interests. In these instances, particularly where pasture is rare in times of drought, it is important to reconsider the interplay between conservation and the cultural survival of indigenous peoples. A further problem, as highlighted by the NGO Tourism Concern, is the insistence by tour operators that tourists do not want to see cattle or pastoralists such as the Maasai, whose lifestyle has supported the wildlife for all these years, because it spoils the idea of ‘pristine wilderness’.3
David Western, ‘The Responsible Business Opportunity’, East Africa International Year of Ecotourism Regional Meeting Information Summary of Proceedings (2002).
Tourism Concern, Tourism in focus, Spring 2006, p. 8.