Wildlife tourism and conservation of biodiversity in parks

Jointly run by Wildlife Tourism Australia and the Office of Environment and Heritage as a Parallel Event with IUCN’s World Parks Congress

This lively workshop was held on 11 November 2014, at the Office of Environment and Heritage, Sydney

Q1.   How can we ensure the conservation of biodiversity with increase in visitation?


  • Research and conservation monitoring associated with new projects – but leave the details of this one for the final discussion point
  • Learning from case studies from other regions, including other countries
  • Should we spread the tourism load throughout a protected area, or concentrate it in limited areas o parks, leaving the rest relatively untouched?
  • How can we reduce tourism impact on parks by making it easier to start nature adventure activities on private and leasehold lands (including assistance with insurance)
  • Surveys of attitudes of domestic and international tourists and local residents, and brainstorming on how to satisfy their wishes while minimising impacts on biodiversity
  • Cumulative effects – tourism effects don’t happen in isolation – what other threats could compound problems?
  • How can tourism revenue best assist conservation?


We need to get the balance right – enough tourists to bring financial support and receive educational and other benefits of the parks experience without impacting too heavily on the wildlife and other biodiversity values

Baseline surveys of fauna, flora and habitat quality should be undertaken and a comprehensive monitoring plan be designed and regularly implemented to watch for impacts and adjust management where necessary

Policies are needed from our own government and international bodies, and incorporated into law, to ensure the protection of biodiversity

Criteria for new activities in the parks should include

  • not spoiling the visual aesthetic values of the park

  • not increasing waste and other undesirable bi-products

  • not decreasing the biodiversity conservation value of the park

  • not impacting on breeding and feeding grounds

  • no negative impacts on waterways

Partnerships and linkages could be developed with neighbouring landowners for off-park conservation and sustainable tourism. This could include the development of buffer zones involving willing participants surrounding parks, and involve mutual benefits (land-owners benefitting from the proximity of the park bringing custom and increasing the biodiversity values of their own property, and the park benefitting from the tourism pressure being spread, additional education of visitors, and perhaps some financial donations from adjacent commercial activities, as it was pointed out that when facilities are located outside of National Parks the Park doesn’t get so much revenue from them to use within the parks as they do from private enterprise paying to operate within the Park)

Green internships, green jobs, and other initiatives can assist with such partnerships, and for conservation monitoring, habitat restoration etc. within parks.

The expense of public liability premiums here in Australia is a major stumbling block for landowners who would otherwise welcome tour operators bringing guests in for wildlife-related experiences on their properties. This appears to be less of a problem in many other countries. It was suggested that we review South American and African models.

Philanthropic needs are different between soft adventure’ activities and ecotourist activities – different motivations are involved

Revenue for conservation – the concept of user-pays is good, but those paying (and other interested stakeholders) should have clarity on where the money goes


Zoning is important – we need some no-go areas in vulnerable sites, also where relevant seasonal, time of day and other temporary restrictions (e.g. during breeding seasons of some vulnerable species)

‘Sacrificial’ management can establish zoning to provide for added protection in high traffic areas and discourage mass visitation to other parts of the park which will then retain higher conservation value and wilderness experience

Management of visitor numbers to vulnerable areas does not always need to be imposed by enforcing no-go areas, but can often be controlled by planning so that the majority of visitors will naturally congregate in the ‘easier’ areas, with only a small minority making the effort to go beyond the main tourist area

Many visitors will have unrealistic expectations of the variety of animals they will see, especially in a day visit, or how close they will be to them. Managing visitor expectations and experiences is important, before and during their visit.

Conservation and tourism can go hand-in-hand – e.g. wildlife rescue areas

Governments are pushing for accommodation in protected areas which can provide revenue (e.g. for control of weeds and feral animals) but also generates additional problems for wildlife management (water supply, sewerage etc.) and must be very carefully considered in respect to the kinds of criteria mentioned above

Some activities may have impacts not immediately obvious to their participants – e.g. possible impacts of night-time mountain bike-riding on nocturnal animals


Managing visitor expectations and experiences is important

We need to educate politicians as well as the general public on biodiversity and conservation principles. Politician education could involve

  • on-ground involvement

  • invitation and demonstration of parks to politicians

  • showing connectedness of public to parks

Participation by visitors is an important part of education for understanding – getting people involved in conservation activities, citizen science etc.

The role of guides in promoting conservation is important, and we need more information on this (what works, effects on visitor understanding and awareness etc.)

Education should go beyond the actual visit and include pre-visit and post-visit interpretation

Tour operators providing good interpretation can decrease the need to actually see all animals species of interest. The Dolphin Discovery Centre in WA appears to be good at this, and guides who show signs that animals have been there (scratches, tracks, scats etc.) and showing habitat features used by them

Authenticity of experience for visitors is important for impact of interpretation – including interaction with community, rangers, indigenous, researchers, tourism

Good story-telling is an important part of interpretation

Good training of guides and other tour operators, ecolodge staff etc. is important. There si probably much to learn from the training of rangers in South Africa, who learn about animal ecology and behaviour etc.

Exchange of park staff, students, ecotourism staff etc. between countries and between regions within a country would be very useful to earn from each other and exchange ideas


We need adequate baseline studies for subsequent monitoring of impacts. This may commence before proposed new activities or facilities are introduced, or may be “pre-emptive,” gathering data now for any future comparisons even where no changes are yet planned.

Presence/absence of animals is the first essential in a fauna survey, but where possible data on behaviour, health condition and group size can be invaluable

We know far too little about what happens to animals we don’t see (e.g. small ground-frequenting native rodents and marsupials, low-nesting birds and other creatures tourists and tour operators may be unaware of when spotlighting for owls and possums etc.

Research needs to include areas other than scientific – i.e. effectiveness of management, surveys of visitor expectation, satisfaction and effectiveness of education efforts

We need to monitor entire tour experience not just the wildlife experiences

Tourism in parks generally seems to be moving from ‘conservation’ experience to ‘wildlife-related’ soft adventure – experience expectation is changing, and we need to understand and monitor this for effective planning and management

Q2.How can we best use both old and new technologies for low-impact wildlife viewing?

Suggested sub-topics:

How do we best communicate guidelines for behaviour to visitors of all ages and nationalities, before they leave home, on their way and on arrival?

Minimal impact viewing. Night-scopes, telescopes, hides etc. What else is coming?• Remote viewing of endangered species or those in places difficult or impossible to reach. Webcams at hides in South Africa can be viewed the world over on an online forum, webcams at osprey nest in Brisbane allow viewing at information centres. As discussed at a previous workshop, hotels in remote areas could use webcams or motion-sensing cameras displaying activities e.g. outback water holes or bat fly-ins at dawn, at dawn, nocturnal activity of forest or desert animals, for guests who can’t or don’t wish to make the effort to get close, these could be watched “live” in bedrooms or the hotel restaurant. This might also mean a quieter viewing session at the site itself for those willing and able to make the effort to watch drectly.

Can we offer rewards for good behaviour? e.g. if children can follow a trail quietly for half an hour they get access to a special area.


Older technologies (still valuable, and some of which could be used in innovative ways) – viewing platforms, guidebooks, visitor centres, interpretive signs, story-telling (e.g. Indigenous groups), guide only or other restriction

Newer – apps, other digital communication (including digital story-telling), digital maps, live-streaming cameras, night cameras, cable cars, ziplines (which can be environmentally sensitive and educational if well-planned and managed), webcams,

Whole-of-tour models can be used, especially using online social media – pre-tour, during the tour and post-tour

Experience can be enhanced during the course of a day by providing more information on what is seen by visitors, using new technologies

Research is needed on the extent of experiences enjoyed in one day

We need to remember the impact on wildlife of any new development

Can we encourage selfies with posters of animals rather than with the animals themselves?

Equipment for viewing

Infra-red motion-sensing cameras can be used for non-intrusive viewing (less impact than some of the current spotlighting activities)

Bat detectors can awaken awareness of the variety and numbers of microbats in a region

Webcams can be used for customised experiences

How do you manage the pros and cons of social media usage in ‘tagging’ wildlife, e.g. rhino tagging in Africa?

Wildlife hides can allow visitors to be unobtrusively close to animals

Live-streaming of animal activity (e.g. at eagle nests, outback waterholes, fruiting or flowering trees both day and night) could be displayed on screens in visitor centres, local hotels etc. to awaken visitor awareness and appreciation of animals many would otherwise not see, and have less impact than encouraging large numbers of visitors to view them directly


Digital story-telling extends the age-old practice of traditional story-telling

Apps are being developed that can identify from calls or images recorded by visitors and then give interpretation, including stories about the animals. This is good for education of tourists as well as for research

Google glasses – spectacles with cameras, connected to web – can be further developed for interpretation

GPS-driven apps are useful

There is however some move from apps back to website-driven information (Vic tourism)

Use of social media (e.g. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram), can be valuable to enhance information and appreciation

Facebook pages for wild animals can capture people’s hearts and imaginations

Involving in research and monitoring

Citizen science – including voluntourism with researchers – is growing (e.g. see WTA’s Research network: http://www.wildliferesearchnetwork.org/)

Motion-sensing cameras are used for research in Victoria e.g. (1) to monitor after-effects of the Black Saturday fires, recording recovery of animals on property, (2) the use of glider posts by gliders. These could also then be incorporated into educational facilities for visitors

Fluker posts are expanding throughout Australia and providing a way for tourists to take useful photos with their smart phones (e.g. restoration efforts, natural regeneration after fires and floods, coral reef condition)

IR camera

  • who lives with you? NPA giving IR caneras to land-owners to monitor wildlife on rural lands

  • wildlife count in parks

photos of conditions

eAtlas and Atlas of Living Australia

3.Under what circumstances should interaction with wildlife be allowed?


Some get great satisfaction from interacting with animals (talking to them, feeding, patting, swimming with them etc.), others say we should have no contact. Is it really all- or-nothing?

What are the pros and cons for tourism, the animals, public education and support for conservation?

What is the evidence for effects on animals and on tourists?

What are the most important aspects to consider when making decisions in particular areas?


Whatever we do we have some impact, but tourism will not go away and we need no impact as an ideal goal, but realistically minimise

Some visitors have unrealistic expectations, wanting to get close to everything either for photography or interaction, and to be able to feed, cuddle or be photographed with anything

Tourists (and some tour operators need to learn that animals are not for human entertainment

We need to consider differences between various modes of interaction with wildlife – e.g. viewing dolphins from boats compared with swimming with dolphins: differences in impacts on animals, differences in visitor satisfaction and education

Is it necessarily all or nothing? Are there some situations where feeding or interacting is acceptable?

Effects on animals

We must consider where it could interfere with animals’ natural behaviour

Consider using a precautionary approach

People who want a authentic wildlife experience don’t want to see altered behaviour

It is generally best not to feed animals – it can alter their natural behaviour patterns, make them dependent, favour some aggressive species over others etc.

Wild animals being fed are probably better off than those kept in captivity, in that they appear to be making a free choice -e.g. wild dolphins coming in for a feed at Tangalooma or Monkey Mia and parrots coming in to be fed at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary and O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat as opposed to those kept in dolphinariums or aviaries.

If planning to feed wildlife for tourist experience, it is important to observe available ‘wildlife encounter’ guidelines available from protected area managers and others (e.g.WIldlife Tourism Australia’s best practice guidelines)

Consider providing plants that provide fruits and flowers for wildlife instead of feeding them – remembering that even this can cause problems if it favours some animals over others, and even the provision of water can do this. If well-planned however it can serve the function of bringing animals close and increasing the probability of viewing them (although not the feeling of interaction with a wild creature that some visitors want)

Vigilance and constant monitoring are needed where animals are fed

Research at Griffith University on bird feeding has indicated less problems than expected in nourishment, dependency etc.

Where education against feeding is not likely to be entirely effective (e.g. family camping grounds), some rangers have developed signage and leaflets to influence visitors to generally avoid feeding but if they can’t resist doing so to use appropriate foods and list those which are acceptable.

Effects on visitors

Does interaction prompt more support for wildlife in some visitors who otherwise would be less interested?

Is it legitimate to create artificial ‘animal encounters’

For conservation purposes, some “ambassadorial” or “sacrificial” animals or habitat areas might be useful in bringing people close to animals and habitats for educational purposes and for a positive bonding and subsequent support for conservation

Education programs (e.g. telling people that although it is okay to feed carefully-selected foods to the animals in a specific site, it is not acceptable in other places and especially in wilderness areas) must be designed to reach all languages and ages and be appropriately repeated (including written signs as well as speech) – many of the people enjoying the feeding experience do not understand rapidly-spoken English, and sometimes the message is given so quickly that those not paying attention miss hearing it even if proficient in English

Feeding is often used to ensure tourists will get the ultimate experience of viewing the wildlife, but some of the pressure can be taken off this demand by other kinds of experience – e.g. scats and tracks, web-cams to see what is going on outside, to avoid disappointment of not seeing the animals themselves

The use of photos with animals is demand driven – we need public education on being alert to conditions that are not acceptable where captive animals are used for this and animal welfare principles are neglected

4.What research is most urgently needed?


Impact assessments – how much time is needed for adequate fauna surveys, who asses the assessors, how do we fund the studies? Paid staff plus volunteers plus research students?

Pre-emptive research to enhance understanding of ecological needs (including possible needs for habitat corridors or trans-locating, and the needs of migratory and nomadic species, both terrestrial and marine, and international considerations)

Single species studies and ecosystem/community studies

What animals that tourists and even tour guides are unaware of (e.g. shy understorey birds, small native ground-dwelling mammals) could be impacted while looking for the popular species? How do we find out?

Effects of extreme events on wildlife? Can tourism compound impacts? Can volunteer tourists assist after disasters?

What role can tour guides, tourists and local volunteers play in research and monitoring? (see http://www.wildliferesearchnetwork.org/


We need research on baseline conditions and good monitoring plans, for ecological sustainability of tourist activity

How can local people benefit from local tourism opportunities? (e.g. does wildlife tourism assist local economies? Can it induce people to stay longer in regional areas?)

Where should Vietnam (and other developing countries) start with wildlife tourism?

Rather than just focus on ecology, it is important to integrate ecosystem and social research studies

We also need research into how to make connections with nature and wildlife-related

creativity, and research into inspiration

How do we extract more money from tourism operators and travellers to fund research? Is there a move towards philanthropy?

How do we prioritise research needs when there are limited funds available for wildlife research from park management?

Research into the use of new technologies would be useful

Can we promote ecotourism research as an industry, leading to increased political advocacy for researchers

There is much potential for low-cost research by marrying scientific questions with the kind of information needed for conservation management for student projects (final-year undergraduate projects and postgraduate research)

Wildlife Tourism Australia’s Australian Wildlife Research Network includes promotion of citizen science by tourists as well as networking between tourism operations conducting research, and between tourism operations and academic and other professional researchers for mutual benefit

Impacts on wildlife

What are the impacts of tourism activities and new infrastructure on animal behaviour, including both immediate and long term impacts?

Inter-disciplinary research is needed – e.g. linking visitor behaviour with impacts

Ecological impacts on population numbers are important, but so are welfare impacts on individual animals

We don’t know enough about impacts of tourist activities on cryptic species – e.g. small reptiles and mammals of the undergrowth that are not noticed by tourists or tour operators.

Tourism impacts do not occur in isolation to other effects. Which sites are especially vulnerable to climate change that tourism could potentially put additional pressure on?

Under what situations does habituation to human presence happen? When is it good and when not so good? Examples of good: animals use less energy needlessly running away whenever a human appears, birds less likely to desert nests, visitors more likely to see animals. Examples of not so good: animals that learn to associate humans with food and become a nuisance demanding it, predatory animals that become less fearful and may see human children as prey, small animals that become so accustomed to cars they may frequent parking areas and increase danger of collision

Research on tourists

What do visitors expect from wildlife tourism? What kinds of travellers expect viewing to be easy and immediate? How close do they expect to get to animals? What proportion of tourists are interested only in iconic species as opposed to seeing a variety of animals?

Where are the wildlife tourism hotspots?

How do we best interpret relevant concepts for specific sites and different groups of people?

What are the most effective ways of communicating messages to different ages and cultures (including emotional impact and conservation messages, not just simple information about the animals)?

What are the challenges and possibilities for transforming “mass tourism” into ecotourism?

What is the value of good guiding? (visitor satisfaction, conservation messages, changes in visitor behaviour …)

What are the “tipping points” for attitudinal/behavioural change f visitors?

What is the value of “art” in interpretation?

Citizen science

Citizen science occurs in a different context to usual research requirements

How do we best promote citizen science through tourism?

Research and monitoring can make use of social media – e.g. cockatoo wingtag research in Sydney, Fluker posts, bird atlas, Wild about Whales

Legal requirements for research should make sense but they can be counter-intuitive. In Queensland one can identify frog calls as a hobby but if such identification is to be used for research there is a legal requirement for prior approval by an ethics committee, and the same goes for observation of birds etc. In Victoria, even where photographic and GPS evidence is given that an endangered species is present, this evidence is dismissed if the reporter did not first get ethics approval for research, so forest can still be cleared even where presence has been logically established. Where do citizen science observations stand amongst such requirements? (delegates from other countries indicated that these anomalies seemed to be more extreme in Australia than elsewhere)

Ecotourism Australia is now taking control of the National Landscapes program, enhancing the potential for asking big corporations to support important research, and perhaps ultimately giving National Landscapes the status of museums and universities for valid wildlife and wildlife tourism research


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