Improving the conservation value of invertebrates through ecotourism : component A.
Invertebrates are suffering the greatest species loss in the current biodiversity crisis. These animals perform essential ecosystem functions upon which humanity depends yet they are largely ignored m conservation efforts. The main challenges facing invertebrate conservationists, in terms of raising public awareness, are to change common negative perceptions regarding invertebrates and to apply some form of value to them. Conservation efforts can be improved by raising public awareness of, and appreciation for, invertebrates in the context of ecotourism. Current levels of inclusion of invertebrates in ecotourism activities were gauged, using qualitative research methods of participant observation and semi-structured interviews. The response of tourists to the concept of the inclusion of both western/scientific and indigenous knowledge regarding invertebrates into current and planned ecotourism activities was determined using the quantitative research method of a structured questionnaire. Canvassing of tourists was done at a popular ecotourism destination (Hluhluwe-Umfolozi Nature Reserve) and 121 questionnaires were completed. In addition to tourists the opinions and attitudes of a range of people working in ecotourism and conservation were examined via semi-structured interviews. The respondents were specifically selected according to the positions they held in the ecotourism and conservation field and a total of eight people in management, ten ecotourism guides and seven ecotourism trainers were interviewed. The findings revealed that there is currently negligible information regarding invertebrates in ecotourism activities. There was an overwhelmingly positive response from tourists, with 95% indicating that they would like to see information regarding invertebrates included in ecotourism activities. Ecotourism service providers, such as tour guides and those in conservation management also indicated a positive attitude toward the concept. There is thus potential to increase levels of information regarding invertebrates in ecotourism and it is recommended that ecotourism include a focus on invertebrates. Recommendations on how to address the lack of invertebrate information in ecotourism are provided and examples of the types of invertebrates to include in specific ecotourism activities are given. Including a focus on invertebrates in ecotourism will serve the multiple purposes of placing value on invertebrates; raising public awareness and hence the conservation status of invertebrates, and finally will increase the scope of ecotourism.