By Giuseppe Mazza and Elena Tricarico, Università degli Studi di Firenze, Italy
Invasive species are becoming a popular topic in newspapers: when articles appear, they mainly report the damages invasive species can cause to our ecosystems (e.g. reduction or disappearance of native species as well as habitat modification) or to our economic activities: fishing or boating can be halted by mats of the South American water hyacinth, several insects can affect our agricultural production or new diseases can be transmitted to reared species. However, these species can also heavily affect human health and wellbeing.
The damage that invasive species can cause to the environment and the economy are well known, but impacts on human health have been much less analysed. However, invasive species can cause impacts ranging from psychological effects, phobias, discomfort and nuisance to allergies, poisoning, bites, disease and even death. Invasives experts Giuseppe Mazza and Elena Tricarico of the University of Florence, Italy say that in addition to these direct effects, some work in more indirect ways. Humans are menaced by alien invasive species affecting the services provided by ecosystems. “These services are vital to our well-being: changes may decrease the availability of drinking water and of products from fisheries, agriculture and forestry, alter pollination and impoverish culture and recreation,” say Mazza and Tricarico.
Dogs, just like humans, can have problems with learning, memory and attention, particularly as they get older. Several tests of cognitive ability in dogs have been used in research with a particular focus on the effects of ageing. What is less well understood is how diseases affect these cognitive abilities. In an article in CAB Reviews, Lena Provoost, Margret Casal and Carlo Siracusa discuss how changes in behaviour, such as loss of appetite, house soiling or changes in sleeping are often the first indicators to the pet’s owners that there is a problem. The team from the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania say that while those changes could be caused by mental decline, they could be secondary effects of other medical causes, such as pain from infection swellings or kidney disease.
One of the consequences of the uncontrolled human activities is the possible detrimental effects on animals. Scientists describe animal welfare as the mental and physical wellbeing of the animal with a measure of how the individual copes in its environment and considers opportunities for expressing happiness or pleasure.
Nature-based tourism based on the opportunity to encounter wildlife has evolved so many folds over the years to ecotourism from the previous forms, such as trophy hunting and other primarily recreational interactions, that offer no benefit to the individual or the species that were dubbed predominately exploitative . It is argued that ecotourism contributes, both towards socioeconomic and environmental benefits of the tourism site.
As a tourist how can we assess whether the animals we see have good welfare, and ideally, ‘a good life’?
Recently, I’ve been a tourist in Mexico and Jordan, and, having contributed to ‘Tourism and Animal Welfare’, I took the opportunity to think more about this question. As my interests are animals and their relationships to us, each other, and their environment, I spent a lot of time observing.
In Petra in Jordan when I was visiting, I accidentally came too close to a dog who was asleep by a donkey among a group of other donkeys, and he jumped up and went berserk at me. I quickly moved back while the donkey placated him by rubbing his head against the dog’s flanks and neck. The dog, leaning into his companion in apparent ecstasy, licked the donkey’s nose and settled back down to sleep again.
Whenever conservationists come together to discuss the future of endangered species, you can be sure someone, sooner or later, will suggest that nothing will be achieved unless one can ensure the humans living alongside, or sharing habitats with, animals can be encouraged to value them.
The word ‘value’ can be interpreted in a variety of ways. Some observers mean people ought to appreciate animals for what they are, fellow species on planet Earth, which contribute, in any number of ways, to biodiversity as a whole. Others are more inclined to view animals, particularly exotic species, as a living resource from which humans can benefit; through hunting, captive-breeding, eco-tourism, or whatever. They take what might be regarded as a somewhat mercenary approach to conservation, believing that fauna must contribute in some form to ensure their own long-term survival.