Category Archives: Environmental education including nature interpretation

news on developments in education theory in general and nature interpretation in particular, tips on nature interpretation, children’s activities, examples of effective interpretation

Does it matter if we disturb wildlife?

walking near wild kangaroos without disturbing themIn 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

“I want to see a quoll”

I asked my 5-year-old grandson to give me the orange cushion with white spots, then told him I’d chosen that one because it was the colour of a quoll.

“What’s a quoll?” he asked.

“It’s an animal that keeps it babies in a pouch like a kangaroo” I said, “but it hunts like a cat and has sharp teeth and claws, and it’s the colour of that cushion.”

His eyes had been widening, and he said “I want to see a quoll.”  I promised to take him to a wildlife reserve where he can see one. I explained they live in the forests around here, but it’s very difficult to see them in the wild.

He’s only five years old, so it wasn’t surprising he hadn’t heard of quolls, but many older children haven’t either. MAny of them know virtually nothing about our wildlife other than kangaroos. koalas, wombats, possums and platypus? Wonderful animals all of these, but there is so much more.

And it’s not only kids – many adults (including government staff, developers and others in positions to influence their survival) know very little about the special animals that share our country. A teacher would quite rightfully  think a child who hadn’t heard of elephants or tigers very ignorant.  How about making sure all our school-children learn the basics of our own native fauna as an essential part of their early training?

It’s not enough either to just give a list or a few pictures, or even the animal itself with no explanations.  These are interesting creatures and we have to communicate why they are interesting.  I remember years ago taking some young teenagers around a wildlife park.  They saw a sign saying ‘Native Cats’ (which quolls were called in those day) above a pathetically  small and dingy enclosure.  They looked in and said ‘Ha. I though it was going to be real cats but it’s just those things’ and walked on to the next exhibit.  Just those things?  I was able to enlighten these particular girls, but what a depressing first reaction, and I wonder how many others passed on by without another thought to these fascinating creatures.  Had they heard exciting things about about quolls beforehand, or seen them in a decent enclosure with eye-catching and readable  interpretation about their behaviour and ecology, perhaps they would have reacted differently.

Our wildlife is wonderful, and our whole population could be taking a lot more pleasure in this.

And it’s only when people know about our animals that they’ll be able to care about their conservation and understand what is needed to achieve it.

So, I’d love to hear lots of others saying what my wide-eyed little grandson said: “I want to see a quoll”