Scroll down for: Business Management, Environmental Management, Wildlife Interpretation, Planning and Managing Wildlife Encounters, and Captive Wildlife
- Business Plan – Use a documented business plan as an integral part of your management system; this need not be a complex or expensive process. A regular SWOT analysis is useful. Remember to incorporate a risk management section. Once you have a business plan, USE it – it should not be a shelf decoration
- Market Research – Conduct ongoing market research and integrate that into your planning; again this can be done in relatively simple and inexpensive ways. For starters, there is much to be lerarned from the internet, and you can ask perintent questions of your own guests.
- Teamwork – Develop effective teamwork within your organisation to cover the range of skills required for high quality wildlife tourism.
- Build Relationships – Build strong relationships with other groups with an interest in nature-based tourism, such as protected area staff and regional or local tourism associations. Work to build positive relationships with local competitors.
- On walking tours, keep your visitors on the track (to avoid trampling of plants, small creatures and burrows, and avoid soil compaction, as well as safety issues of guests getting lost or bitten or falling)
- While in road transport, avoid driving off-road in areas of natural habitat and drive carefully, especially at night and at dawn and dusk, to avoid roadkills.
- In your interpretation, tell your guests about the importance of habitat for wildlife and link this to increasing awareness of wider conservation issues.
- Where feasible, get involved in habitat restoration and protection. Integrate this into your presentation, and where possible get your clients involved too.
- Seek advice from managers of natural areas you are using on how best to reduce environmental impacts.
- Use a relatively small group size. Obviously this needs to be offset against the commercial viability of your enterprise, but bear in mind that large groups are more likely not only to damage the environment, but also to scare away the wildlife, and make it hard for each individual to see the animals and hear the interpretation, thus making your visitors experiences less satisfying.
- Develop an interpretive program (interpretation here means education of a type that enhances appreciation and understanding, not just putting names to things or a dry list of facts)
- Regularly ask for feedback from your visitors to ensure that the experience you are providing is enjoyable and educational.
- Integrate your interpretation with your marketing.
- Talk where relevant about the variety of types of species of wildlife beyond the you are viewing – e.g. cryptic species sharing the same habitat for interacting with other species you do see, similar animals found elsewhere
- Include interesting features of wildlife behaviour and ecology – don’t just stick to doom and gloom of conservation issues, but show how fascinating and wonderful these animals are (adding to enjoyment and appreciation of the natural world and also giving additional reasons to be concerned about their conservation)
- Highlight the importance of wildlife conservation and ecosystem function.
- Address conservation threats faced by wildlife in your area, and discuss some of the current wildlife management issues for species around your property. or tour destination.
- Talk about everyday things that visitors can do to help conserve wildlife (e.g. reduce use of plastic that could end up in the sea being swallowed by turtle, support politicians doing the right thing for conservation, plant native trees and shrubs for a variety of birds and the caterpillars of local butterflies)) See http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/archive/wildlife-conservation-tips-at-home/
- Provide your visitors with guidelines for minimal impact when encountering wildlife. See http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/conservation/conservation/conservation-tips-travelers/
- Relate what you are showing visitors to other areas (e.g. other parts of Australia, or to their home countries): get them thinking about the big picture, broader issues.
- Keep yourself reasonably up to date with information about wildlife. No one can know everything, so don’t be afraid of admitting to not being able to answer every question, but you should attempt to know the basics, and check now and then for changes (e.g. in names f animals you see, their conservation status etc.). Check our wildlife and resources pages.
- Also, for discussions on best practice interpretation, visit http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/blog/events/wildlife-interpretation-workshop-queensland-september-2016/ and http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/wildlife-interpretation-into-the-future/
Planning and Managing Wildlife Encounters
- Natural Experience – Provide as natural an experience for the visitors as possible. This is not only good for the wildlife, but research indicates it is what international visitors who pay to participate in nature-based experiences increasingly want.
- Avoid Hand-feeding in most situations – In general, avoid handfeeding or handling of wildlife living in natural areas. Explain to your guests that this is important for the animals’ welfare and maintaining a natural ecosystem. Where feeding does occur, ensure that it is minimal (to avoid dependence) and uses nutritionally appropriate food. See also http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/conservation/policies/policies/tourist-wildlife-interactions/
- Do Research – Do research on your local wildlife species and populations. This includes reading about them, talking to local experts such as national parks staff and wildlife researchers, and spending time searching for and observing the animals yourself. For example information on changes in behaviour through the day, distribution and use of habitat will help you to find the animals without the need for any handfeeding or habitat manipulation. Knowledge of their social organisation will help you understand what the animals are doing so you can explain to visitors. Understanding wildlife behaviours will help you to plan in such a way that you minimise disturbance with your visitors. See http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/resources/guide-books/ and http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/resources/research-literature-2/
- Use Technology – Find out what technology is available to assist you in providing satisfying wildlife encounters and learn to use it properly. Good use of spotlights and binoculars are particularly important, and creative use of remote viewing systems have been used to good effect. Where possible, assist your guests in the proper use of binoculars.
- Be Flexible – Plan for flexibility in your tours and do what you can to adjust the tour to your guests’ interests. Don’t stick with a set memorised patter, especially if something interesting suddenly comes along or your guests notice something you hadn’t intended talking about. Make sure you have enough background understanding, not of everything (that’s impossible) but enough to improvise when the unexpected happens. You can also vary what is shown to different groups. By knowing where certain populations are, you will be able to ignore them if your guests are obviously not interested in a particular kind of animal (e.g. birders who don’t want to be constantly distracted by looking for spiders or reptiles) you can show them to other groups you judge will be interested.
- Habituation – Take steps to habituate the wildlife without use of food or other rewards. The best way to do this is to make sure that your group keeps quiet and still, and stays at a distance at which the animals after a short period of time resume their natural activity; then continue watching for a few minutes. When you leave, do so slowly and in a direction away from them. Do not try to hide from them, the idea is to let them know you are there but that you are not a threat. Over time, you will find that the distance at which they resume their activity gradually decreases.
- Wildlife Spotter – If you have more than one guide with a group, it may be useful for one to go in front as the ‘wildlife spotter’. Once they have sighted an animal, they can ensure that the rest of the group approaches carefully and does not disturb the animal.
- Minimal Disturbance – A good principle for minimising disturbance to wildlife as well as providing satisfying visitor experiences is that you should not cause the animal to move away. Ideally, although they will nearly always initially stop what they are doing and look at you, they should resume their previous activity while you are present. Sometimes it is not possible to avoid the animals moving away; in such cases do not attempt to pursue them. It is not possible to prescribe a minimum approach distance or other set criteria because these will vary with species, habitat, degree of habituation, weather conditions, activity, and many other factors. Learn to predict how close you can get under different conditions, and to anticipate their behaviour so that the visitors do not continue to approach when the animals show the first signs of disturbance by becoming alert.
- Conservation – Contribute to the conservation of your local area and wildlife, and use this in your promotion. Where possible involve your visitors in these activities. For example, operators who run tourism activities on their own land can undertake habitat restoration or enter into conservation agreements such as the Land for Wildlife scheme. Operators can get involved in wildlife research or monitoring, and involve their visitors in these activities. Operators can get involved in local natural resource management and conservation issues, and lobby for increased resources for such management. Income from tourists can be channelled into an environmental cause, either through voluntary donations or as a small proportion of the tour/attraction price.
- Build Relationships – Build positive relationships with wildlife researchers and protected area managers working in the area based on mutual benefits. They can provide you with information to incorporate in your interpretation, and help with methods to help find and observe the animals, and can be a relatively time-efficient way of improving your wildlife knowledge. Their cooperation may also help you in securing access to good wildlife viewing areas. You can provide them with ongoing basic monitoring of the animals and habitat. Further, you can get involved in management decisions that may affect the animals and help ensure that your tourism resource is protected.
- Tracks, Scats and Traces – In providing an interesting wildlife experience for visitors, remember that it is not only the animals themselves that may be of interest, but also their signs (use a field guide to help you). This includes tracks (especially if you learn to interpret their behaviour from tracks), droppings (from which you can show visitors what they eat and how to distinguish them from other species), shelter and lying areas, paths created through vegetation, and skeletal parts. Signs can be of particular value in cases where you have difficulty finding large numbers of wildlife. One wildlife tourism operator in Tasmania who is also a highly skilled naturalist carries around a wildlife kit containing items such as skeletal parts, a bird’s nest, and materials for creating plaster casts from wildlife tracks. He reports that these provide great interest and are very handy at times when wildlife encounters are few.
- Explanations – If necessary, educate your visitors that wildlife are wild animals and why it is important not to disturb them from feeding, breeding, resting and other essential activities..
- Safety Warning – If your guests are travelling through areas of wildlife habitat when they leave you, remind them to drive slowly and keep their eyes open for wildlife, especially in the dusk and dark.This is both a conservation and a safety issue. Warn them also to avoid snakes by not walking through long grass, especially in swampy areas, and not to sit or stand close to the shore where crocodiles may be present.
- Use Cameras – Encourage visitors to use zoom or telephoto lens on their cameras so they do not need to approach closely for photography (do not allow flash photography direcyly into the faces of nocturnal creatures., especially those tha fly or glide).
- Respect for other businesses and local residents. If you allow your guests to disturb wildlife, you may affect not only the animals but other tour operators, their guests, and local residents who wish to view them. Feeding wildlife could also cause animals to lose their fear of humans and pester others who do not want the attention of pushy animals at picnic tables or their gardens. Sometimes animals will be seen on private property (e.g. kangaroos may come out of the forest onto the lawns of private homes). The landowners may not mind occasional vehicles stopping for photographs but will generally not appreciate trespassing or the blocking of their driveways.
- Basic needs. Ensure animals have all basic needs of appropriate food, unlimited clean water, shelter from the weather etc.
- Other needs. Plan enclosures such the animals have reasonably natural surroundings, plenty room to move around, enrichment items to relieve boredom, companions if a social species, and a place to hide from public view when they feel the need of solitude (you may also be able to arrange for public to still see them via a camera inside their shelter, or glass that allows viewing in one direction only
- Eliciting good behaviour from visitors. Use conspicuous but attractive signs to explain to visitors WHY they should not feed the animals (except in some controlled situations) or disturb their rest, and be prepared to stop them doin so when necessary. Consider what additional languages might be needed, and graphics that can be understood by all.
- Conservation. Consider how you can contribute to conservation: breeding (perhaps in in cooperation with other venues) threatened species for subsequent release, contributing time and/or money to associated conservation projects, encouraging visitors to do the same etc.
- Education. Make every effort to educate visitors on the way each animal lives in the wild – this will avoid the impression that the captive setting is the normal one for the animal (not always as obvious as it should be to those who spend their entire lives in cities) and help promote an understanding of its conservation needs. Mention threats to its survival in the wild, but also include some interesting general facts about its behaviour and ecology (visitors may be more inclined to care about the conservation of animals they find fascinating, and you also don’t want to stop them from reading your signs by talking only about the depressing aspects of extinction rates etc.)
- Familarise yourself with legalities and other regulations (e.g.