Wildlife tourism is a type of tourism that is organized and undertaken in order to watch or encounter wildlife. Large carnivore species appeal to a wide audience and have therefore become focal species for the wildlife tourism activities.
Due to human–carnivore conflict, local support for large carnivores might initially be lacking. However, the economic benefits from wildlife tourism can increase local support for carnivore conservation. Carnivore tourism can increase public awareness and promote the conservation of the species. It offers educational opportunities on local and international level, carnivore visitor centres can heighten tourism experience and presence of carnivores can facilitate the development of unique tourism experiences. Moreover, tourism can directly generate revenue for conservation efforts.
Depending on the number of tourists, the type and management of tourist activities, wildlife tourism can have negative impacts on large carnivores. Exposure to human disturbance may affect large carnivore distribution, reproduction, activity patterns and impair them from performing ecosystem functions. Poorly managed large carnivore tourism can increase the level of conflicts with people.
Tour operators providing large carnivore based tourism should follow the responsible wildlife tourism guidelines to minimize unintended consequences and maximize positive indirect conservation impacts of wildlife tourism. Visitor groups should be small and under constant supervision of a qualified guide. Guides should provide visitor with guidelines of proper behaviour in the large carnivore area. Ultimately the trained guides will not only guarantee the safety, of both, humans and bears, but also the success and enhanced visitor satisfaction, by providing detailed and accurate information on the biology, ecology and behaviour of the species to their guests.
If choosing large carnivore based tourism experience look for the responsible programs, awarded with bear friendly label, that are not based solely on large carnivore encounters but rather include experiencing the habitat, recognizing their signs of presence, as well as learning about coexistence with local communities. Discover Dinarics portal features best practice examples of large carnivore based tourism programs. Moreover, share of the revenues from sold programs is allocated to nature conservation non-governmental organizations.
Download guidelines for responsible practices in bear tourism here.