On some trails in the Cataratas do Iguaçu Park, in Paraná, some animals get very close to people in search of food, and some even steal treats from open bags or backpacks. Therefore, it is not uncommon to find sweet or savory packages in the middle of the forest, where visitors do not enter. In Arraial do Cabo, in Rio de Janeiro, people use food — from biscuits to fried fish — to attract seagulls and thus capture a selfie.
Birds are also present at the viewpoint of Serra do Rio do Rastro, in Santa Catarina, but what most caught Luciana Zimmermann Philippi’s attention were the coatis. “This is the ninth year I’ve been going, and it was the first time I’ve seen it. I was eating dehydrated apples and they came forward to get them”, says the retired teacher. A resident of Blumenau, Santa Catarina, she participates in the groups Pegada Verde, in the city, and Cleaning of the Seas, in Florianópolis, and continues to appear in the classroom with lectures on environmental awareness for students.
According to Luciana, there were more than six animals asking tourists for food and moving in the garbage can. “Most people wanted to offer food despite a sign saying not to feed them. It should have more signs and a bigger fence so the animals don’t get through. I was alarmed by the amount of garbage and the lack of supervision,” she says. And it wasn’t just her who was upset by what she saw. “At the inn where I was, I heard a 9-year-old boy saying that he was angry about the situation, because animals should live in nature and not in the middle of so much garbage.”
While it may seem cool to see the pet come to eat out of the palm of your hand, interactions between people and wildlife at tourist sites can be dangerous, especially food-related. A negative example of this case occurs in the Rio Negro region, in the Amazon rainforest. “Tourists offer food to interact with the porpoises, and some studies show that these porpoises end up competing with each other, because they know that this is a place with easy access to food”, says Gustavo Fernandes, tourismologist and owner of the Amazon Experiences Ecoturismo agency. .
Competition for food takes place in the natural world as well, but it is more sporadic and punctual. “In the case of porpoises, their mouths and fins are injured, and the respiratory part is also damaged”, explains Gustavo. Dependence is a resulting problem, as it makes animals more vulnerable and sedentary, without having to explore other places for food.
This happened in the town of Ariaú Tower, a traditional hotel in the city of Manaus built in the 1980s – closed in 2015, today it is in ruins. According to Gustavo, there was a community of monkeys that walked on the stilts of the hotel looking for food that people gave them, mainly bananas. “Banana is not a food that the monkey finds so easily in nature, it is an exotic fruit there, but it was introduced to attract the attention of tourists”, says the entrepreneur. After the hotel closed, the animals had a hard time finding food.
Monkey: Accustoming animals to receiving food takes away their ability to find food on their own. — Photo: GettyImages
Elsewhere in the Amazon, the dependency created also affects residents. “Due to the need for income, some communities keep animals in chains or cages as a form of tourist exploitation, and a negative effect of this is the transmission of diseases”, says Gustavo.
The list goes on, especially when we talk about natural parks open to visitors. “It ranges from the most basic issue of erroneously discarded garbage and interference in the way of life of animals, such as disturbance in breeding seasons and nests and changes in the paths they take, to, on a more harmful scale, the hunting of some species, given that there is poaching tourism, which is when ‘scouts’ go to certain places as tourists to survey safety issues, species, etc. of the Ecotourism and Adventure Tourism Companies (ABETA).
Examples of abusive interactions that disrupt the daily lives of wild animals include unnecessary and purposeful proximity, touching or moving, using excessive vocalization playback (as in bird watching activities, for example), invasion of nests, disposal of organic waste , give food and take pets in places where wild animals are present.
In aquariums you shouldn’t hit the glass, and in zoos you shouldn’t hit the walls and bars. “As much as animals are a little more used to human presence, no one likes to be noisy at home. They need peace and tranquility, and they have a strict and strict diet, so giving food to animals, trapped or free, can put them at risk of poisoning”, warns Thaynara.
To avoid negative impacts on animals in parks, it is necessary to combat mass tourism and maintain inspections to see if management plans are being fulfilled. “Places with endangered species should be extra careful and maintain population dynamics studies to track populations and see how tourism is influencing their habitat. Any of these establishments can have the interaction with the animals, as long as it is observation interaction. Observing animals and their behavior helps us to understand them better and to disseminate knowledge”, says the biologist.
A successful example of healthy interactions between tourists and animals takes place at Parque das Aves, in Foz do Iguaçu, Paraná. In the Cecropia enclosure, visitors have closer contact with budgies, but without touching them, and can feed them from a distance, holding spoons filled with food specific to the animal’s diet. In the Conecta experience, tourists take a guided tour of an Atlantic Forest nursery, where they are also close to the birds, but without physical contact. The two activities comply with the guidelines of the Latin American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (ALPZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), according to the park’s advisory.
Turtle in the crosshairs: interactions must respect the animals’ space and avoid abuse. — Photo: GettyImages
“Interactions between humans and animals strictly follow ethical and animal welfare criteria, respecting the natural behavior of birds and their opportunity to choose whether or not to participate in the activity,” says Roberta Manacero, curator of animals and zoological records at the Bird Park. In all interactions, according to her, there is the follow-up of a trained professional and the maintenance of records for continuous behavioral assessment of the animals, in order to ensure that the experience is positive for both people and birds.
When it involves food, Roberta informs that it is formulated by a specialist in animal nutrition for participation in the activity, so that it does not interfere with nutritional support. “Animals participating in interactions are habituated to such activities and, in some cases, trained with conditioning techniques that involve positive reinforcement.
This means that when they choose to participate, the birds are provided with items, usually more palatable foods and their preferences, which are part of the conventional diet already normally offered. If they choose not to approach or interact, the animals do not have any changes in their usual routines”, he explains. Appropriate for the animal care purposes that the park adopts, these interaction formats are also more effective in transmitting educational messages, according to the curator.
The environmental awareness proposed by ecological tourism contributes to the conservation and regeneration of species and the ecosystem. “No one preserves what they don’t know, and the fact that we put ourselves in the background and are just spectators makes us create environmental awareness”, believes Thaynara. For her, observation practiced in a polite and regulated way also helps science to discover and follow up on some data through citizen science, which is carried out with the participation of people from the community.
Experience tourism, with wildlife observation, moves the sector as a whole, generates income for the people involved and contributes to the conservation of species, as is the case of whale watching (Whale Franca project), of jaguars (Onçafari and Gadonça projects) and birds (in several parks in Brazil).
“Ecotourism and interaction with nature play a very important role for sociobiodiversity, because it is necessary that the areas are protected and that the traditional populations are in their territories, without being threatened with expulsion. There you have a biodiverse and cultural heritage”, says Gustavo, who points to the municipality of Bonito, in Mato Grosso do Sul, as an example of balanced tourism in terms of carrying capacity and number of visitors per tours.
“You can have a diving interaction in crystalline rivers and see countless species of fish, boa constrictors, monkeys and other animals, including alligators and capybaras, without touching them or giving them food. They ended up getting used to the presence of humans, but the interaction is healthy because no one is interacting in a way that changes the ecosystem,” he explains.
This is exactly the limit of the interaction between humans and wild animals in tourist places: not creating a disturbance that inhibits, frightens or makes the animals aggressive. The same procedure applies when we are surprised by a wild animal in or near the house. In this case, we must contact the responsible bodies and wait for those responsible to arrive, without disturbing the animal.
You know that phrase that says that one person’s freedom ends where another’s begins? As tourists, we can say that it goes as far as the animal maintains its freedom to be wild.