Author: Sera Steves1 and Maree Treadwell-Kerr2
2 Project Coordinator, The Great Australian Bat Trail. PO Box 528 Kuranda Qld 4881
Imagine cruising the iconic Daintree River watching several thousand spectacled flying-foxes arising from their world-heritage wet tropics rainforest home at sunset? Or discovering hundreds of tiny forest bats as they emerge from a small crack in an overhead branch, barely visible, but whose calls show up on guide’s bat recorder as they take you through your local bushland reserve?
What if there was a tourist trail in Australia which gave you the best places to see the local bats wherever you went?
Bats are all around us, and constitute one quarter of Australia’s mammal species. Yet, they remain little known or known for the wrong reasons. However, the popularity of the Australasian Bat Society’s (ABS) Australasian Bat Night program and comments by guests who have watched bats as part of a guided tour or from daily visitors watching the evening emergence at Cairns CBD flying-fox camp illustrate the potential of bat tourism.
Since the 1980’s bat tourism has been a growing and increasingly popular multimillion dollar industry in the United States. Visitors to North America can read “The Vacationer’s Guide to Bat Watching” for information about 125 bat watching sites in the US and Canada, and Austin Texas (the battiest state in USA) produces this blog advertising the “worlds best bat tourism” https://www.austintexas.org/austin-insider-blog/post/your-insiders-guide-to-bat-watching/.
Bat Tourism has also been identified as a tool in producing more positive attitudes toward bats.
In Australia, we have a wonderful diversity of both mega and microbats and with it, an opportunity to create a unique wildlife tourism opportunity for both Australian and international tourists. The development of the Great Australian Bat trail is a joint project of the ABS and Wildlife Tourism Australia (WTA). The intention is to raise awareness of the diversity of species in Australia as well as encourage conservation efforts and citizen science, while also creating an opportunity for profitable wildlife tourism in the areas where they are located.
It comprises a comprehensive list of locations all over the Australian continent which feature significant colonies of microbats and flying foxes. The list is displayed on a digital map where the user can interact with it to plan a road trip or incorporate locations of camps into an already existing trip. Each location is colour coded to indicate whether it is a microbat, flying fox colony or both. When the user clicks on a location, more information is provided on the species present, the exact location of the camp and a picture, and whether it’s a nationally important camp, conservation status of the bat species, seasonal or permanent occurrence and any other information to assist visitors, such as if the bats can only be seen on a ranger-guided experience or costs, if any. Venues with bats on exhibit are also featured, as well as interpretive material available (signage or brochures) and events or organisations involved with the location (for example An Australasian Bat Night event, Bat Chats, or the local bat conservation/ care group) that can add value to the viewing experience.
While the Bat Trail is still under development, considerable work has been completed by WTA intern, Louanne Capelle, in 2017 under the supervision and coordination of Sera Steves and Maree Treadwell Kerr. A live trail prototype has been developed and many bat camps entered on it complete with basic information. Eventually it will be offered as a mobile-friendly web-based interactive map, linked from both ABS and WTA websites, and also as an app.
More information from people knowledgeable about bats and their locations and bat tourism is required for the existing sites, from people familiar with each site, and also more locations to see bats safely and easily (no camps above swamps with crocodiles without any safe visitor infrastructure please).
To give more information on bat viewing sites, or comments to assist with the trail development, please contact Maree and Sera on [email protected] or [email protected] with subject line Bat Tourism Trail.
This project is dedicated to Sera Steve’s late grandmother who has been an integral part of the bat tourism community in USA and inspired Sera to work in tourism and educate people about bats.