Roberto Vieto, Mauricio Forlani
We provide an initial insight into the extent, occurrence and characteristics of wildlife tourism involving close interactions with free-ranging, non-domesticated, animals outside of formal captive environments across Latin America. Using information provided online via TripAdvisor, we found this type of tourism was occurring across the region (advertised on 249 wildlife tourist attraction webpages across 21 countries) and involved a diverse range of wild animals (73 species, including 19 currently considered as threatened by the IUCN). Opportunities for direct contact with wild animals were particularly prevalent (54% of all surveyed webpages). Despite the potential economic benefits, studies have indicated that these types of ecotourism are potentially having net negative impacts on wildlife conservation and welfare. Mammals classified as Least Concern featured most commonly in tourist photos, but our analyses suggest that mammals and species classified as Vulnerable on the IUCN Red List were most likely to occur in these types of wildlife tourist attractions (WTAs). Amphibians and species classified on the IUCN Red List as Data Deficient or Critically Endangered were least likely. Given the growing nature of the wildlife tourism sector, we provide recommendations to help effectively balance and manage wider wildlife protection goals and growing tourist interest in wildlife. World Animal Protection is addressing this issue within its wildlife global campaigns (wildlife used in tourism or as pets), with a primary focus on Animal Welfare and including aspects of conservation and human health related to this proximity between wildlife and people, and the risks for both.