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Tourism and Biodiversity Laws

Last November 11, 2013, Mark Evidente of TwoEco, Inc. spoke at the University of the Philippines Asian Institute of Tourism (UP-AIT) at a Forum on Tourism and Biodiversity.

Interacting with plants and animals appears to be a significant tourism activity, whether it is along a mountain trail where guides point out different medicinal plants or bird calls, or in a sanctuary or zoo where a tourist may be touching an elephant, a python or a small primate, or on a "safari" package where hunting is part of the draw, or even in a restaurant where exotic herbs and meats are on the menu.

There are however key challenges when dealing with these activities. Many tourists, even responsible and well-intentioned individuals, often do not know what animals are protected or even endangered, or how their activities might unduly affect an animal's wellbeing. Others may take pride in flouting the law, or may think that the law over-reaches into a person's "rights" to own "property", thinking of regulated animals and plants as such. Even others may see the law as unduly interfering with cultural rights, when the hunting, possession, or consumption of particular plants and animals might be a component of a particular cultural group's identity. And most crucially, in dealing with pervasive rural poverty, it is extremely difficult to simply prohibit hunters, gatherers or fisherfolk from gathering regulated species when selling such can be one of the few ways to generate income.

We approached these issues by emphasizing a general rule that animals or plants that have not been domesticated are likely to be protected under some law or regulation, and that tourists should proceed with caution unless the activity or facility has a permit from environmental regulators. The idea of property rights and cultural rights, on the other hand, must be understood that both evolve over time and new laws have been ways to push the evolution. Slavery was once understood as a property right, for instance, and yet today it is been universally abolished and condemned. Cultural rights, however, will likely be a bit more problematic as law can often be a tool by which a dominant culture imposes its own biases on minority cultures. On the last issue, tourism presents an opportunity by which poverty can be addressed, where in some cases hunters, gatherers and fisherfolk can use the same hunting skills to guide tourists to see animals and plants in the natural environment.

Also speaking at the forum were AA Yaptinchay of Marine Wildlife Watch, Professor Anthony Arbias of the Philippine Native Plants Conservation Society, and Dr. Carmela P. Española of the Philippine Wild Bird Club.

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