In our ecotours we try to always leave animals doing whatever it was they were doing when we first see them – this gives some measure that we are not disturbing them in any important way. If the whiptail wallabies are still grazing on the same patch of grass, the koala hasn’t climbed higher in the tree and the honeyeaters are still sipping the same flowers, we can be fairly confident that our presence hasn’t made too much of a difference to them.
I’ve reviewed quite a lot of literature on minimal-impact wildlife viewing, and given a number of presentations on the same, making the point that while occasional disturbance is probably unimportant, repeated disturbances have the potential to deter animals from using favoured feeding areas, or from successful reproduction.
One thing that has surprised me is the number of people who ask why does it matter? And this comes not only from tourists and tour operators, but also from ecologists who say there is no good evidence that disturbing animals in their feeding grounds or breeding areas does any lasting damage, apart from isolated cases in especially fragile habitats or restricted breeding grounds, and that increased disturbance will probably just hasten habituation to humans.
I would still prefer to err on the side of caution, and make as little impact as possible while enjoying watching wild creatures.I feel this will benefit the animals themselves and the next human visitors who wish to see them. It also has the potential to educate visitors to respect the animals and use minimal-impact techniques elsewhere.
Also, some animals habituate far more readily than others. If some don’t seem bothered by our presence, there may be others nearby that are.
I would be interested in hearing the views of others – please leave a comment