Eco-tourism was once hailed as the savior of wildlife and impoverished regions of the world alike, but the list of problems associated with the industry has begun to grow.
The latest environmental issue
attributed to eco-tourists is a massive threat to an already endangered species. It appears that the tourists may be passing potentially deadly diseases to the great apes they spend so much money to view in the wild. New evidence has come to light suggesting that humans are infecting the apes with deadly respiratory viruses.
The first direct evidence linking human contact to disease deaths of great apes was found in the Ivory Coast. Chimpanzees at the West African nation’s Tai chimpanzee research station were killed by human respiratory syncytial virus (HRSV) and human metapneumovirus (HMPV).
This throws a wrench into the eco-tourism equation. Tourist money has undoubtedly had a positive impact on both the economies of desperately poor African nations and the situation of endangered great apes. Eco-tourism helps fund conservation projects and has reduced poaching by making the animals more valuable alive and in their natural habitat than they would be dead. However, an outbreak of a virus carried by an unwitting eco-tourist could potentially wipe out an entire community of apes, which could drive the endangered species toward extinction.