Wildlife Interpretation: Into the Future

The following is the program of talks, discussions and activities held at the workshop.



Program: Wildlife Interpretation workshop, Atherton 2017

Wildlife Tourism Australia Workshop

Monday 10 July  and Tuesday 11 July 2017

Wildlife Interpretation: Interpretation into the future


Final Program

Theme:   Wildlife Interpretation: Into the future


  1. Self-guided interpretation: What can we learn from face to face interpretation
  2. Interpretation in the digital age: signage, apps and the self-guided tour – beyond face-to-face interpretation
  3. Imparting nature values and special values of the wet tropics
  4. Interpreting the controversial and iconic 
  5. The Visitor Experience – Captive animals up close vs the elusive wild

Pre-exercise: What makes a good sign? Effectiveness of Interpretive Signage –    We are asking delegates  to think about interpretive signs or interactive displays they have seen as visitors: which ones have been effective in attracting attention and conveying a message, and which ones have failed to do so, and why? Please bring in A4 colour photos of interpretive signs you think are particularly bad or good for the Critiquing Interpretive Signs workshop on day 1.

Information Session and drinks: 5.30pm Day 1                                                    Please bring brochures and examples of wildlife interpretation from your workplace or research, or make up posters showcasing wildlife interpretation you are involved in for our information sharing session.

Program Day 1 – Interpretation face-to-face and in the Digital Age

From 8.30 – 10am- Coffee and Tea on arrival

9am Registration

Handouts to be picked up at Registration:

  1. Activity 1 Principles Self-guided Interpretation
  2. Activity 2 Critiquing Interpretation Signage
  3. Handout- Strengths and Weaknesses of different interpretive media

10am – 10.10 am Welcomes:  Acknowledgement of country, Welcome to conference and housekeeping and Introduction to Guest Speaker

Session 1: Chair Ronda Green

10.10 am – 11.10am. 

  1. Key-note Speaker Betty Weiler: Self-guided interpretation: What we can learn from guides and other face-to-face interpretation
  2. Activity 1 Brainstorming principles of self-guided interpretation (see appendix 1)

11.10 am – 11.25 Morning tea

11.25 – 11.45 Cathy Retter, Kuranda EnviroCare (New interpretation in Kuranda. Kuranda Nature Tracks)

11.45 – 12.20. Ronda Green: The future of interpretation – an introduction. Self-guided tours -signage, apps,  digital experiences and interactive devices

Handout- Strengths and Weaknesses of Different Interpretive Media (see Appendix 3)

12.20 – 1.00pm   What makes a good sign? Effectiveness of Interpretive Signage

Activity 2: Critiquing interpretation signs. Facilitators: Ronda Green and Betty Weiler (see Appendix 2)

1.00pm – 1.50pm Lunch

Session 2 : Chair Maree Treadwell Kerr

1.50 pm – 2.10pm. Angela Freeman. Hartley’s crocodiles and Adventures. The conservation conversation through interpretation. How can wildlife parks and wildlife tourism presenters take conservation and habitat restoration initiatives further with their guests and clients? Good intentions often bound by red tape. Is there a way forward?

2.10 – 2.50 pm. Ronda Green. Wildlife Tourism Australia.  Self guided nature tours and Nature Activity

2.50 pm – 3.10 pm Afternoon Tea

3.10 pm – 4.00pm.  Debate and discussion:

Debate Topic: “With increased proliferation and quality of smartphone apps on wildlife at tourism destinations, the demand for face-to-face interpretation will die.”  Facilitator- Betty Weiler

4.00pm – ~ 5.30 pm Round Table and Exercises:

  1. Self guided trails – Interpretation and the visitor experience. Facilitated group discussion on where non-guided trails are (and aren’t) appropriate, and how to make self-guided trails (by signs, trail brochures, apps or CDs) effective for a variety of visitors (different age groups, general as opposed to dedicated wildlife tourists, different nationalities) – Facilitator Ronda Green

2. The Great Bat Tourism Trail: An opportunity to give input into the Bat Tourism Trail project.  Introduction to Bat Tourism Trail and facilitated group discussion.             Handout: Bat Tourism trail. Facilitators: Sera Steves (Tour guide) and Maree Treadwell Kerr (Australasian Bat Society)

From 5.30pm- Drinks and poster/brochure session

6.00pm  BBQ dinner on deck (including vegan and vegetarian options) 

Program Day 2: How to impart the special values of Wet Tropics; Interpreting controversial species; and use of animals up close vs the wild

Dawn- optional birdwatching

Till 8.00 am – breakfast (self-service) for people staying over Monday night

From 8.00 – 9.00am- Coffee and Tea on arrival for delegates 

9.00am Housekeeping and Announcements

Session 1: Special Values of Wet Tropics – getting the message across Chair: Jenny Maclean

9.10am – 9.30am Terry Carmichael Wet Tropics Management Authority:   “ The Wet Tropics Putting fur, flesh and feathers on Riversleigh fossil bone – the intertwined story of two World Heritage Areas”

9.30am – 9.50am Paul Chantrill- Wet Tropics Management Authority.  Bloomfield Track EBook, taking a mobile digital interpretative product into the remote wilderness.  https://douglas.qld.gov.au/bloomfield-track-goes-digital-to-enhance-visitor-experience/

9.50am – 10.10am Isle Camps- intern Cape Tribulation Tropical Research Foundation.  Interpreting the littoral rainforest and its pollinators.

10.10 am – 10.30 – Morning Tea

Session 2 –Interpreting the controversial: Chair Sera Steves

10.30 – 10.50 Spectacled flying-fox – Interpreting a controversial icon of the Wet Tropics.  Sera Steves, Maree Treadwell Kerr and Martin Cohen (Cairns Regional Council Flying-fox Advisory Committee) (presented by Sera and Maree)

10.50am – 11.10am David Cazzulino, Australian Marine Conservation Society. Climate Change and the Great Barrier Reef- an interpretive challenge

11.10 – 12.00  Workshop discussion – Interpreting the controversial (eg–crocodiles,  flying-foxes, climate change and the Great Barrier reef, plastic and rubbish (beaches, marine wildlife,  seabirds)) Facilitators- Sera Steves and Maree Treadwell Kerr

12.00  – 1.30 Lunch and AGM

12.30 pm WTA AGM (including skype session with absent members)

Session 3 – Nature values – putting interpretation into practice- Chair Ronda Green

1.30 – 2.30pm – Walk to crater – Exercise – Interpreting nature values in practice

2.30 -3.00pm Louanne Capelle, Eco-tourism student  and WTA intern:  Interpreting nature values to children. Presentation and activity.  Activity- using materials from nature in interpretation for children- case study- Making bat masks

3.00 pm – 3.20 Afternoon Tea

Session 4: The visitor experience: Animals up close – Chair and guide – Jenny Maclean

3.20pm – Drive to Bat hospital

3.30pm Tolga Bat Hospital Excursion- guided tour of Bat Hospital and Visitor Centre

4.45pm Round table discussion on Animals in captivity and interpretation of wildlife. Facilitators: Jenny Maclean and Ronda Green

5.30 Close


  1. Activity 1 Principles Self-guided Interpretation
  2. Activity 2 Critiquing Interpretation Signage
  3. Handout- Strengths and Weaknesses of different interpretive media

Appendix 1


Brainstorm ways of applying ONE of these principles to self-guided interpretation:

  1. Use a diversity of enjoyable communication approaches, activities and experiences.
  2. Deliver accurate fact-based information that both facilitates understanding and provokes thinking and meaning-making.
  3. Design interpretation that promotes the use of two or more senses.
  4. Find ways to encourage individual or group involvement, contact or participation.
  5. Use approaches or examples that make the content relevant to the audience (including culturally relevant).
  6. Get across an overarching message that people will remember by using a theme.
  7. Communicate in ways that make people feel empathy or emotion.

Participants to be given a different principle at each table.  Once they have brainstormed their “assigned” principle they can move on to others.

Appendix 2


Critiquing Interpretation Signs

Look at the interpretive signs you’ve been given and examine what you like and dislike about them based on the following “good practice” principles:

Basic content and legibility issues

  • Use a common theme
  • Reduce the number of words and topics
  • Use large, easy-to-read type styles

Getting the basic structure right

  • Use point form and short sentences
  • Emphasise important points
  • Use headings and subheadings
  • Order the information from primary (key point about the immediate scene in front of you) to secondary (additional detail)

Attracting attention/ creating appeal

  • Use colour and contrast, e.g. dark green or blue text and graphics on off-white or buff background. Avoid reversed-out text (white text on dark background) as it is tiring to read.
  • Use illustrations, photos and models
  • Use a conversational, friendly and reader-focused writing style
  • Make personal connections to the visitor – refer to things that are relevant to them

Keeping attention, encouraging mindfulness

  • Tell a story
  • Ask questions
  • Use topics of surprise, novelty, conflict and feeling, and human interest stories
  • Encourage people to use their senses and do things
  • Use analogies and metaphors to add understanding and encourage interest

(Adapted from Gianna Moscardo and Barbara Woods, James Cook University, The Future of Interpretive Signs, 1998)

Appendix 3

Strengths and Weaknesses of Different Interpretive Media

(adapted from draft Parks Victoria II&E Manual 2001, Melbourne, Australia)

     Choosing appropriate media will require finding the best matches for:

  • reaching your targeted audience
  • conveying the relevant messages about the area, destination or site to this audience
  • the site (aesthetics and durability to weather and vandalism)
  • your available budget for production and on-going maintenance
  • availability of suitable staff or volunteers for delivery of personal interpretation

      More than one interpretive medium may be needed to reach different audiences.

The following table lists the advantages and disadvantages of different media (or methods) available for on-site delivery of interpretation.

Personal interpretation media included in this table are:

  • Face-to-face (guided walks, talks)
  • slide talks, roving interpreters, performing arts (theatre, music, dance) and demonstrations
  • Visitor Centers (staffed)

 The following table is based on one prepared by Michael Howes and Philip Ingamells, who facilitated a workshop of 40 participants at the 1994 Interpretation Australia Conference in Albury.

Non-personal interpretation media included in this table are:

  • Panels/signs
  • Numbered post and brochure trails
  • Free brochures / booklets
  • Saleable publications
  • Audio installations / soundscapes
  • Portable audio systems
  • Visitor specific FM broadcast
  • Site specific FM broadcast
  • Regional FM radio
  • Automated slide shows
  • Videos
  • Drive trails
  • Computers


Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Face-to-face interpretation, including:·  guided walks 

·  talks

·  slide talks

·  roving interpreters

·  performing arts (theater, music, dance)

·  demonstrations and 1stperson (costumed) interpretation

·          Can be tailored to the audience.·          Flexible and responsive to interpretive opportunities (e.g. sighting of a rare species). 

·          Visitors can ask questions and receive answers immediately.

·          Presentation content can always be up-to-date.

·          A quality presentation is credible and good for public relations.

·          Introduces a personal element and can be a highlight for a visitor.

·          Allows for inter-activity between interpreter and visitor.

·          Allows for debate and discussion.

·          Can involve the visitor.  Research suggests that people retain more from doing than reading.

·          Feedback and evaluation can be obtained immediately.

·          Volunteer and contract guides can be used.

·          Discussion of management issues and messages can be encouraged.

·          Program of events may encourage repeat visitation.

·          Enthusiasm and passion can be communicated by the interpreter.

·          Guided tours/activities can be used to manage visitors.

·          Guide can perform a variety of roles (e.g. safety, law enforcement).

·          Can encourage appropriate environmental and cultural behavior.

·          Can be responsive to a varied audience (e.g. children and adults).





·          Relatively high cost of provision on a per visitor basis.·          Only a small percentage of visitors may benefit due to limited availability and group sizes. 

·          Interpreters can suffer burnout if constantly presenting the same program – difficult to maintain creative presentation.

·          Not all staff may be suited to personal interpretation activities.  Careful staff selection and training required.

·          Availability of interpretation is relatively fixed in time and place.

·          Guide can be viewed as a threatening authority figure.


Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Panels/signs, including:·  Labels 

·  Information shelter panels

·  Trail head signs

·  Wayside or trail side panels/ interpretation signs


·          Always available for the visitor.·          Common and accepted form of delivery – visitors may expect and welcome these facilities. 

·          Most visitors are comfortable with the written word.

·          Enable important themes or messages to be communicated.

·          Maps are helpful for site orientation.

·          Can be used to direct visitors to particular areas.

·          Generally medium to long term, low maintenance fixtures.

·          Can incorporate shelter from sun or wet weather.

·          A hierarchy of material can be presented so visitors can choose their own interest level.

·          Displays can be designed so that they can be updated reasonably easily.

·          Large eye-catching graphics can be used.

·          Saves paper.

·          Can establish corporate identity.

·          Low cost of provision on a per visitor basis.

·          Can feature both permanent and temporary material.

·          Visually intrusive if poorly sited.·          Can encourage visitors to focus on the signs themselves rather than on the environment being interpreted. 

·          Can encourage a passive approach to the environment rather than an active “discovery” approach.

·          Intrusive in natural/wilderness areas – can detract from experience of a natural or historic area.

·          Risk of repetition of messages and of “lowest common denominator” approach – i.e. over-simplifying complex stories.

·          Need good design, production and maintenance.

·          Visitors require literacy and map reading skills.

·          Information is not “portable”  (can’t be taken home), so messages may be forgotten.

·          Subject to vandalism.

·          Permanent material can go out of date.

·          Temptation to put too much information on signs.

·          Generally do not cater for children.

·          High initial cost.


Numbered post and brochure trails  ·          Always available for the visitor.·          Relatively low cost to provide on a per visitor basis. 

·          Reasonably non-intrusive on landscape.

·          Relatively flexible – posts can be moved if they use symbols rather than numbers or letters.

·          Require simple materials.

·          Information is portable and brochure can be taken home after visit.

·          Need to ensure brochures are reprinted and brochure boxes are restocked.·          On-going printing costs. 

·          Brochures may not be readily available to visitors (may only be available at one entrance, for instance).

·          Need to ensure that the features at the pegs are still evident/relevant.

·          Requires reading skills.

·          Potential litter problems.


Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Free brochures / booklets including:·  Fliers, 

·  Self-guided trail notes


·          Can be distributed at entrance.·          Many potential distribution points. 

·          Information is portable and brochure/booklet can be taken home after visit.

·          Can be targeted to specific audiences and sites.

·          Detailed and sophisticated information can be presented.

·          Can make use of diagrams and illustrations.

·          Relatively inexpensive to produce and maintain.

·          Can be updated reasonably easily.

·          Useful icebreaker for roving rangers in communicating with public.


·          Potential litter problems.·          Require reading skills. 

·          May not be valued by visitors.

·          Not interactive.

·          Can encumber visitor’s interaction with the resource.

·          Can be more expensive in the long term if numerous reprints are required.

·          May not always be available to the visitor.

·          Need to ensure dispensers are always stocked.

·          May not encourage observation beyond the sites mentioned in the brochure/booklet.

Saleable publications including:·  Guidebooks 

·  Booklets

·  Souvenir guides

·          Can include a large amount of information.·          Color pictures and good quality maps and illustrations can be included. 

·          Information is portable and may be widely read (e.g. in schools, libraries etc.).

·          Income generated may enable further editions to be produced.

·          Can save printing costs if the demand for free publications is reduced.

·          Can increase recognition, respect and status for the site.

·          Can serve as a souvenir of the visit.


·          Depending on staffing, may not be available for purchase on site.·          Information may go out of date. 

·          Cost may exclude some visitors from purchase.

·          Large amount of preparation time and funding required.

·          Amendments are reasonably time-consuming.

·          Some visitors object to paying for information and may miss out on the message you want to communicate.

Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Audio installations / soundscapes·  Voice and sound effects 

·  Listening posts (indoors and outdoors)

·  May be automated using movement-sensitive lasers, or controlled by a push button


·          Effective for creating atmosphere (e.g. at historic sites).·          Ideal medium for oral histories. 

·          Direct first person commentary possible.

·          Avoids some limitations of signs (message length, effort, reading skills).

·          Generally visually unobtrusive.

·          Tape can become a saleable item – can be listened to at home.

·          Relatively easy to update.

·          Relatively expensive to produce and install.·          May be aurally intrusive (voices generally more intrusive than other sounds). 

·          Some systems can be expensive or difficult to maintain.

·          Automated systems do not allow for visitor choice.

·          Messages may be missed by some visitors (e.g. if they walk past too quickly).

·          Possible impact on wildlife.

·          If not carefully sited, sound may conflict with other noises in the area making the presentation difficult to hear (‘sound bleed’).

Portable audio systems  

These require visitors to carry or wear equipment in order to receive the signal.  The systems generally allow the visitor to control the message (stop, start, select information by keying in a number, etc.) and include audio cassettes (‘Walkman’), compact discs (‘Discman’), minidisks or wands.

·          Flexibility – visitors can switch on and off and adjust a tour to their own pace.·          Ideal medium for oral histories 

·          Direct first person commentary possible.

·          Can be produced in a variety of languages.

·          Avoids some limitations of signs (message, length, effort, reading skills).

·          High dramatic capability – good for historic and cultural sites.

·          No or minimal impact on site.

·          Ease of use means children can be independent of parents.

·          Can relate audio to feature of site.

·          Relatively high production and operating costs.·          Substantial effort involved in supervision and administration of the system – loan/hire and return, replacing batteries, tapes and compact discs, health regulations regarding use of ear phones, etc. 

·          Can sometimes be difficult to synchronize to the site and establish a logical sequence.

·          Can hinder and discourage group interaction.

·          Separates listener from natural/ambient sounds.

·          Requires frequent replacement of tapes to maintain quality.  This is less of an issue with compact or mini-discs.




Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Visitor specific FM broadcast  

In this system, a portable, pre-tuned headset is supplied to visitors and their location on the site in relation to low-powered transmitters affects the message they receive in their headphones.

·          Avoids some limitations of portable audio systems as above (e.g. replacing worn tapes).·          No impact on site. 

·          Ease of use means children can be independent of parents.

·          Recording can be a saleable item.


·          Inflexibility – visitor must fit their pace to that of the commentary (or take the headphones off).·          Can be difficult to synchronize to the site and establish a logical sequence. 

·          Effort involved in supervision and administration of system.

·          Can discourage group interaction.

·          Separates listener from natural/ambient sounds.

Site specific FM broadcast  

In this system, low power short range FM radio transmitters relay a message continuously at a site and visitors can pick up the information using their car radios.  Talking billboards are an example.

·          Avoids some of the problems of portable audio systems.·          Not visually obtrusive. 

·          Good for reaching people in cars.

·          New and different.

·          Fairly low running cost.


·          No use to people without FM radios.·          Further separates people from the outdoor environment. 

·          Requires instruction signs for visitors.

·          Moderate to high installation and operating costs.

·          Possible transmission and reception problems.

Regional FM radio  

In this system, low power short to medium range FM radio transmitters relay a message over  a region, town or extensive area with a general message which is repeated continuously.  Visitors can pick up the information using their car radios.  Tourist radio stations are an example.














·          Ideal for reaching car-based audiences.·          Messages can be easily changed. 

·          Not visually obtrusive.

·          Visitor chooses whether to listen or not.

·          Low running cost.

·          Range of information can be delivered.

·          Potential for advertising income.


·          Often difficult to tune to.  Search mode on radios not sensitive to low power signals.·          No use to people without fm car radios. 

·          Messages often general, short and commercial.

·          Requires roadside signs.

·          Moderate to high installation costs.

·          Possible transmission and reception problems.


Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Automated slide shows (with or without narration and sound effects)·  Slides from single projector 

·  Slides from multiple projectors with a range of effects (fade, superimpose)


·          Always available for the visitor if automated.·          Common and accepted form of delivery – visitors will seek these resources through habit. 

·          Potential to combine visual and auditory materials into an interesting and stimulating presentation.

·          Useful medium for communicating management messages.

·          Slides or slide set can be a saleable item.


·          Relatively high cost of production and installation.·          Maintenance issues – replacing slides, fixing equipment etc. may mean the slide show is out of order for long periods, especially in country areas. 

·          Material may go out of date

·          If a general show, cannot be tailored to the audience.

Videos  ·          Always available for the visitor if automated.·          Typical form of delivery – visitors will seek video resources through habit. 

·          Potential to combine visual and auditory materials into an interesting and stimulating presentation.

·          Saleable item.

·          Useful medium for communicating management messages.

·          Very familiar to visitors as a form of communication.

·          Can cater for children.

·          Can be seen widely beyond site (e.g. schools, libraries).


·          High cost of production and installation.·          Maintenance issues – replacing tapes, fixing equipment etc. 

·          Material may go out of date.



Medium Advantages Disadvantages
Drive trails including:·  Brochure 

·  Wayside panels

·  Sound (using a localized short-wave radio broadcast to the car radio or audio cassette)

·          Can encourage visitors to explore larger areas.·          Can spread visitor/car traffic. 

·          Sequential delivery of material.

·          Can use a range of sound effects and narration to tell an interesting story.

·          Novel form of delivery.

·          Audiocassette may be a saleable item.

·          Possibly expensive to produce and install – depending on nature of drive trail.·          Visitors may not get out of cars (which may, in fact, be preferable).
Computers including:·  Touchscreen or controlled with a keyboard/mouse 

·  CD-ROMs


·          Increasingly expected form of delivery – visitors will seek computerized resources through familiarity.·          Virtually unlimited amounts of material can be incorporated. 

·          Can cater for children.

·          Still novel form of delivery for some visitor groups.

·          Interactive.

·          CD-ROM can be a saleable item.

·          Expensive to produce and install.·          Potentially high maintenance costs. 

·          Potentially the equipment can be out of order for long periods, especially in country areas.

·          Need for trained staff.

·          May not encourage visitors to explore the natural/cultural environment.

Visitor Centers  

May have a combination of:

·  Display panels

·  Automated slide shows

·  Audio elements

·  Computer interactives

·  Tactile interactives

·  Take-away publications (free and saleable)


·          Can cater for large numbers of visitors.·          Very familiar to visitors as a location for obtaining information. 

·          Potential to combine a range of visual, auditory and touchable materials into a stimulating and captivating presentation.

·          Can present more in-depth information to visitors, including management issues.

·          Can be an outlet for saleable items.

·          Can cater for children.

·          Can provide visitors with an opportunity to ask the on-duty staff person or volunteer (at the information desk) specific questions of relevance to their visit.

·          Provides the on-duty officer with opportunities to communicate

·          Very high construction and installation costs.·          Cost of staffing the information desk at the Center or training volunteers to staff the Center. 

·          Maintenance issues –equipment etc. May mean computers, videos, slide shows or interactives are out of order for long periods, especially in country areas.

·          Material may go out of date.