What should we do when we see tour operators acting against the interests of wildlife?
Denise Goodfellow (WTA’s vice chair) starts this discussion:
In the early 1990s, a group and I witnessed our boat driver on Yellow Waters, Kakadu National Park, ram a crocodile. On sighting the 3.5 m animal he ran the boat straight at it, hitting the crocodile hard in the middle of its body. The crocodile leapt half its length out of the water in fright before disappearing. We were all appalled.
The group was from a prestigious American academy of natural sciences, and included the president and several prominent scientists and writers. This was a pilot trip, the first of many, but the crocodile ramming put a stop to that. The organiser had previously told me that the Academy had stopped their trips to Kenya after 20 years, because of the way people there treated wildlife. Now the Northern Territory was being treated similarly.
The visitors and I weren’t the only people appalled at such behaviour, and yet, according to the driver, the ramming of crocodiles was “common practice”. He told me that they, meaning the other guides “all did it”…. to give visitors “at thrill”. The traditional owners of Kakadu were so angry at this and other mistreatment of their wildlife that they stated “better the tourists go and the crocodiles stay”.
To complain I first took the official route, raising a motion at the local tour operator’s association, that guides and operators use “non-intrusive methods” of showing guests wildlife. It was soundly defeated, probably not helped by the fact that the boat driver’s employer was also president of the DRTA. When I told the driver I’d be taking the matter up with his employer, he replied that his boss would back him up, and he was right.
I approached the parks authorities, the government and finally the police and the Ecotourism Association of Australia. Nobody was prepared to take any action. I wrote to Ros Kelly, then Federal Minister for the Environment, who virtually accused me of lying. But I had witnesses, about twenty of them.
In the end I ran a campaign, writing to every prominent newspaper, magazine and journal. The response from ordinary people, travellers, interstate parks associations and Aboriginal organizations was very supportive. Several newspapers made a feature of the letter, and Australian Geographic asked me to write an opinion piece. The New York Times and the BBC Wildlife Bulletin also featured the letter I was told (although I didn’t see it myself). The only publication not to print the letter was the NT News – the editor considered it libellous.
I was blacklisted in the NT because of the campaign, and since then, when I’ve tried to raise the issue of certain operators behaving irresponsibly, I’ve been accused of “professional jealousy”.
So I decided to alert potential visitors instead, writing a guide to guides for Earthfoot, a famous American website for cultural and natural history tourism.
Have others also experienced wildlife being mistreated? And if so, what can be done about operators and guides who behave badly?
Please leave a comment with your thoughts