Archive for the ‘Working in wildlife tourism’ Category

Young people and volunteer research

Young people and volunteer research

WTA Chair Dr Ronda Green presented this 4-minute talk in the “Inspiring the Next Generation” theme at the recent World Parks Congress n Sydney:

birdwatchgirlIt’s great when young people get ‘switched-on’ to nature, but they can then become frustrated and discouraged by not knowing others who share their enthusiasm, a lack of opportunity to actually do something for conservation of the animals and forests or reefs they have come to love, and a lack of confidence in their ability to do something useful if such opportunity does arise.

The Australian Wildlife Research Network was founded by Wildlife Tourism Australia, originally for communication between tour operators conducting or assisting with research but not knowing of each others’ existence, but has been expanded to include networking between tour operations and academics for mutual benefit, and between tour operators and volunteer tourists, including young adults, teenagers and families with children.

The network website also includes information on identification guides, field equipment, monitoring methods, literature on working with volunteers and other guidelines for academics, tour operators and the volunteers themselves.

Young folk can be inspired and encouraged by opportunities to experience wild places and wildlife, socialising with other enthusiasts and interacting with researchers, and knowing they are contributing to useful research or monitoring for conservation management or to the general understanding of our wildlife ecology and behaviour.

The network, which includes tours, ecolodges and wildlife parks involved in research, is the only one we know of that focuses on wildlife research and monitoring connected with tourism throughout Australia and including projects for all budget levels and ages to join in with.

A successful project involving volunteers has to be well-planned, including clear explanation to participants on what to expect, friendly greeting, effective training on what needs to be done, appropriate assignment of tasks, from carrying or cleaning equipment through helping to find animals to actually taking measurements or recording observations, opportunity for participants to socialise, and where possible to safely experience being alone in nature, and to learn about the animals and ecosystems they are experiencing, and also whether the data is to be collected in a way consistent with valid analysis or comparison (for instance between seasons, or the progression of a restoration plot) and for valid conclusions to be made, and how the information collected will ultimately be used. Feedback from participants and stakeholders is also important

It’s not enough to ignite a fire, we have to keep the flame alive amongst our youth, and the Australian Wildlife Research Network is one vehicle to assist with this.

To find out more, please visit

New book on wildlife tourism for guides, job-seekers, ecolodge staff, business start-ups etc.

Wildlife Tourism: A Handbook for Guides, Tour Operators, Job-seekers and Business Start-ups [Kindle Edition]


As I’m the author of this one I can’t really give a review as such, but you can take a look inside it at: The description on this page is:

This is a guide for tour operators, eco-lodge managers, wildlife park staff, students and others interested in a career in wildlife tourism or in adding a wildlife component to their tourism businesses. The emphasis and most examples are Australian, but the principles are relevant to all countries. The book is packed with information on skill-sets of tour guides,learning about wildlife, finding and observing wildlife, interpreting wildlife, interacting with tourists and colleagues, conservation issues and some of the financial and legal aspects of setting up your own business. Many references to other books, articles and websites are included.
From the Araucaria Ecotours blog:

Introducing people to wildlife and helping them appreciate their beauty, understand something of their ecology and behaviour, get curious about things we don’t yet understand, and realise some of the conservation thetas currently facing them, has been a lifelong passion. It is one of the major reasons I sarted our wildlife tourism business.

Coming more from an academic background than a business one (although I did run a holiday farm focussing on nature studies and horsemanship many years earlier), the business of starting and running a small business took me and my family into a very steep learning curve. I knew little of the red tape involved,  how much time and money was needed for advertising (or how to reduce some of that), or about book-keeping, insurance,  or working with booking agents. One of the aims of the book is to help others who may be in the same boat, starting out with loads of enthusiasm for  wildlife and sharing their enthusiasm with others, but lacking experience in running a business venture.

Others come from the other direction – they’ve been running a tourism or related business but have an interest in wildlife and want to brush up their knowledge, so there are chapters devoted to getting a grasp of the basics and leads to finding more of the sort of information you’ll need to run good tours in your locality, as well as guidelines or interpreting this to your guests.

For students and job-seekers there are guidelines on what will appeal to your prospective employers, and most of the book will be very relevant for any who seriously want to work in this field.

Most of the examples are Australian, but there is ample general advice to be applicable anywhere in the world.


1 Introduction

  • Is this book for you?

  • The big picture: does wildlife tourism matter for our economy or for conservation?

  • Not just the facts ma’am (but not ignoring them either): why good interpretation is so important

  • What this book will do for you

2. The basics

  • Skills you will need as a guide

  • Going a bit further: how to excel as a tour guide

  • Becoming self-employed as a tour operator or using your skills in other areas

3. Wildlife Skills 1: knowing the wildlife

  • Getting the ‘big picture’ of wildlife in Australia (or other countries): a good start for avoiding major errors and showing your guests what is different from their own homelands

  • Identifying wildlife: how to know what you’re looking at (or at least narrowing down the possibilities)

  • Finding out what species to expect in your district

4. Wildlife Skills 2: finding the wildlife

  • Knowing when and where to search

  • When you can’t see the wildlife: tracks, scratches, scats and sounds

5. Wildlife Skills 3: understanding the behaviour and ecology of wildlife

  • Why should you understand ecology?

  • Population ecology: why populations of animals of a particular species increase, decrease, stay the same or never enter a particular area.

  • Community ecology: interactions between species living in the same locality

  • Further notes on wildlife behaviour

6. Wildlife Skills 4: not disturbing the wildlife

  • How much disturbance can animals tolerate without changing their behaviour, avoiding you or even disappearing from the region?

  • How should we approach wildlife?

  • What happens to the wildlife you never see?

  • Feeding animals

  • Other interactions with animals

  • Wildlife habitat

7. Wider conservation issues

  • Getting it straight

  • Some threats to wildlife

  • Learning about conservation problems while still enjoying a holiday

  • Knowing the legislation.

  • Contributing positively to conservation

8. People Skills 1: Attending to customer needs and desires

  • Not making them unhappy – general etiquette

  • Making them happy – Changing customer satisfaction to customer delight

  • Dealing with problems: avoiding them if possible, acting appropriately when they do happen

  • Feedback from customers, and what to do about it

9. People Skills 2: Interpretation

  • Enjoy your creativity

  • Not a school-room: remember people want to learn but are also here to enjoy themselves

  • Clarifying your goals: what would you most like them to remember and talk about?

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the guided walk, drive or cruise

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the information display

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the self-guided nature trail

  • Learning about Interpretation techniques: links to further information

  • Testing: what best holds their interest and stays in their memories?

10. People Skills 3: Workplace, networking, and public relations

  • Why network?

  • Making face-to-face networking effective

  • Keeping records

  • Social media

  • Don’t forget your customers

  • Employer/employee and workmate relations

11. Financial matters

  • Starting an ecotourism venture

  • Staying afloat through the bad times

  • Hiring yourself out as a guide

  • Keeping records and projecting costs

12. Health and Safety issues

  • Food and water

  • First aid courses and kits

  • Driving

  • Walking

  • Other modes of travel

13. Legal matters

  • Licences and permits needed for starting and running a tour business

  • Public liability – nowadays it’s risky not to have insurance, and there are some things you can’t legally do without it

  • Copyright (yours and others), slander and related topics

  • Hiring staff

  • Indigenous culture

  • Conservation legislation

14. Final note: Never-ending Learning and Innovation

  • Learning about wildlife

  • Nature interpretation and guiding techniques

  • Wildlife tourism literature

  • Market trends: keeping up to date with what your potential customers are looking for

  • Thinking creatively: it’s fun and often productive!

References and further reading

New publication on wildlife tourism, economics and conservation

New publication on wildlife tourism, economics and conservation

Emeritus Professor Clem Tisdell was one of our keynote speakers at the national wildlife tourism workshop held a Currumbin Wildlife sanctuary last year. He has now published a paper on the topic on which he spoke at our workshop:

Tisdell, C. 2012. Economic benefits, conservation and wildlife tourism. Acta Turistica 4:127-148

Part of the abstract reads:

“A way of maximising the economic contribution of nature-based tourism to regional and local communities is outlined. Several factors are identified that result in wildlife tourism contributing to nature conservation. This is followed by a discussion of the diversity of stake-holders in nature-based tourism and the economic challenges facing them.”


You may also be interested in further information linked from:

Red goshawk and inappropriate birdwatching

Letter from our vice chair re Red goshawk (our rarest raptor) and birdwatchers behaving badly

9 October, 2012
The Hon. Matthew Escott Conlan MLA
PO Box 8599, Alice Springs, NT 0871
[Copies to The Hon. Peter Chandler, the Hon. Bess Nungarrayi Price, and the Hon. Willem Rudolf Westra Van Holthe; Susan Fraser-Adams, Dr. Ronda Green, and Dr. Betty Weiler]

Dear Minister

I am a specialist birding guide working mainly with international markets, mostly American couples. I am also a PhD candidate, my topic being American birdwatchers who travel internationally, and vice-chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia. For some decades I have been taking clients to Mataranka, mostly to see Australia’s rarest bird of prey, a Red Goshawk. A pair nest on private property across the road from the Mataranka Cabins and Caravan Park.

Although the birds seem relatively unaffected by the attention paid to them I monitor my clients’ behaviour strictly. However, that is not always the case with other viewers who may be present in their dozens. While in Mataranka recently the proprietor of the Caravan Park told me that some birders, photographers and tour operators had behaved in ways that made them unwelcome. Some had climbed the fence into the private property and one, according to the proprietor, had even climbed the tree in which the bird nested.

On another occasion several other birders (thirty or forty according to the proprietor) had camped outside their property opposite the nesting tree. That year, according to the proprietor, the birds didn’t raise any young. She said that the police had been called on more than one occasion but had not attended.

Birdwatching tourism is a huge industry, and in the US and Canada it has been a mainstay for small towns in conjunction with cultural, historical and other tourism. But ‘twitchers’ like those mentioned above can wreck a local industry.

I emailed the Caravan Park proprietor suggesting that she and other residents take photos of miscreants that I could post to chatlines, and perhaps shame others into behaving properly. An example of such a posting is at When I raised this issue on the Birding Australia chatline one birder told me that he had confronted a couple of photographers who had jumped the fence and positioned themselves between the female goshawk and her nest. I have asked that more birders intervene whenever they see such behaviour.

Another way of tackling such behaviour is for the tourism industry and authorities to target those with broader interests than ‘twitchers’, for example couples, who for reasons I don’t have space to go into here, tend to engage less in this sort of obsessive behaviour.

Yours sincerely

Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow

Wildlife Rehabilitation Course

Wildlife Rehabilitation Course

A 100% online TAFE course will begin in February – for details see and click the relevant links to rehabilitation of native birds and mammals

orphaned grey kangaroo joey

orphaned grey kangaroo joey



The Training package for the old course has been reviewed and MSIT has replaced the old Certificate III in Native animal rehabilitation with a new Certificate III in Animal studies which focuses on wildlife.  The course details can be found here.

There is also a Certificate II in (general) animal studies which covers the broader animal care industry including domestic animal care.  For information on the Cert II click here.


Wildlife tourism interpretation and conservation attitudes

Wildlife tourism interpretation and conservation attitudes

A recent paper has just been added to the Wildlife Tourism Australia  research bibliography:

Hughes, K. (2011). Designing Post-Visit Action Resources for Families Visiting Wildlife Tourism Sites. Visitor Studies, 14(1), 66-83.

The article explores what prompts visitors to a Queensland turtle rookery adopt conservation actions after their visit

Wildlife care and rehabilitation course in Brisbane

Course in Native animal rehabilitation

young black fling fox

Darren and Ronda (Araucaria Ecotours) raised this orphaned black flying fox a couple of years ago

We’ve had many inquiries about such courses, including the one that was offered by Renee Chamberlain but the online version is unfortunately not currently  available

UPDATE: (December 2011): please go to and follow links to rehabilitation of birds or mammals

Also see Certificate III TAFE course in native animal rehabilitation


Disabled Birding Tours

Disabled Birding Tours

Bo Beolensby Bo Beolens, The Fat Birder

Having organized and sometimes guided disabled birding trips for well over a decade I’d like to shares a few thoughts on the problems and pitfalls and how to avoid them.

The very first issue is the nature of disability itself – all too often the world, even the most enlightened of providers, assume that ‘wheelchair user’ and ‘disabled’ are interchangeable terms. It is vital to first understand that not all disabled people are wheelchair users; in fact only a tiny percentage are. Indeed wheelchair users are only a small percentage of those disabled people that have mobility issues, there are far more people who do not use wheelchairs but find walking any distance painful, difficult or downright impossible.

This is really important as even enlightened provision is often merely a case of making facilities wheelchair accessible. It is not recognized that a sizable chunk of the population need benches every couple of hundred yards if they are going to walk the 1k boardwalk circuit that many wheelchair users can zip along.

In birding it is pertinent as a guide might reject a site that has no wheelable tracks instead selecting one requiring miles of flat walking, assuming they are catering for disability needs.

The second purely guiding issue is lazy assumptions about finding birds. Many, many guides build a portfolio of birding sites where certain species are guaranteed… faced with a client incapable of getting to that spot they cross the bird off the list of possibles, instead of finding alternative, more accessible sites.

As a birder with limited and unpredictable mobility, I have many alternative places to see birds depending on how I am that day. Sometimes sites are viewable without leaving the vehicle, sometimes they are ‘easy to walk to’ with plenty of benches to rest on, and on other occasions I can manage a few hundred yards of wandering around. I do not let life’s exigencies dictate what I will see, and a good guide will have several possibilities and tailor outings to fit the client without precluding too many birds.

Having said that, some birds just will not oblige. On a five-week trip to southern Africa just ONE bird proved beyond me – the Dune Lark. My wheelchair-using friend and I watched Dung Beetles while our group trooped over impassable sand dunes in search of the endemic. Every other bird was ‘doable’ because those planning the trip with me had searched for alternative sites. I’m never going to see every bird on a trip, but then, often perfectly able-bodied people dip out too. I know in advance what is and isn’t worth the effort and accept that some things are beyond my reach, but I am also acutely aware how many are possible if the guide puts in a bit more research.

It also depends on the sort of birder you are… I was never one to spend five hours hunting for a drab pipit just because it’s a rare endemic, I’d rather spend those five hours seeing 30 other species, which, in all probability, will be new to me anyway. All guides please note – know your client’s birding needs regardless of their physical abilities. My wheelchair-using mate is happy to be tossed into the back of a 4×4 and carried under an arm like a parcel, suffering any indignity just to see a new bird. On the other hand a 5.30am start means a 4.00am wake-up as, like many people unable to use the lower half of their body, just washing and dressing can be a time-consuming trial. A good guide needs to know this stuff and the only way of finding out is to listen – not as common a practice as one might hope.

Some guides make the fatal error of thinking they are leaders… happy to slog on regardless of their group and unable to listen as they fill the ether with their own anecdotes. We all like a good story, but we all like our chance to tell them too.

Good guides will say, “here’s my idea of the plan for the day, what does everyone think?”.  Bad guides tend to say “tomorrow we will…”.

One guide we hired in our early days of overseas all-ability birding trips, went off for 45 minutes down a trail only to come back to tell us it was unsuitable and then say how many good birds he had seen. Not just crass and irritating, but a complete lack of planning. Another guide got miffed when everyone didn’t want to stop at his favourite watering-hole for a sundowner, preferring to get back to our B&B to rest up before dinner.

Its hardly brain surgery – ask the client what they want and what their physical restrictions are, then plan accordingly.

If you are planning the whole trip – not just birding outings – there are four main considerations, one of which, sussing out alternate localities, has been mentioned.

The other three are crucial for groups with mobility problems regardless of the day’s itinerary.

Accommodation Accessible accommodation often isn’t! That is to say many places claim full accessibility and turn out to have problems because the managers do not understand disability at all. For example, I have lost count of the number of times where a ‘disabled room’ turns out to be identical to all the rest save for a few grab rails and other parts of the place cannot be accessed at all. There seems to be a total lack of realization that wheelchair users cannot, miraculously, stand once they get to their room, the dining facilities or bathrooms! Yet its really easy to get it right. All you have to do is strap your self to a dining chair and see if you can turn around in the room, get up close to a washbasin, alongside a lavatory or between beds. See if, without standing you can reach the spare toilet rolls, towels or closet hanging-rail. If you cannot, then nor will a wheelchair user be able to. If you cannot hop your dining chair over a shower tray then a wheelchair user will be stumped too.

I’ve been in a ‘fully accessible’ hotel where the bar was up a flight of six steps and the dining room was in the basement and the only way down were stairs or the dumb waiter (luckily it was big enough to wheel into)!

Oddly, the more ‘third world’ facilities are, the easier the access is. When the shower consist of a shower head in a large room with a floor that gently slopes to a drain its ideal… far better than some marbled pavilion with gold taps and a damn great sill into a ridiculously small shower cubicle – pretty useless too, for some of us horizontally challenged (for this read ‘fat’) birders.

Transport This is another area where a little thought can eliminate problems. Yes there are fully accessible vehicles and often with transfers from airports etc one can ensure that the taxi service is adapted. But, far more often, it is a matter of working out how to make an ordinary vehicle suitable. The crucial question here will be whether the client is prepared to be manhandled a bit, a lot or not at all. Sometimes metal ramps can be hired but there are always ways around the issue if there are enough people around. In India we managed to get a wheelchair into the back of a small pickup/Jeep hybrid by the use of several strong young men and a few beer crates acting as stepping stones. Solutions are not always possible without fit helpers stoic wheelchair user. Almost always the design of the vehicle is crucial and minibuses with sliding side doors set in the middle are far superior to those with the only opening to the front. Moreover, many a problem has been overcome by having a low stool to hand to act as an extra step for those who can walk.

Toilet Facilities This is such a taboo subject in some cultures that it is often neither addressed as fully, nor as full-on as it should be. It’s not just a matter of ensuring that the most appropriate accommodation is booked. Long car journeys between destinations should usually have some sort of rest break, and a bit of research will reveal which type of facility has a ‘disabled’ toilet. In the UK, Europe and North America virtually all petrol service stations will have an accessible lavatory. In the third world it may be a matter of a convenient hotel, maybe building in a break where refreshments can be purchased so that the rest stop owner doesn’t feel they are being exploited.

This article just touches on the logistics involved in low mobility birding trips hinting at a few solutions, but the watchword remains ‘listen’. No two people have identical needs, be they fully physically fit or with a handicap*. Successful guides will be those who ask for preferences, listen to needs and research solutions.

1500 Words

*NB The very terms are not universal – in the UK the word ‘handicapped’ has become non PC and ‘disabled’ is used… the very opposite of the US. The totally right on prefer the term ‘differently abled’, which I think is just as patronizing as it can get…

Does wildlife tourism have a future? Good guiding is essential!

Does wildlife tourism have a future?  Good guiding is essential!

Interesting article here on the future of wildlife tourism and the role of guides and other interpreters:

Male goannas are very well-equipped!

By Denise Lawungkurr Goodfellow

In the 1980s I ran a guiding course. One day a trainee operator and I came across a large goanna, lying freshly dead in the burnished iron pisolate gravel on the side of the road.  “Shall we see whether it’s a boy or a girl?” I asked this rather sweet, gentle man.  He agreed.  As we both bent over the corpse I pressed gently behind the goanna’s vent, and behold, two large toadstool-like appendages, the hemipenes, sprang into view.  My operator jumped back, startled.  He never said a word all the way home, and  I thought I’d upset him.  But his wife later assured me that he was ‘so impressed, he was struck dumb’!

Around that time the tourism industry asked me to address operators regarding the course.  On the whiteboard, I drew a shape that somewhat resembled a pair of lumpy-headed toadstools.  Not one of the operators present could identify my sketch, and so I told them.  “That, ladies and gentlemen, is what you get when you sex a dead goanna”.

I knew that at least one in the audience wasn’t past putting the hard word on more attractive clients.  But when it actually came to talking about sex in the context of wildlife, that was a different kettle of fish!  Few were interested – unlike the operator mentioned previously most thought the topic irrelevant if not downright bestial.  After all, tourism was a glamour industry, all about spotless sun-drenched beaches, picture-postcard waterfalls and air-conditioned coaches, and polite, professional, spotlessly-attired staff. That was the image the NT wished to promote.  And of course, that’s what many visitors wanted.  But not all.

Some visitors were very interested.  There were two glamorous Americans whose main goal was to see the reproductive organs of a female marsupial.  We found a freshly dead female Antilopine Wallaroo near the turnoff to Fogg Dam and opened her up.  Marsupial reproductive organs are fascinating, having a bipartite uterus and the equivalent of three vaginae.  The women were ecstatic.  As the air-conditioned coaches drove past on the way Kakadu National Park, their passengers waved at us.  We waved bloody arms in return.

Then there were the couple of women who sat in the dirt with me dissecting Black Whip Snakes so we could examine their reproductive organs.

Were these people perverts?  Well, one of the first two was the Curator of Primates at the San Francisco Zoo and her sister, a biology teacher.   The fellow snake-sexer was a church minister, who, along with her companion, was also a wildlife carer.  To the adults I guide, the topic of sex, if it arises, is part of life, a small part, but present and important at the same time.

And this is why sex is mentioned in my fauna books.  I sometimes do this with humour.  For example, in Fauna of Kakadu and the Top End (1993), I compared a goanna’s hemipenes, with its little bumps and frills to the tickler condoms one could buy at a sex shop.  I also included a chapter on sex in Birds of Australia’s Top End, published in 2000 and 2005.

When the Northern Territory tourism industry discovered I was showing visitors, not just dead animals, but their private parts, many were horrified.

The fauna book was reviewed in the Northern Territory News as a ‘sex manual’.  More enlightened was a review of BOATE by the respected American Birdwatcher’s Digest. Praising the book the author added that it contained ‘the most detailed description of bird sex I have ever seen in a book of popular ornithology”.

Some in Top End tourism did like the books; tour guides considered both, along with a plant book by Brock, as their ‘bibles’.  But I have the distinct impression that many still consider wildlife as sexless, as well as harmless.  The Bambi syndrome still reigns!

Next Page »