Ecotourism’s downside revealed through GIS

Thanks to Mongoose girl for this post:

The study of the spread of diseases has tended to focus primarily on human suffering and mortality. In many cases, animals were the vectors of transmission for the virus or bacteria to humans. However, a study from the journal of Emerging Infectious Diseases is attempting to assess human’s negative impact on animals’ health. This study utilized GIS to research the spread of Mycobacterium tuberculosis in free-ranging mongooses in Botswana and suricats in South Africa (also known as meercats).

In these areas of Africa eco-tourism has emerged as a profitable way to support local economies. It has many positive attributes such as encouraging local communities’ autonomy, preserving wildlife habitat, and encouraging responsible resource use. However, increased human presence in what used to be remote and fairly undisturbed areas has resulted in disease transmission to animal populations. This is one of the first studies to consider the transmission of a primarily human pathogen into free-ranging wildlife.

Researchers required a tool to assist them in tracking the geographic locations infected animals as they roamed throughout the day. Researchers also needed to map all of the human infrastructures in the animal’s range, which included national parks and multi-purpose lands. GIS was an ideal solution as it allowed them to overlay multiple layers and look for geographic similarities between human presence and sites of disease transmission. Point layers were used to depict tourist facilities, garbage dumps, and locations of mongoose TB cases. Lines and polygons were used to portray roads and land use. To monitor the disease outbreak, mongoose troops were followed by patrollers in both the morning and evening. They collected and then georeferenced information such as animal sightings, important geographic locations and individual TB cases. This created enough graphical and non-graphical attribute data to determine the rate of infection spread, by calculating the time and distance between new outbreaks. The GIS output was also useful in visualizing the extent of TB’s spread within the mongoose populations and the humans’ role in transmission.

GIS technology has allowed for the domains of epidemiology, geography and wildlife biology to be incorporated into one analysis. Future emphasis can be placed on protecting wild species, either by limiting visitors contact or by simply ensuring that garbage is hygienically disposed of. Ecotourism plays an important role in supporting rural communities. However, animal health cannot be neglected. After all, there needs to be something wild left to encourage visitors to come!

For more information see: Alexander, K., Pleydell, E., Williams, M., Lane, E., Nyange, J. and Michel, A. 2002. Mycobacterium tuberculosis: An Emerging Disease of Free-Ranging Wildlife. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 8: 598-601. Accessed November 25th, 2005.

Comments are closed.