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A dikdik, one of the smallest and most graceful antelopes.

Welcome to Eco Wild!

In this issue:

1. Why is Costa Rica a strong ecodestination?

1. Why is Costa Rica a strong ecodestination?

It appears that I hit a raw nerve when I mentioned in the May 9 Eco Wild newsletter that Costa Rica is considered one of the world's top ecodestinations! I received an incredible amount of feedback on this topic, asking what is so special about Costa Rica and what is the secret to its success? Consequently, I have decided to devote this week's issue of Eco Wild to Costa Rica and what makes this country one of the world's top ecodestinations. Most of my information is from an interesting book called, "Ecotourism and Sustainable Development-Who Owns Paradise?", by Martha Honey; I quoted Martha Honey's words in quotes below. If you are interested in ecotourism, this is a must read on your book list!

COSTA RICA

Costa Rica did not originally consider ecotourism as a source of income and employment for people living near the national parks. "Rather, as is the case in Africa, they adhered to a preservationist philosophy that sought to isolate the parks and prevent any outside encroachment." It appears that Costa Rica needed to change its way of thinking because by the 1980's, Costa Rica had, outside its parks, the highest rate of deforestation in all of Latin America. Squatters cleared acres of land inside the parks for grazing and agriculture, reducing the amount of game animals inside the parks. In 1985 the Costa Rica Parks director asked for a study to be done on the situation and was told "the (park service) should involve itself deeply with neighbouring communities and other planning agencies to show the benefits of the park."

This study changed ecotourism's future in Costa Rica. By the mid 1990's, sustainable timber harvesting, improved farming techniques, environmental education and community development activities were successfully implemented. Costa Rica is most famous for its large, well protected national parks. However, the current ecotourism trend is in private reserves. "In one survey, Canadian ecotourists ranked four private reserves-Monteverde, La Selva, Rara Avis, and Marenco- as the most impressive natural areas visited."

Monteverde "is the most famous of Costa Rica's private reserves and the country's leading ecotourism destination. Internationally acclaimed for its sound conservation and tourism strategies, Monteverde is blessed by its relative inaccessibility, careful monitoring by scientists, well-trained guides, and cohesive, socially responsible local community." Monteverde tourism increased by 36% per year in the late 1980's and by 50% per year in the 1990's. The biggest beneficiaries of Monteverde's ecotourism has been CASEM, a women's handicraft cooperative. "CASEM ...created a handicraft environment that didn't exist before ... and has been a wonderful way for women to feel empowered, to gain self esteem, and to build a sense of sisterhood to address family problems such as alcoholism and domestic violence."

However, Monteverde became so popular that infrastructure problems were imminent. Consequently, "the reserve limited visitors in 1991 to 100 people at a time, restricted most tourists to well-marked trails through only 2% of the reserve, hired and trained more naturalist guides, and sharply increased entrance fees for foreigners to $23, including a guided tour and a slide show, in hope of curbing the number of visitors, particularly those on package tours." By 1994, Monteverde earned $850,000 annually, more income than from all of Costa Rica's national parks combined!

According to Martha Honey, Costa Rica has fulfilled the seven main criteria for sound ecotourism:

1. Involves travel to natural destinations. Costa Rica's national parks and private reserves attract the majority of its tourists.
2. Minimizes impact. "By 1997, some 73% of the 360 registered hotels had sixteen or fewer rooms". Unfortunately, few of these hotels were built to limit environmental impact, although the use of local thatch and other local construction materials, solar heated water and natural ventilation is becoming more popular.
3. Builds environmental awareness. "Ecotourism has clearly helped to build environmental awareness among both visitors and Costa Ricans." Costa Rica is one of the two countries worldwide that have completed a "sustainable tourism rating", using international criteria for independent ecolodge assessments. "Such surveys are not only extremely useful to tourists but also help to set national standards and definitions of what constitutes high quality ecotourism. They are therefore important educational tools for the traveling public, government officials, NGOs and community organisations."
4. Provides direct financial benefits for conservation. Conservation and private research has benefited from Costa Rica's ecotourism. The rate of deforestation in the country has slowed considerably with the growth of ecotourism, resulting in the Costa-Rican government winning the ASTA/Smithsonian Magazine Environmental Award for rain forest protection.
5. Provides financial benefits and empowerment for local people. A sizable number of local people have benefitted from Costa Rica's ecotourism boom. Locals offer related services, (handicrafts, butterfly farms, organic farming), activities (hiking on their local farms) and local restaurants serving authentic Costa-Rican food. In addition, environmental awareness and education has produced local naturalist guides, park rangers, hotel managers and tour drivers. A majority of the Costa-Rican based tour companies and half of the ecolodges are locally owned.
6. Respects local culture. Ecotourism has helped stimulate and improve local crafts, folklore, national museums and theaters, pride in regional areas and adherence to religious holidays. Despite pressure from the tourism industry, the country literally closes on Easter and Christmas!
7. Supports human rights and democratic movements. "Costa Rica has the oldest democracy in Latin America." Ecotourism has helped mobilise the government to take action to protect its parks and other environmental groups and to create some solid programs to improve the political rights and economic conditions of the rural poor.

As you can see from above, Costa Rica has changed its image in 15 years from the most deforested country in Latin America to the world's top ecodestination. I am not saying that Costa Rica does not have problems. It suffered a drop in tourism revenue in 1996 due to various reasons. However, I think East Africa can learn from Costa Rica's success! I challenge all of us involved in East African tourism to work together to ensure that Kenya and Tanzania fulfill the seven main criteria for sound ecotourism as well, allowing our countries to stand next to Costa Rica as one of the top ecodestinations in the world. It won't be easy, but it will be worth it for the benefit of the wildlife, communities and businesses!

I hope you enjoyed this week's issue as much as I enjoyed writing it; now I encourage you to take some action and go wild about East Africa, wildlife and ecotourism!

Thank you for your support!
Anne

Article ideas, quiz ideas, general feedback and other suggestions are always welcome! Please send them to: anne@eco-resorts.com.

If you would like to join the Eco Wild email eco forum discussion group, please send an email to: ecowild-subscribe@egroups.com. If you would prefer not to receive any more copies of the Eco Wild newsletters, please email anne@eco-resorts.com with "unsubscribe" in the subject line (sniff! !).

For permission to reprint this or any article from Eco Wild (formerly HMS corporate newsletter), please contact Anne Loehr at: anne@eco-resorts.com.

Copyright 2000 - All Rights Reserved Anne Loehr

Eco-Wild
Anne Loehr
Eco-resorts
P.O. Box 120
Watamu, Kenya

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