Conservation medicine, travel health, and primate-based tourism

Ecotourism activities should attempt to educate visitors while minimizing modification or degradation of natural resources and broadly benefit the social and natural environments by involving the participation of local communities. However, rapid, unmonitored development of ecotourism projects in protected areas can produce deleterious effects on the very species we wish to conserve. Zoonotic (nonhuman animal to human) and anthropozoonotic (human to nonhuman animal) pathogen transmission are of vital consideration given the increasing demand from tourists to experience direct encounters with wildlife. This can be particularly problematic for primates, which are genetically closely related to humans and are therefore particularly susceptible to human infections. They are usually immunologically naïve to these pathogens, and primate populations can be quickly decimated because of the relatively slow reproductive rates of most species, particularly great apes. The relative contribution of tourists to the spread of pathogens to wildlife is unknown, but the number of tourists visiting wildlife sanctuaries worldwide is increasing substantially. A major shortcoming of international travelers in general is their poor knowledge, attitudes and practices about travel health. Many travelers do not utilize pre-travel preventive health strategies, including physician advice and chemoprophylaxes. Traveler compliance to physician advice is surprisingly low, even in regards to avoiding certain dangerous food items such as salads, shellfish and tap water. Many travelers do not understand basic risks of infection, including their sources/causes. Our research focuses on developing disease monitoring systems and guidelines to protect visitors from possible risks as well to ensure long-term well-being of wildlife, with particular interest in infectious disease risk associated with primate-based tourism. We have conducted this work in Malaysia, Japan, South Africa, and St. Kitts.