Wildlife Tourism Workshop:
Innovation and diversity of experience in Sustainable Wildlife Tourism
Perth 25 November 2014
Half-day workshop conducted by Wildlife Tourism Australia, at Murdoch University, Perth, attended by almost 30 people from diverse backgrounds. Thanks to Professor David Newsome of Murdoch University for arranging the room and afternoon tea for us (and attending part although extremely busy organising the ITSA conference that week).
This report is still somewhat in draft form, and we would appreciate feedback from hose who participated, especially if we have left anything out or misinterpreted any of the notes from our scrubes
Innovation and diversity of experience in Sustainable Wildlife Tourism
What wildlife species are fascinating and appealing but not well promoted for tourism? Why?
Suggested discussion points:
- What features of these animals would appeal to visitors? All visitors or a subset of visitors?
- Ae there some that would be easy to show visitors but just not yet ‘famous’ enough?
- What makes some of them difficult to view? Consider small vertebrates, invertebrates, nocturnal animals, cryptic species, marine, aquatic and terrestrial, animals in remote areas, etc. Can these difficulties be overcome?
Results from discussion:
Animals that are not well promoted for tourism:
- Numbats, honey possums, tammar wallaby, bilbies – unique species but with a restricted range, not easy to find and not well-known by tourists (or Aussies!)
- Rock-wallabies, phascogales, ringtail possums, woylie (bettong), chudditch (quoll), mulgarras, quendas, bandicoots, water rat, other small and medium-sized mammals
- Echidnas (should be better-known as the ‘other’ egg-layer, not compared to porcupines or hedgehogs)
- Many mammals are very active – don’t hang around for long – ths hard to predict where to view them
- Emu – common in Australia but exciting for visitors
- Malleefowl – unusual breeding behaviour and handsome bird
- Black cockatoos – not as well known as other cockatoos (not used in pet trade) but are striking birds (and cockatoos are an Australian group of birds – very few outside of Australia)
- Thorny devil (Molloch horridus) – bizarre appearance and movement, and intriguing adaptations for moisture retention, but can be hard to find in wild
- Perentie (largest Australian reptile other than crocodile), bob-tailed gecko
- Shark Bay sea-snakes – endemic and non-tropical, need to find out whee and when to view them’
- Frogs can be very appealing, but are nocturnal, some are only seen or heard seasonally, and it can be difficult to predict when conditions will be right (e.g. warm wet evenings). They sometimes need to be handled for identification but a permit is needed for this. Chytrid fungus and other diseases could be spread if not very careful, and frogs can start dehydrating from the saltiness of human hands if held too long. If keeping captive frogs, their progeny can not be released, but if keeping only females (to prevent breeding) they won’t call, as only males call.
- Blue-ringed octopus (not for petting though! Venomous)
- Insects – e.g. spider-eating wasps: large, colourful and conspicuous, quite common, and not aggressive
- Plants shouldn’t be ignored as being part of our wildlife – e.g. wildflowers, orchids, mangrove tours at Dolphin Discovery Centre, Christmas bush
- Bush tucka (wild foods)
- Feral animals – camels, dogs, cats, pigs, rabbits (for interpretation about conservation problems?) Some suggestion of recreational hunting as a way of controlling these, others felt it better to employ professional hunters as needed, not promote hunting as a sport
- Reasons for research often not well communicated
Places deserving more attention in or near Perth:
- Birds at Blue Gum Lake, dusk and early morning
- Lake Joondalup – many birds are feeding as it dries up
- Busselton Wetlands (Ramsar-listed Vasse-Wonnerup System) – Wetlands with open water and salt marsh. Peak of 35,000 birds of 60 species plus ‘feeding frenzies’ of egrets, herons, etc. in Dec-Jan each year. Largest regular breeding colony black swans (mid-July – late Sep/Oct) in SW WA. Limited public access. Trails Masterplan developed and first stage of construction commenced.
- Milyu in South Perth (http://www.swanestuaryreserves.org.au/milyu.html)
- Melville Waters (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Melville_Water)/ Bibra Lake (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bibra_Lake,_Western_Australia)
- Attributes that make tourists want to see animals – cuteness, danger/adrenalin (snakes, crocodiles, sharks), uniqueness (kangaroos, platypus), peculiar/bizarre (platypus, thorny devil),
- Attributes of birds: new, lesser-known birds for twitchers, large flocks of birds (or bats), spectacular birds, unusual birds (for visitors) such as cockatoos, malleefowl, jacanas
- Cost can make travel prohibitive – e.g. going north for crocodiles, from east to west coast for whale-sharks
- Some good wildlife viewing areas are on Indigenous lands with very limited access, permits needed (but the permits are possible, and there is great potential for tours by Indigenous guides), or on private lands which would be very suitable if public liability costs were not so prohibitive
- Some locations are difficult to access due to remoteness, difficult terrain, lack of experience etc. or potentially dangerous (ocean, other water, desert). 4WD needed to reach some areas – and we need protocols for off-road driving.
- There are some quarantine areas because of infectious diseases of plants or animals
- More education is needed for tour operators and tourists on opportunities for new experiences and on appropriate behaviour etc. (for safety and environmental sustainability)
- Feeding or other habituation to bring animals close for viewing can sometimes alter behaviour to the extent that the experience is less satisfying for those who want to view authentic wild behaviour
- Critically-endangered species should not be disturbed (we need some no-go areas, or seasonally no-go, or remote viewing)
How can we enhance the viewing experience without increasing negative impact?
What are some existing innovations in wildlife viewing that could be more widely employed? What are some potential ones that haven’t yet been tried?
Suggested discussion points:
- Think of those that are difficult to view. Can we view them
either directly or indirectly (remote-sensing, tracks and burrows …)?
- Can conventional ways of viewing better enable closer views without disturbance – educating of small groups of tourists before approaching animals, habituating shy animals before bringing in tourists, better understanding of behaviour of animals, to work in with their behaviour patterns
- Underwater hotels
- Ziplines through forest canopy (if done well, they can be unobtrusive and quiet journeys through the canopy with emphasis on interpretation rather than adventure)
- Apps that lead you on a nature trail that also takes you ‘out of the app’ and really experiencing nature
- incorporating wildlife-related experiences into theme parks – e.g. fly like a bat, glide like a gliding possum, explore underground worlds or deep ocean, travel through a platypus tunnel ….)
- new ways of experiencing wildlife in zoos? In national parks? On private lands?
- webcams at outback waterholes, reefs or treetops for hotel guests to watch animal behaviour while enjoying dinner or breakfast …)
Results from discussion:
Ideas for viewing and interpretation:
- Frogs – they can (with a permit) be handled with clean, moistened hands, viewed in terraria or identified by their calls. Should there be some research into the safe release of un-diseased captive-bred frogs so more can be kept and bred in captivity. Frog tourism would appeal only to small subset of tourists, but frogs could be combined with other features such as platypus-watching or nocturnal birdwatching, or situations such as the terrariums at Cedar Creek winery and glow caves
- Handling of wildlife generally – may be okay for trained tour guide to handle animals and show guests if linked with research project. Consider qualifications, certificataion of competency.
- Mammals that can be hard to find (e.g. numbats, honey possums) can be ‘matched up’ with searches for easier creatures (e.g. woylies in the west, or fruitbat colonies on the east coast)
- Trapping can be used – especially if this can be part of a conservation or research project, not just trapping solely to show tourists. Some animals can become trap-shy – or trap-happy (knowing they’ll get a free feed!).
- Marine petting pool – can expand, and used in more sites
- Nocturnal tours – can combine animal-viewing with star-grazing, and include invertebrates (fire-flies, spiders ) and luminous fungi, not just mammals and birds. Night-vision goggles are a novelty for many and allow unobtrusive watching of animal behaviour.
- Feeding can be used in some ‘sacrificial sites’ as long as tourists are told clearly not to feed them elsewhere, and if they are not fed enough to become dependent or seriously alter behaviour. Some could be fed for a while and weaned off it to see if they still hang around.
- Indirect evidence of animal presence can be used as a backup plan for times the animal itself doesn’t appear- e.g. scats, tracks, nests, burrows, hollows, food-plants, scratches on trunks
- Recorded bird calls can be used either for identification or to call up birds, but there are problems with the latter if it wastes too much energy of birds coming to defend their territories (e.g. 40-spotted pardalote in Tasmania), or scares some birds by playing predator calls (such as powerful owl)
- Bat detectors, Anabats and apps can be useful for microbats – identification will improve as more calls are added to a reference library, but even demonstrating the variety can be of interest without necessarily identifying all
- ultraviolet light can be used to view scorpions, torches (flashlight) show spider eyes, red light can be used for mammals and turtles as they don’t see it as well as white light (although Robyn Wilson found that for several species of possum the dimming of the light was more important than the colour of the filter)
- Radio-tracking is very useful for showing where animals are, and could be useful to research and monitoring if linked with suitable projects
- Remote-controlled drones with cameras could be used if eco-friendly and ecotourist-friendly, especially for colonies such as sea-lions – if not too loud
- Use of webcams at water-holes, treetops, underground burrows etc. – important to place in area where viewing is likely, to show there really is wildlife around. Film from webcams can be viewed remotely – best used as supplement rather than substitute for direct viewing (tourists have travelled to see animals, don’t want to only view what they could see on internet back home), but could be very useful when direct viewing is not possible, or to demonstrate the presence of animals in nearby habitats to travellers who would otherwise be unaware of it. Once they are aware they may see the habitat as more interesting, and be more prepared to subsequently support its conservation.
- dung-cams (? David Attenborough mentioned in connection with these), other cameras used by DA, endoscopes in burrows, hollows or logs, scopes in nestboxes with plug-in laptop attachment for viewing and monitoring
- live footage with explanatory notes, narratives – could be of anials outside vehicle, being shown at visitor centre, accommodation or within vehicle (if not readily viewed directly – e.g. leaf-tail geckos on high tree-trunk, shy animals that would flee if people leave vehicle)
- Could a go-pro be attached to an animal??? Dolphin bird, wombat … (probably wouldn’t get permit to do this with wildlife – what abut go-pro on domestic animal on a farm stay or cattle station open to ecotourism, e.g.a sheep or cow that might wander through the bush amongst emus, kangaroos and flocks of parrots etc.)
- Viewing platforms could be used in trees, underwater and perhaps underground
- Underwater observatories at Busselton Jetty? Monkey Mia?
- Submarines to 100m Perth crater/canyon
- more walkways at Mt Franklin, Poronorups, Albany
- Organise different categories of tours – less interactions, less cost, more interactions, more cost; take small groups to see nocturnal animals and provide vale-for-money experiences
- Zip-lines? (they can be environmentally-sensitive and used for serious viewing of camopy flora and fauna, not Tarzan-style)
- Eco-friendly cable-cars, and live footage from these
- Fear (e.g. of sharks) can be a drawcard, and visitors can get an adrenalin rush even when not in danger (swimming with reef sharks, enhanced by a feeling that underwater is not our natural habitat, taking us out of our comfort one). Interpretation can be effective while the emotional arousal is high. Recent interest in sharks in WA (because of attacks and culling) can be used for PR. Consider hotspots for shark presence, swimming restrictions, link with whale migration patterns
- Invertebrate sampling, as used to be done by Ribbons of Blue.
- Include flora amongst wildlife – flowering, fruiting plants, fungi (great variety, including ‘ghost fungi’)
- Take people walking in water in wetlands through routes where impact is minimal
- Alternative forms of transport – e.g. quad bikes used responsibly on establish trails (as in Local Bay at Monkey Mia)
- Consider different factors appealing to different kinds of tourist (adventure-seekers, backpacker volunteers, passive natural experience) – endangered, dangerous, size (e.g. pigmy possum)
- nature walks (developed and undeveloped), walking safaris
- bird hides, overnight hides, tree-houses (accommodation, also act as hides)
- Nocturnal hotels?
- underground tunnels to viewing platforms at waterholes
- Science safaris – volunteers pay to participate in research that allows them to see animals otherwise difficult to view (e.g. Whiteman Park, Karyana, Mallefowl Centre, Dryandra)
- Apps for nature trails, info on animals you see, where animals are now, butneed more reception for mobile phones and wifi in many regions
- Geocaching (including earth-caching and puzzle-caching with wildlife theme)
- Hot air balloons
- Shires need to promote their “treasures”
- WA tends to attract more eco-minded tourists (those wanting city life tend to go t east coast) – so may have subgroup of tourists already more disposed to nature tourism, visiting remote areas, seeing rare wildlife, voluntourism etc.
- Main market seems to be 20- to 40-year-old foreigners (but there is also market for families, gap-years and middle-age/seniors
- Breeding programs for conservation can be supported by tourists wanting to see the rarer creatures (in captivity)
- Tour operators need to educate visitors through website information on the animals, on difficulties of finding some (so their expectations are not too high and they know they need to be patient) and on appropriate behaviour when viewing them
- Must develop correct protocols and make these known
- Animals live in wide territories, so ourists need to be taken or directed to specificic sites where probability of sighting is increased
- if viewing aquatic species, special skills may be needed – diving, boating etc.
What seasonal spectacles could we make better use of?
Suggested discussion points:
- Migrating birds, mass irruptions of insects, coral spawning …
- Direct and indirect viewing
- Linking with another experience (evening cocktails under the moon waiting for outdoor screen showing live-streaming of coral spawning …..)
Results from discussion:
Species that migrate
- Are there some butterflies or other insects that migrate predictably like the monarchs in North America?
- Bogong moths in alpine areas, and the small mammals that feed on them
- Birds – regular migrants and nomads (e.g. Broome, Rottnest Island, saltlakes in wheatbelt or outback)
- Whale sharks – already well-known
Other seasonal events:
- Flora flowering/fruiting, emergence of fungi after wet season
- Birds and butterflies that come in for wildflowers, interpretation can include plant-animal interactions, and inclusion of wildlife in promotion can have wider appeal
- Coral spawning??? But water top murky to see anything
- Turtle nesting (already well-known)
- Other reptiles – snakes, goannas etc. more active in warm months
- Rhianthella – underground seasonality
- At change of wet/dry seasons – big scorpions, phasmids etc
How do we best employ tour operations in wildlife research to enhance our knowledge of wildlife and monitor for conservation?
Suggested discussion points:
• Wildlife Tourism Australia’s Australian Wildlife Research Network connecting tour operators, researchers and volunteer tourists
• What can tourists, professional researchers and operators gain from this?
• What are some of the problems involved in using volunteers and tour operators
without a science background for research projects and how do we best overcome these?
• What are some of the wildlife research projects we most urgently need to pursue?
• Which projects would most lend themselves to collaborative research between
operators, both within a region (e.g. to get enough data on similar observations for valid analysis) or between different regions (e.g. migration routes)
• What kinds of research do we need for different kinds of tourist? Ways of communicating to people of different nationalities, ages and personality types? Etc.
Results from discussion:
How do we fund the research?
- Crowd-funding – contributors can be rewarded by having animals named after them, being allowed to participate in special research activities, being sent t-shirts etc. Website connected with this
- Lotteries West (for not-for-profits)
Most urgent research:
- How much public awareness exists of particular animals, interesting sites, conservation issues etc.?
- What kinds of wildlife experience could encourage travellers to stay an extra night, make repeat visits etc. (thus assisting tour operators and local economies), including regional areas?
- Research on impacts of tourism on species and on natyre generally
- Research likely to bring financial gain to tour operators, or indirectly helping with their businesses, is most likely to be supported by them
- How does disease spread between humans, domestic animals and wildlife? How do we then best get accurate messages out to the public without the media distorting and sensationalising?
- What are the potential impacts, both in general and at particular sites, including unintentional side effects that could result from new activities? (e.g. provision of more water could bring in common animals displacing rare ones, as used to happen at GluePot Reserve in SA, planting more winter-fruiting plants in high altitudes in NSW resulted in currawongs staying in the mountains for the winter and then preying on nestlings of other birds in the spring)
- Research into effective interpretation, including a variety of interpretation methods and styles to suit different individuals and groups.
- Research on fisheries to be opened up in the Abrolhos
- Rehabilitation projects
- Project Eden – most of the year
- Project Fairy Tern already use Volunourism
- Whale-watching at Ningaloo
- Bird projects – 2020 bird counts, Peel Harvey 2-day workshop (research projects, lots of people on ground), cocky count
- Cat sterilisation (we were told it is happening, but what part does research or voluntoursm play?)
- Some research may be costly in resources that could better be used for viewing or conservation purposes, especially if the results of the research are not likely to be acted upon
- collate statistics via questionnaire/feedback forms – e.g. how many animals seen. Share this information.
- Can we take people out into less-travelled regions using iconic animals to bring in voluntourism research (myrtle rust etc)
- Conservation activities can be based on research fndings o iconic species, endangered or priority species, and their survival or disappearance
- Results of research should be communicated for use in management plans and projects
- Collaborate with research groups, universities – e.g. feeding dolphins by volunteer groups, educate people of nature of animal benefits and potential problems (e.g. disturbance to ecosystem, spread of disease, misinformation)
- Consider whether it is worth the cost to employ specialists
- Much research by academics stays in the academic literature and is not readily available to travellers or tour operators. Much needs to be distilled and communicated in appropriate language to various end-users. One-page reports ar best for busy readers.
- Citizen science brings in a new tourism audience
- Appropriate methodology is essential for research and monitoring if results are to be meaningful and useful. Research must be robust, repeatable, rigorous: identify those parts of research that tourists can do, to ensure this is adhered to.
- Identify attractive wildlife to get punters. If the research that really needs doing doesn’t sound attractive, marry it to something that does – e.g. if studying Phytphthera on Banksia, marry this to honey possums and colourful nectarivorous birds that depend on the banksia, and nclude some spotlightin/birdwatching or at least videos of the animals amongst the experience of observing fungi on plants.
- Tourists need ‘cliches’ to attract them – e.g. Pinnacles Tour
- Tour operators can be trained to participate in research with government (and academia)
- Better communication is needed between researchers and managers, so researchers know what managers need and managers better understand the scientific process or valid monitoring methods
- voluntourists in conservation monitoring
- international tourists can bring their own experience and perspective (scientists travel too – and also people who have had voluntourism experience elsewhere, as well as general background knowledge and experience in their homelands or elsewhere)
- DPAW signage is important
- Tourists can gain much from participation – ‘warm and fuzzies,’ work experiene, acknowledgments in paper, improve English, lose weight (!), hands-on experience
- Professional researchers gain free labour, new ideas, get to educate others, mney for research, free food and wine
- Operators gain knowledge, unique selling points, reputation, eco-accreditation, income and employment, expansion f operations
- Australian Wildlife Research Network – it was asked whether this is an entity. It is a service provided by Wildlife Tourism Australia, with its own website. See http://www.wildliferesearchnetwork.org/
- Volunteers contribute to conservation by ‘spreading the word’ afterwards
- http://www.promaco.com.au/ITSA2014/ for full details of the ITSA (International Tourism Studies Association) conference, which was run jointly by Murdoch University (Western Australia) and Beijing University (China) held immediately after our workshop, and including a presentation by Wildlife Tourism Australia
- http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/wildlife-tourism-workshop-in-sydney-november-2014/ for details of another halfway workshop in Sydney n wildlife tourism and biodiversity conservation (a parallel event with IUCN’s World Parks Congress) the same month