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The BBC's Tom Fielden
"Nature tourism has a big part to play"
 real 28k

Tuesday, 9 May, 2000, 04:07 GMT 05:07 UK
Tourists key to saving wolves
Western Europe's bears retain a precarious hold on life
By environment correspondent Alex Kirby

Tourists can help to save some of Europe's most endangered species, the World Wide Fund for Nature believes.

WWF says the tourist industry can play "a pivotal role" in saving the continent's last great carnivores, including wolves, lynx and brown bears.

A WWF report says the presence in Europe of species like these is a "potentially huge business opportunity", ripe for exploitation.

It says many of the species could become extinct in Europe within a decade if nothing is done.

Wolves and people can co-exist
WWF says brown bears in western Europe are more endangered than the giant panda, and are on the brink of extinction, especially within the European Union.

It describes another carnivore, the Iberian lynx, as the world's most endangered cat.

The report examines case studies from Romania, Poland, Italy, France and Spain to assess the benefits of tourism to conservation.

The Carpathian mountains of Romanian Transylvania have more wolves, bears and lynx than any European country except Russia.

The report says it is the last place in Europe where high numbers of people and large predators still co-exist.

Bears visit Brasov most nights, and wolves scavenge for food within the city limits.

Profits ploughed back

Communities in the Piatra Craiului mountain region nearby have actively encouraged carnivore tourism since a local pulp mill closed, making thousands of workers redundant.

Tourists hoping to see the animals accounted for more than US $130,000 in 1999, more than half of which went into the local community.

The report says "responsible" tourism can help to support the conservation of carnivores and their habitats through the sustainable development of local communities.

WWF wants the European tourism industry to adopt the Romanian model as a blueprint for action throughout the continent.

The highly endangered European lynx
John Brodie-Good is the managing director of WildWings, a company which runs wildlife and bird-watching holidays.

He told BBC News Online: "I think the idea is a good one, but there's quite a long way to go.

"Most of these animals are incredibly shy and retiring, so they're very hard to see.

"We have a 26-year-old guide working with us in the Bialowieza forest in Poland, where there are lynx and wolves. He's lived there all his life, and he's never seen either of them.

No chance

"It's much the same in Spain, on the Cota Donana. Tourists are taken through there on big fast buses, and they never have a chance to see a lynx.

"If conservationists want support from the tourist industry, they'll have to understand that people will want to see the stars of the show."

Tourism is reckoned to provide 200 million jobs, and international tourism receipts last year totalled $455bn.

It is growing at an estimated 3% annually, and WWF says eco-tourism is increasing much faster.

Photos courtesy of WWF

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See also:

11 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Campaign for Europe's carnivores
25 Apr 00 | Sci/Tech
Wolves find haven in Italy
14 Nov 99 | Sci/Tech
Last chance for Europe's 'tiger'
27 Jul 99 | Sci/Tech
Bears face extinction
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