Protected areas (PAs) in Cameroon witness chronic underfunding, with most operating with only around 10% of the necessary funds. This study aimed to explore socioeconomic factors affecting Mefou Wildlife Sanctuary (MWS) visitors' willingness to pay (WTP) for wildlife species observation in their natural habitat. The study was based on semi-structured questionnaires conducted with 637 respondents and the contingent valuation method was used to estimate visitors' WTP. The findings reveal an average WTP of $US 170 for foreign visitors and $US 81 for national visitors to see animals in the wild. Income level and education significantly influenced WTP, with higher-income individuals and those with higher education demonstrating a greater willingness to pay. By recognizing the factors that drive visitor spending behavior, policymakers and park managers can implement targeted marketing campaigns and allocate resources effectively. This study emphasizes the importance of providing diverse and high-quality wildlife experiences to enhance visitor satisfaction and encourage repeat visitation and make the country an attractive world destination for eco-tourists. The country can, therefore, contribute to sustainably fund conservation while supporting local development and boosting its tourism industry.
Key words: Eco-tourism, iconic wildlife species, Mefou Wildlife Sanctuary (MWS), natural habitat, protected areas, visitors, socioeconomic determinants, willingness to pay.
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