Newswise — Ecotourism was the subject of an international symposium hosted by Canisius College on January 18 and 19, 2015. The symposium brought together world-renowned scholars and practitioners from across the globe to discuss “Ecotourism: A Partnership with Nature?” Experts traveled from Tanzania, Mexico, Canada, and across the United States to attend the event.

Over the course of two days, the speakers and panelists examined the critical variables that underlie the ecotourism enterprise, reporting on the industry’s track record to date, and its promise for the future. “When done right, ecotourism should be a genuine partnership with nature in which two separate benefits are accrued: we humans are uplifted by close encounters with the natural world, while at the same time the cause of wildlife conservation is advanced,” noted Canisius Animal Behavior Professor Michael Noonan, PhD,” who hosted the symposium.

The symposium panel concluded that at present the industry is only about midway towards achieving that idealized equation, and a set of recommendations emerged from the symposium deliberations.

Animal welfare was repeatedly emphasized as a hallmark of good ecotourism by co-organizers David Fennell, PhD, professor, tourism and environment, Brock University, and Michael Noonan, PhD. “Going forward, the best practices in the ecotourism industry should adopt a ‘look, but don’t touch’ ethic in which direct interactions with wildlife should be minimized,” said Noonan. “While in some ways it is a pleasurable experience to climb on the back of an elephant for a ride we should be mindful of the pathway that led the elephant to that circumstance. There are important animal welfare issues to consider,” explained Fennell.

In addition, the industry should redouble its effort to emphasize educational and conservation themes so that clients return from their experiences as ambassadors for nature. “We want our ecotourists to go home and change their behavior and change their environment. There is still considerable room for improvement in this area,” said Fennell.

The importance of greater involvement with local communities was emphasized throughout the symposium. “Culture frames our values and attitudes about animals and it frames our attitudes about ecotourism as well,” explained Fennell.

“The welfare and involvement of indigenous communities should be an important involvement in ecotourism enterprise,” added Kelly Bricker, PhD, interim chair of parks, recreation and tourism, University of Utah. “The human element as part of the ecosystem is an important part of the equation.”

In the end, it was recognized that in an increasingly urbanized world, ecotourism is playing a greater and greater role in the ways in which humans encounter and learn about the natural world. Accordingly, there is a moral imperative for the ecotourism industry to conduct its business with a true sensitivity to ecology, animal welfare, and social justice themes. When done right, ecotourism can and should be a true partnership with nature.

The two-day event was sponsored by the Canisius College Institute for the Study of Human Animal Relations (ISHAR), Brock University’s Department of Tourism Management and the William H. Fitzpatrick Institute of Public Affairs and Leadership at Canisius.

The Canisius College Institute for the Study of Human-Animal Relationships (ISHAR) is at the forefront of Human-Animal Studies, engaging Canisius students and members of our community in dialogs on pressing issues. To learn more about ISHAR visit

The college’s graduate program in anthrozoology focuses on humanity’s relationship with other species. The only program of its kind in the United States, the Anthrozoology Program examines the relationships between people and their companion animals, in addition to animals in art, literature, science agriculture and zoos. For additional information, visit