Ecotourism — how it can save birds.

MIST Software staff associating after a hard day of tropical ecological study, St. John, USVI, 1996

When tourists from first world countries take a strong interest in the ecology and culture of any third world country, the travel decisions they then make become a driving economic force.  The force says to all governments and entrepreneurs: “We want to visit your unspoiled areas to see and hear your indigenous life and cultures.”  These desires can translate into a potent force for conservation.  This is a key idea in ecotourism.

When we at MIST chose to include the tropical Americas within this product, we are saying to you, the bird watcher or bird lover: you can buy this product to easily learn your home birds by our “click-and-you-are-there” bird books, but you can also, at no added cost, provide yourself a first class bird book to many New World tropical areas.  By paying that extra amount for this potential, you are already helping MIST to provide services to promote ecologically sensitive travel.  On the next few web pages, we provide some details of the travel services which have been pivotal in creating this product in the last eight years, and which we hope you will also enjoy.

Under the best of circumstances, protecting and preserving nature is difficult—well beyond the capabilities of any government to make and to enforce laws.  Vigilance is probably best served by a combination of volunteer, entrepreneurial and governmental forces in cooperation — in short, a complex support web of mutual interests. 

The role of ecotourism is almost too complex to describe, because each tourist travels for different reasons—satisfaction, pleasure, surprise, leisure, learning—and the balance of these goals will affect both your choice of places to visits, and also the effect you leave behind at each stop.   If you or any member of your family routinely complains about tastes that differ slightly from their own, you will likely not enjoy ecotourism and may leave behind a “glad to see them gone” attitude in your hosts.  Try to remember, a lack of swank accommodations is a sign that such niceties do not exist, not a lack of respect for your preferences and life style.  In some corners of the New World tropics, when you are told that they “didn’t know you were an American” it can be a great compliment.  This is NOT because “they” start out hating Americans, or that Americans are bad people; it is more likely that the ones that have traveled so far, that represented the USA abroad, if you will, have been so leisure or self-pleasure oriented that they have not conveyed any feeling of respect to the host civilization.  If you try to imagine welcoming into your own house people who, by your own standards, are unimaginably rich, you will perhaps get a better idea of how to be a more gracious guest in the future.

Building respect is a difficult and fragile process, and nobody has any major edge on anyone else at succeeding.  Rather than further belabor these points, we have chosen to spend some space on these pages showing you how one family gained some ground in these skills over six years of eco-travel.  Certainly most travelers do appreciate and reciprocate friendliness; humility—the capacity to genuinely respect and learn from people who are very different looking or sounding—is a skill to be slowly learned.  It certainly begins by asking and by listening,  seemingly lacking in many travelers from all over the world.  Learn to identify a key weakness, called xenophobia — fear of the new or strange — and stop it before it ruins a budding relationship for you or someone else.

Gatun Dam at the Northwest end of the Panama Canal, shown at a low  flow volume.

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