The Pressure of Novelty

I often think about the effects that Western travel is having on the developing world. What if Mallory or Hillary had never decided that climbing Everest was a thing? Adventurers and explorers are amazing and I won’t talk them down, but today’s travelers come in masses large enough to change destinations from quaint, cultural islands, into pulsing masses of tourist sprawl. That’s a credit to the locals in those places, actually, having made a livelyhood from others who visit their homes. But what’s the price? Overdeveloped land that accepts more people than is is meant to support? Lowering water tables? Unmanaged trash piles?

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Aside from the impact of such travel, it’s so novel to experience a land where laws are less established, wild places are less protected, and wild animals are not separated from visitors as much as they are here. Things we don’t generally consider doing in the West: riding through an Asian jungle on elephant back to see wild rhinoceros. They are a tourist attraction and bring in much needed money, but what is the expense? Attempting to tame three-ton animals well enough that this can happen? I can’t help but flash to an elephant losing it and trampling tourists along the way. In this situation, piles of tourists flood the park for the chance at an encounter with elephants, rhinos and even Bengal tigers. This makes more demand for more guides, which leads to wider paths, more hotels and ultimately, overdeveloped land that supports fewer tigers. And that’s the most intriguing thing that the tourists came for in the first place.

But there are some exceptions. This photo is from the back of a female Asian elephant, looking at a mother and baby wild one horned Asian rhinoceros which has just been moved from endangered to threatened. It’s one of the few success stories from such a situation: The locals figured out that Westerners wanted to see the rhinos, so they put laws and enforcement in place to help the last 200 in Nepal. This brought money, which allowed more enforcement, which allowed the rhinos to recover. A hundred years ago there were only 200, today there are 2500 of these wild animals. A success story in Chitwan National Park, Nepal. And perhaps that is the sort of travel that we should aim for and encourage – the kind that promotes environmental improvement, resource sustainability and responsibility for ourselves wherever we go.

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