Update on Wildlife Tourism Conference September 2015

Update on Wildlife Tourism Conference September 2015

A couple of weeks ago I spent a very encouraging few days in Melbourne and Geelong with Roger Smith and Caz Bartholomew of Echidna Walkabout (I’m chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia, and Roger is vice chair), helping to prepare for Australia’s third wildlife tourism conference at the end of September this year.

Exploring the venues

First we explored the possibilities we had narrowed down to for.

The Botanic Gardens Conference Centre, a lovely location but not quite big enough

The Botanic Gardens Conference Centre, a lovely location but not quite big enough

All were lovely venues, but our final decision had to be made on the numbers they were able to accommodate at the conference. We’re hoping for at least 200, so had to abandon ideas of holding it at the Conference Centre in the Botanic Gardens or the Vines Road Community Centre.

Grey headed flying foxes in the Botanic Gardens, Geelong

Grey headed flying foxes in the Botanic Gardens, Geelong

The Botanic Gardens, with its sweeping parklands, birdlife, fruitbat colony and views of the sea, is within easy walking distance of the venue we finally chose, so we may still have a social function there, and it is also one of our recommended accommodation choices for those who prefer to be surrounded by trees instead of city streets at night.

Vines Road Community Centre was our original choice, but once again it won’t take the numbers we’re now predicting.

Mercure entryThe Mercure Hotel in Geelong can take the numbers,and will be having a major facelift soon, to be finished  before the conference, and the staff are happy to provide all our needs . It’s just a few minutes walk from the gardens  or the beach. They’ve offered us a generous discount on their rooms, many of which can take three adults in separate beds (thus making the rooms affordable for students) but are also totally okay about some delegates choosing to stay elsewhere.

The really exciting part though is the quality of speakers we already know about (and we should soon be hearing from plenty more), spread across several continents and presenting a range of useful topics relating to how wildlife tourism can contribute to biodiversity conservation and local communities.

In the afternoons we’ll do as we have so successfully done in the WTA workshops over the last few years: divided into small groups for interactive roundtable discussions, joining up again in plenary discussions afterwards, and ultimately collating and uploading the notes from these to the WTA website as well as taking action (new policy guidelines on the website, letters to politicians etc.)

For details, visit:



Off to Africa for two conferences

Some elephants we drove past in Kruger NP in 2010.

Some elephants we drove past in Kruger NP in 2010.

Just one more day at home.  Tomorrow I head to Brisbane, and Tuesday will be on my way to South Africa!

The trip was originally to present some research findings on the germination and survival of native fig seeds spread by local birds to the International Frugivory Symposium in the Drakenburgs late next month. Now I’ll also be presenting a paper on wildlife tourism and biodiversity conservation to the Best EN Think Tank conference at the edge of Kruger National Park.

Of course I can’t get that close to Kruger without spending some time there, so will be traveling with the NP for almost 2 weeks before the first conference.

I’m also visiting an elephant sanctuary, one that apparently uses elephants rescued from potential unhappy lives, not calves taking for the purposes from their mothers.  I’ve heard many calls for all places offering elephant rides to be closed down throughout the world because they are all cruel.  I suspect not all are based on cruelty, and the place I’m visiting in Hazyview seems committed  to animal welfare and conservation, so I want to see it for myself. I know firsthand that there are cruel methods and gentle methods of training horse, dogs and other animals, so suspect it is the same with elephant training.

The events of next week don’t seem quite real yet, and maybe won;t until I’m actually in Africa.  Internet access will be limited, but I’ll try to record some of what happens along the way!

World Parks Congress

I’ve just attended the World Parks Congress on behalf of Wildlife Tourism Australia Inc.

Citizen science was featured in the Eye on the Reef display

Citizen science was featured in the Eye on the Reef display

This important congress is held only once every 10 years, and this time it was in Sydney.  The previous one was in South Africa, and at the opening ceremony here in Sydney we watched a video of part of Nelson Mandela’s speech on the importance of protected areas for both biodiversity and people, and were then addressed by his grandson who had flown in for the event.  The next will be held in Russia in 2024.

The organisers were expecting about 3,000 delegates: instead we had over 6,000, representing 170 countries!

Promises werte made and goals were set.  Delegates n he nature conservation stream agreed that by 2020 one-third of the oceans should be designated as no-take areas, to allow fish and other marine creatures to breed up to pre-exploitation levels and re-poluate the remaining two-thirds. Currently only 1% of the ocean is thus protected. The president of Madagascar promised to triple the amount of marine protected areas around his country, Gabon and Bangladesh pledged to create marine protected areas, and our own environment minister Greg Hunt declared there would never be drilling or dumping on the Great Barrier Reef, that he would work in with other countries to protect the Coral Triangle and the world’s oceans, and that China and Australia had signed an agreement not to allow mining in Antarctica. He also acknowledged the number of extinct and endangered terrestrial mammals in Australia and expressed a commitment to protecting our remaining species.

Much was said about the importance of protected areas to physical and mental health of humans, and the desirability of attracting young people into our parks. I presented a short talk on this theme, and the value of youth becoming involved in citizen science while travelling, including the opportunities presented by Wildlife Tourism Australia’s research network: http://www.wildliferesearchnetwork.org/

Just prior to the Congress, I also led a Parallel Event on behalf of Wildlife Tourism Australia to discuss wildlife tourism and biodiversity conservation n our parks. See http://www.wildlifetourism.org.au/wildlife-tourism-workshop-in-sydney-november-2014/ for details.

The dedication and bravery of rangers worldwide was honoured by awards and speeches, especially those who frequently risked their lives.  A long list of those who had in fact died while performing their duties was displayed. Read more about these rangers on http://thingreenline.org.au/story/ Some ways you can assist rangers was presented by the Big Life Group: https://biglife.org/

IUCN has long been known for its Red List of endangered animals.  At this Congress they launched the Green List, a positive step to reward those protected areas who are doing a great job on a number of important criteria. The first areas to be accepted for the Green List are situated  in Australia, South Korea, China, Italy, France, Spain, Kenya and Colombia. Read more on this at: http://www.iucn.org/about/work/programmes/gpap_home/?18617/Green-is-the-new-gold

The TAPAS (Tourism and Protected Areas)  group creed a schedule for all those interested in the connection between tourism and conservation, and I attended a number of the presentations on this theme.

Visit http://worldparkscongress.org/ for further details of this exciting event.



Wildlife tourism: guides, students, operators



Wildlife Tourism: A Handbook for Guides, Tour Operators, Job-seekers and Business Start-ups

WT book coverMost books on wildlife tourism are aimed at researchers and policy-makers. This one is more of a practical guide for those who want to work (or are already working) within the field of wildlife tourism as guides, ecolodge managers, wildlife park staff or other situations where they will be interpreting our wildlife to visitors and also making a living.

Coming more from an academic background than a business one (although I had once run a holiday farm), the business of starting and running a small business took me and my husband into a very steep learning curve. I knew little of the red tape involved,  marketing, book-keeping, insurance,  or working with booking agents. One of the aims of the book is to help others who may be in the same boat  –  starting out with loads of enthusiasm for  wildlife and for haring their enthusiasm with others, but lacking experience in running a business venture.

Other readers come from the other direction – they’ve been running a tourism or related business but have an interest in including more wildlife experiences, and want to brush up their wildlife skills (bail knowledge and how to find, view and interpret animals), so there are chapters devoted to getting a grasp of the basics and links to further information.



For students and job-seekers there are also guidelines on what might appeal to your prospective employers.

Most of the examples are Australian, but there is ample general advice to be applicable anywhere in the world.

The book is available on Kindle


Printed versions are available from Andrew Isles bookstore:


A PayPal system will soon be set up for other online  and printed copies. Until then, it can be purchased directly by electronic transfer, cheque or credit card: contact me (Ronda) on info@learnaboutwildlife.com if interested. Cost $27.50 plus postage ($5 Australian, $12 Asia-Pacific,  $15 elsewhere)



1 Introduction

  • Is this book for you?

  • The big picture: does wildlife tourism matter for our economy or for conservation?

  • Not just the facts ma’am (but not ignoring them either): why good interpretation is so important

  • What this book will do for you

  • Background experience of author

2. The basics

  • Skills you will need as a guide

  • Going a bit further: how to excel as a tour guide

  • Becoming self-employed as a tour operator or using your skills in other areas

3. Wildlife Skills 1: knowing the wildlife

  • Getting the ‘big picture’ of wildlife in Australia (or other countries): a good start for avoiding major errors and showing your guests what is different from their own homelands

  • Identifying wildlife: how to know what you’re looking at (or at least narrowing down the possibilities)

  • Finding out what species to expect in your district

4. Wildlife Skills 2: finding the wildlife 

  • Knowing when and where to search

  • When you can’t see the wildlife: tracks, scratches, scats and sounds

5. Wildlife Skills 3: understanding the behaviour and ecology of wildlife

  • Why should you understand ecology?

  • Population ecology: why populations of animals of a particular species increase, decrease, stay the same or never enter a particular area.

  • Community ecology: interactions between species living in the same locality

  • Further notes on wildlife behaviour

6. Wildlife Skills 4: not disturbing the wildlife

  • How much disturbance can animals tolerate without changing their behaviour, avoiding you or even disappearing from the region?

  • How should we approach wildlife?

  • What happens to the wildlife you never see?

  • Feeding animals

  • Other interactions with animals

  • Wildlife habitat

7. Wider conservation issues

  • Getting it straight

  • Some threats to wildlife

  • Learning about conservation problems while still enjoying a holiday

  • Knowing the legislation.

  • Contributing positively to conservation

8. People Skills 1: Attending to customer needs and desires

  • Not making them unhappy – general etiquette

  • Making them happy – Changing customer satisfaction to customer delight

  • Dealing with problems: avoiding them if possible, acting appropriately when they do happen

  • Feedback from customers, and what to do about it

9. People Skills 2: Interpretation

  • Enjoy your creativity

  • Not a school-room: remember people want to learn but are also here to enjoy themselves

  • Clarifying your goals: what would you most like them to remember and talk about?

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the guided walk, drive or cruise

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the information display

  • What to tell them and how to tell it: the self-guided nature trail

  • Learning about Interpretation techniques: links to further information

  • Testing: what best holds their interest and stays in their memories?

10. People Skills 3: Workplace, networking, and public relations

  • Why network?

  • Making face-to-face networking effective

  • Keeping records

  • Social media

  • Don’t forget your customers

  • Employer/employee and workmate relations

11. Financial matters

  • Starting an ecotourism venture

  • Staying afloat through the bad times

  • Hiring yourself out as a guide

  • Keeping records and projecting costs

12. Health and Safety issues

  • Food and water

  • First aid courses and kits

  • Driving

  • Walking

  • Other modes of travel

13. Legal matters 

  • Licences and permits needed for starting and running a tour business

  • Public liability – nowadays it’s risky not to have insurance, and there are some things you can’t legally do without it

  • Copyright (yours and others), slander and related topics

  • Hiring staff

  • Indigenous culture

  • Conservation legislation

14. Final note: Never-endingLearning and Innovation

  • Learning about wildlife

  • Nature interpretation and guiding techniques

  • Wildlife tourism literature

  • Market trends: keeping up to date with what your potential customers are looking for

  • Thinking creatively: it’s fun and often productive!

References and further reading


The book is packed with links to useful websites and other publications on wildlife, environment education, conservation issues, bureaucracy of running a small business, and other essential topics.



Call for Papers WIldlife Tourism Workshop

Next month will be your last chance to submit a paper for Wildlife Tourism Australia’s 3rd national workshop.

A workshop rather than a conference, the emphasis will be on interactive discussion, with ultimate actions in mind (e.g. policy statements and guidelines for the Wildlife Tourism Australia website, beginning of new projects,  lobbying government etc. but a limited number of oral and poster papers will also be accepted.

Call for papers ends 24th February

The workshop will be held at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast

See http://wildlifetourism.org.au/wildlife-tourism-workshop-2012/registration/ for details


Entry to Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, the venue for the Wildlife Tourism Workshop in May 2012


National Wildlife Tourism Workshop 2012

Wildlife Tourism Australia’s 3rd National Workshop

Venue Currumbin WIldlife Sanctuary
Date Wednesday to Friday 16-18 May

My grandson Axel meeting the lorikeets at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary

The call for papers is now open for the national wildlife tourism workshop to be held at Currumbin WIldlife Sanctuary next year.


WTA has some great keynote speakers lined up, the venue houses the largest range of native animals in captivity in Queensland and is doing some great work with its new wildlife hospital, and the discussions are on important topics and leading to definite actions to follow on from the workshop.

For those coming from afar and wanting to stay on for the weekend, the beach is just a couple of minutes’ walk away, extensive rainforest tracks less than an hour ‘s drive from the venue, there are many lovely ecolodges and B&Bs in the mountains, whale-wacthing will have started and there are islands to visit, turtles to snorkel with, dolphins to kayak with ….

Visit http://wildlifetourism.org.au/wildlife-tourism-workshop-2012/ for details

Win DVDs on Australian wildlife


Chris Humfrey 'WIld Life'“Imagine if your home security was monitored by a howling pack of dingoes? Could you share the couch with a koala that has a thing for reality TV? And what about being woken up every morning by the lick of a Ringtail Possum sitting comfortably on your face.
Welcome to Chris Humfrey’s world. He’s a zoologist, passionate about wildlife, who lives with his wife Nicole and their young family on a sprawling private zoo in country Victoria. With more than 2000 amazing creatures in their care – including their daughters Taasha (4 yrs) and Charlie-Ashe (6 yrs) – Chris and Nicole share their property with an enthusiastic crew of Gen Y zookeepers. Every waking minute is consumed by animal and human dramas and dilemmas of one kind or another.”

So begins an introduction to Chris Humfrey’s TV  series “Wild Life”

Each week for the past 5 weeks Wildlife Tourism Australia has been asking a set of easy questions, the winner each week recevign from Universal Pictures (Australasia) a complete set of DVDs of the entire first series.

The competition has five more weeks to go.  Click here to read about the Wild Life Quiz (free entry)


Green Day Out and whales at the Gold Coast


Araucaria tour bus and WTA displayWildlife Tourism Australia stall at Green Day Out

We used the Araucaria tour vehicle to cart gazebo, tables and displays to Gecko’s “Green Day Out” on the Gold Coast for the Wildlife Tourism Australia display.

The day attracted a fair crowd despite being wet and windy and various organic foods, environmental technologies and environmental issues were on display.

The following day we took adavantage of a special offer and headed out on the Spirit of the Gold Coast for whale-watching.  The whales were not especially playful that day, but we did see a few blows and tails – always great to see!

back and bow of humpbacks tail of humpback whale