Eco-Tourism Protects Parrots, Natural Habitats

Ilene Stackel

by I.M. Stackel

Editor’s Note: this article appeared in an edition of the 2013 In Your Flock companion parrot magazine.

For 13 of my 40 years as a journalist, I was a professional travel writer. The first time my heart cried out and prayed for a destination to remain untouched was in 1984 when I visited Bora Bora. That was 132 years after writer and naturalist Ida Pfeiffer wrote A Woman’s Journey Around the World from Vienna to Brazil, Chile, Tahiti, China, Hindostan, Persia, and Asia Minor.

For a society that cherishes freedom and nature, it wasn’t all that long ago that the European Union got around to banning import of wild parrots. Agreed to in Brussels in 2006, the laws went into effect July 1, 2007, a scant six years ago. Enforcement is slow to catch up and requires every traveler to exercise common sense and compassion.

For starters, as hackneyed as it sounds, heed the old adage to take photographs and memories and leave nothing but footprints. Furthermore, bird lovers should avoid any souvenirs made of animals and birds or parts such as feathers, and consciously shun mementos—wood, for instance—obtained from habitats that were not harvested in a sustainable way.

Some of the best ecotourism practices might include traveling to destinations that work in partnership with conservation groups, Ayako Ezaki, communications director for The International Ecotourism Society said.

“Peru and Brazil are two examples of good birding destinations, because of some of the work our members are doing,” Ezaki said. You can learn more at www.ecotourism.org.

Steve Milpacher of the World Parrot Trust said there are literally dozens of great destinations for parrot lovers to choose from. “It’s best if they chose a general destination by country, and then look for operators in that country who align with the International Ecotourism Society,” Milpacher said. “Countries with high numbers of wild parrots include Costa Rica, Brazil, Australia and Indonesia.”

To get an idea of which destinations engage in the best and most current conservation practices, it is worth looking at BirdLife International’s Data Zone, which posts The State of the World’s Birds, a comprehensive overview of current and emerging conservation issues. The site also posts national reports, alerts and forums on globally threatened birds. Visit www.birdlife.org/datazone/sowb.

It is also illuminating to note which destinations and travel companies are confident enough to host ecotourism conferences and participate in seminars. This year’s Ecotourism and Sustainable Tourism Conference will be held Sept. 24 through 27 in Nairobi, Kenya, and is co-hosted by the Kenya Tourism Board and African Wildlife Foundation.

Bonito, MS in Brazil will play host to the 2014 ESTC. Bonito promotes itself as the capital of ecotourism in Brazil. While an ambitious claim, for the past 12 years Bonito has won the Viagem e Turismo’s best ecotourism destination award. Viagem e Turismo is Brazil’s leading tourism magazine.

Mauritius is another destination that has come to be associated with serious conservation and rehabilitation efforts.

Carl Jones, Ph.D., the keynote speaker at Parrots International’s annual symposium June 21 through 23 in Long Beach, is the scientific director of the Mauritian Wildlife Foundation and International Conservation Fellow at the Durrell Wildlife Conservation Trust in Jersey, Channel Islands, United Kingdom. The latter has a wildlife park.

A bird lover who shares his home with a cockatoo, pairs of macaws, condors, owls, kestrels and an eagle, Jones’ address will be on Echos in the Forest: The rescue of a Critically Endangered species, the Echo Parakeet Psittacula eques and its long-term conservation management, citing statistics observed in Mauritius.

Likewise, Donald Brightsmith, Ph.D., is a Parrots International advisory board member, a lecturer in avian conservation at Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center in Texas, and the research director for Rainforest Expeditions, Peru. Brightsmith has worked in Peru’s tropical forests since 1993 and includes a wide range of parrot- and macaw-related topics including clay lick use, landscape level movements, diet, reintroduction, habitat management, nesting ecology and conservation.

How can your next trip include good environmental practices? That’s the question we put to Milpacher of World Parrot Trust.

“That is too broad to answer (but) each circumstance is different, as are the practices of individual tour operators and projects,” Milpacher said. All travel companies allied with the International Ecotourism Society have “agreed to a high standard of operation that follow the following ecotourism principles,” Milpacher said.

Those SOPs include:

  • Minimize impact;
  • Build environmental and cultural awareness and respect;
  • Provide positive experiences for both visitors and hosts;
  • Provide direct financial benefits for conservation;
  • Provide financial benefits and empowerment for local people; and
  • Raise sensitivity to host countries’ political, environmental, and social climate.

How does a traveler do his or her part? International Ecotourism Society spells it out this way:

“Your travel choice makes a difference. By exploring alternative travel choices, you can have a unique trip and avoid leaving negative marks on cultures, economies and the environment.”

At the hotel: Ask about environmental policies and practices. Talk with staff about working conditions. Does the hotel support community projects?

Language: Learn a few words of the local language and use them.

Behavior: Be respectful of local citizens’ privacy. Ask permission before entering sacred places, homes or private land.

Environment: Respect the natural environment. Never touch or harass animals. Always follow designated trails. Support conservation by paying entrance fees to parks and protected sites.

Animal products: Never buy crafts or products made from protected or endangered animals.

Pay the fair price: Don’t engage in overly aggressive bargaining for souvenirs. Don’t short-change on tips for services.

Buy locally: Choose locally owned lodges, hotels and B&Bs. Use local buses, car rental agencies and airlines. Eat in local restaurants, shop in local markets, and attend local festivals or events.

Hire local guides: Enrich your experience and support the local economy. Ask guides if they are licensed and live locally. Are they recommended by tour operators?

Doing your research before your trip will increase your chances for an environmentally positive experience for all.

A professional writer and journalist for four decades, Ilene Stackel is known locally for government/political and business coverage. Most recently she’s contributed to the Fort Myers News-Press but prior to that spent nine years at Naples Daily News. Stackel also worked for Knight-Ridder in the Florida Keys, South Florida Business Journal and UPI in Miami. In the 1980s and early ’90s, Stackel was a travel writer who specialized in Asia-Pacific and the Caribbean.

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