Context. Ecotourism, driven by viewing large charismatic fauna, is often assumed to contribute to the conservation of animals and their habitats. Giant otter populations continue to increase and repopulate areas near communities, leading to problems with fishermen because of perceived competition and damage to nets.
Aims. We investigate attitudes towards giant otters in rural northern Peru, to see whether negative perceptions towards the species are mitigated by involvement in tourism.
Methods. We interviewed 103 people from communities on the following three Amazonian rivers where giant otter populations have recovered: one where logging and hunting are main activities, and where there is no tourism and only a low level of fishing; one with a medium level of tourism and a high level of fishing; and, one with a higher level of both tourism and fishing. We asked interviewees about their main commercial activities and experiences and opinions of giant otters.
Key results. Whereas two-thirds of interviewees declared predominantly positive opinions about giant otters, just under half mentioned competition with giant otters for fish, and a fifth reported giant otters damaging fishing equipment. However, there was no difference between opinions about otters of people who identified fishing as their main source of income and those who did not. Although people working directly for tourism companies were no more likely to say that they received benefits from giant otters than were other people, and there was no significant difference in their opinions about otters when people receiving indirect benefits from tourism were also included in the sample, this group was significantly more likely to have positive opinions about otters.
Conclusions. Both positive and negative opinions occurred in our study areas, and we detected only limited changes in the perceptions of people living with giant otters with respect to their involvement with tourism.
Implications. To mitigate negative perceptions of giant otters and the threat of persecution, benefits from tourism must reach those who are likely to perceive or experience costs from coexistence. We highlight the need for research into the value of otters to tourism, and to disseminate the results in rural areas where otter tourism may benefit local people.