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.



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

Wild Benefits: wildlife tourism conference September 2010

Wildlife tourism conference program

Some of the details are still being worked out, but it will include the following:

Tuesday: August 31st.

Icebreaker, 6.00- 8.00pm, Currumbin Sanctuary

Wednesday September 1st:

  • Introductory talks by Johnathon Fisher (manager,Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuarty) and Pip Chalk (chair, WIldlife Tourism Australia)
  • Keynote addresses: (1) Shane O’Reilly (Long association with O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, which is one of Australia’s longest-running and best-known eco-resorts, now working for  Tourism Queensland (main state tourism body), and former director of Gold Coast Touirsm) “Leech tourism” and (2) Steve Parish (Australia’s best-known wildlife photographer, and prolific publisher) “Heart and Soul”.
  • Workshop – ‘Walking the Walk‘ (how wildlife tourism operations large and small can best contribute to wildlife conservation)
  • Contributed papers (see below)
  • Behind the Scenes tour of Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (numbers limited)

Thursday  September 2nd

  • Early morning behind the Scenes tour of Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary (for those who missed out on Wednesday)
  • Breakfast with the Birds, Currumbin Sanctuary
  • Keynote addresses: (1) Clem Tisdell – economic benefits of wildlife tourism; (2) Darryl Jones – Darryl Jones
    ‘The extinction of experience and the experience of extinction: Why direct interactions matter”.
  • Workshop: ‘Developing a useful interactive website for Wildlife Tourism’
  • Contributed papers (see below)
  • Afternoon whale-watching tour ($40 for delegates)
  • Conference dinner

Friday September 3rd

  • Keynote adresses: (1) Nick Mooney (conservationist, ‘Australian of the year’) title TBA, and (2) David Newsome (author of book ‘Wildlife Tourism’) “‘Tourism and wildlife icons: lessons learnt and views on visitor satisfaction’”
  • Workshop: ‘Managing Visitor Diversity’ (wildlife interpretation for all nationalities, socio-economic groups etc., exchange of ideas, sharing of experiences)
  • Contributed papers (see below)

Contributed papers:

“‘That’s totally disgusting’: Managing negative emotions within the context of captive wildlife exhibits – Nancy Cushing, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle and Kevin Markwell, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Southern Cross University

Eric Worrell: a pioneer of Australian wildlife tourism – Kevin Markwell, School of Tourism and Hospitality Management, Southern Cross University and Nancy Cushing, School of Humanities and Social Science, University of Newcastle

Wildlife tourism potential for the Global Tiger InitiativeSteve Noakes (Griffith University), Richard Damania (World Bank)

Facilitating profound experiences with wildlife – Liam Smith, Betty Weiler and Sam Ham

The Poetics of Wild – Dr Jayne Fenton Keane

A need for promoting care and concern for wildlife: A call for flagship species and anthropomorphism – Amy M. Smith, Liam Smith, Betty Weiler, Tourism Research Unit, Monash University

Kimberley Whale Watching Tourism: Opportunities and Threats – Prof. Jack Carlsen and Dr Michael Hughes, Curtin Sustainable Tourism Centre,Curtin University, Western Australia

Isabelle Wolf –

Ronda Green –

Pip Chalk –

Barry Davies –

others …

Download preliminary program

Can wildlife tourism make money and also help conserve wildlife?

One of the reasons I personally went into ecotourism was to provide governments, developers etc. with an economic reason for preserving wildlife and its habitats (my other main reason was to share my enthusiasm with others for the wonderful diversity of wild creatures and wild places on this planet, and hopefully in so doing  to deepen their understanding of the same, and appreciation of their intrinsic non-monetary values).

One of the positive benefits of wildlife tourism towards tourism conservation has long been identified as the potential for donations towards conservation, from  tourism operators, their guests and perhaps local businesses and governments that directly or indirectly benefit from the tourism dollar.

But to give we need to also receive –  at least   enough to keep giving without going broke.    And tourism operations that make non-financial contributions (e.g. habitat restoration, quality interpretation, conservation-breeding) have to make enough to survive.  It also helps if the local community benefits, and  continues to support their efforts.

Can all this happen, either at an individual operator level or a regional level?

regent bowerbirdOne of Australia’s best-published economics researchers (amongst the top three in the country according to Wikipedia) – Clem Tisdell –  has conducted many studies on the economics of wildlife tourism in Australia and elsewhere, including amongst many other topics rainforests and glow worm caves in Southeast Queensland,  Antarctic voyages and an elephant orphanage in Sri Lanka. Apart from individual studies he has provided a number of very useful and wide-ranging review papers.

We will have a chance to hear Professor Tisdell’s latest information and advice at the Wild Benefits conference to be held at the Gold Coast 1st to 3rd September 2010, and it will be a great opportunity to ask him questions (and listen to his answers to the questions of others, both immediately after his presentation and at other times during the conference).

This is the third national wildlife tourism conference to be held in Australia. There are day registrations and student registrations available, ad the earlybird discount registration is open until the end of July.

Can tourism save dolphins?

I’m reproducing here (with permission)  an email recently received from Michael Dalton of Sea Shepherd

“Earth Island Institute, the Save Japan Dolphins Campaign and Brisbane supporters are heading to Taiji, Japan Wednesday Sept. 1st, 2010 to celebrate “Dolphin Day”.

September 1st marks the beginning of the annual six-month dolphin kill and Save Japan Dolphins Campaign Director Ric O’Barry has made a pledge to return to Taiji to keep his eyes on this tragic situation.

Rather than protest, our goal is to deliver a positive message of support for the many good things that are possible in Taiji.

We support efforts to develop sustainable eco-tourism for Taiji and the surrounding area. Eco-tourism provides jobs, and in many places around the world there is a growing recognition of the value and importance of living dolphins and whales offshore. Imagine if instead of allowing a small group of Taiji fisherman to continue the dolphin kill, Taiji residents took the public on dolphin and whale watching cruises.

Tangalooma Resort on Brisbane’s Moreton Island was once a whaling station, but now thrives as a vacation resort that attracts people from all over the world. We hope Taiji can find alternatives to end the annual drive hunts for dolphins and the sale of mercury-laden dolphin meat to the public.

So pack your bags! Taiji is beautiful at this time of year. Plan to spend some time in this coastal resort town and countryside. Bring your family and your friends to share this experience. There are plenty of opportunities for walking and hiking, boating, several historic temples and religious shrines nearby.


We have no specific plans for the day, except to show up and enjoy the National Park at the Cove. Bring a picnic lunch and expect to spend the day on the gravel beach. As emphasised above, there is no protest and we will avoid any confrontations.

We are also working on plans for a Peace March to be conducted over the historic pilgrims trail into Taiji. This is a very strenuous walk that will require advance preparation. More details will be available soon about this event.


Please contact me if you think you will be able to join us. We will try to assist with information on travel directions and options. Emails should be sent to brisbane@seashepherd.org or mjrice@earthisland.org.

Also, if you know of anyone in Japan who you think should learn about our activities in Japan, please let us know!

There are many daily flights into the Japanese airports of Tokyo (Narita Airport) and Osaka. Tokyo is about 6-7 hours by train to Taiji. Osaka is about 5-6 hours by train to Taiji. You might want to arrive early in Japan for a few days before September. 1st to get over your jet lag and adjust to local time.

A Note of Caution:

We are gathering in Taiji to express support for the many people in Japan and throughout the world who want to see an end to the dolphin slaughter and trade. This will be a peaceful, quiet celebration of nature. We will be not be demonstrating or displaying signs of protest. It has been reported that Nationalist groups supporting a continuation of the dolphin kill will show up in Taiji on September 1st. They have been active against The Cove movie, intimidating theatres and film distributors. We do not intend any confrontation whatsoever. The Wakayama police have always acted in a professional manner and will be on hand.

We cannot be responsible for your travel, accommodations, or safety due to all of the unknown factors in this situation.

We look forward to your help and support for the Save Japan Dolphins Campaign.”

Positive effects of wildife tourism

A suggestion for those who are joining the discussions on positive effects of wildlife tourism, whether as comments to this blog, the workshop on the theme at the Wildlife conference in September, or any other venue.

Some years ago I was co-author of a Sustainable Tourism  ‘The positive effects of Wildlife Tourism on Wildlife’ with Karen Higginbottom (senior author) and Chelsea Northrope.  That report is  available  for free download on the Sustainable Tourism CRC website.

If you don’t want to download the whole report (603kb), there is a summary sheet (92kb) with the main conclusions and recommendations

There are a number of other very relevant titles available also (some free, some not), which anyone interested in joining the discussion on how wildlife tourism might benefit wildlife conservation may like to read – plus of course various other publications on many other aspects of wildlife tourism (47 wildlife tourism titles currently available).

From the introduction to the Positive Effects paper:

“In principle, wildlife tourism can have various positive effects on wildlife species and their habitats. However, to date we know much more about negative effects of wildlife tourism on wildlife; very little systematic research has been conducted on positive effects. These positive effects work through four main mechanisms: (1) financial contributions, (2) non-financial contributions, (3) socio-economic incentives, and (4) education. The contribution may be to conservation, animal welfare, or both.”

Wildlife Tourism abstracts due

Reminder – abstracts for  Wildlife Benefits (Australia’s third national wildlife tourism conference)  1-3rd September (Gold Coast) are due by 30th June, and earlybird registration by mid-July

Wild Benefits explores the diversity of positive impacts of sustainable wildlife tourism, as well as strategies to achieve and maintain them. Sub themes include:

• Going for the Green – Environmental Benefits

• Spreading the Wealth – Economic Benefits

• Heart and Soul – Social Benefits

• Reality Bites – Risk and Management Strategies

Keynote Speakers include:

• Steve Parish, Australia’s best-known wildlife photographer  and publisher of wildlife books

• Assoc Professor Darryl Jones, Griffith University, Qld , one of Australia’s foremost authorities on human/wildlife interactions

• Professor Clem Tisdell, University of Queensland, Qld , one of Australia’s leading experts on the economics of wildlife tourism

• Nick Mooney, Tasmanian conservationist and 2006 Recipient Australian of the Year

• Shane O’Reilly, Tourism Queensland and O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat, Queensland’s first and most famous ecotourism lodge with long experience of wildlife activities and a mecca for domestic and international birdwatchers

• Assoc Professor David Newsome, Murdoch University, WA, author of the book ‘Wildlife Tourism’

Join a stimulating range of plenary and contributed presentations, workshops, social events and field trips (e.g. whale watching, behind-the-scenes tours of Dreamworld’s Tiger island).

Enter the wildlife photography competition (great book prizes sponsored by Steve Parish Publishing)

Members of Wildlife Tourism Australia get discounted registration – if you’re not yet a member you can join when you register

For more details visit Wildlife Tourism Australia

Wildlife care and tourism in South Africa

I have visited two tourism sites in South Africa involved in wildlife care and rehabilitation. I haven’t seen anything similar in Australia.

One of these operations was Daktari, near Hoetspruit, which my son and I visited a few years ago and spent a couple of nights. Running on a low budget, they were at the time caring for a serval, a near-blind bushbuck, several raptors, a family of young leopard tortoises and several other small or medium-sized creatures.  African children from the neighbouring village came daily for some basic education  enhancement (while we were there they learnt a little more about geography, as it was the first time they’d met anyone from the other side of the Indian Ocean) and about animal care and wildlife generally. Surrounding the hospital area was African bush occupied by giraffe, baboons and other wildlife, and we had two escorted walks through here, one with the children and a local African youth who showed us the prickly bushes buffaloes back into so that they have protection on all sides from a lion, leaves and bark used in medications etc., and one with the proprietor, other guests, two dogs and a very energetic donkey.

It seemed to us a good example of using tourist dollars to perform useful work both in actually caring for injured and orphaned animals and education to visitors and locals alike.

Jackal buzzard

Jackal Buzzard at Dullstroom Bird of Prey Rehabilitation Centre

The other more recent visit was to a bird of prey rehabilitation site in the Drakenbergs, near Dullstroom. Many species were represented, and it was good to have a close-up look at secretary birds, eagle owls and others. Some of these birds could not be released back to the wild because they had been too ‘humanized.’  It was explained to us that if released they would probably be able to take care of themselves but establish large territories and keep out potential breeding pairs, while never breeding themselves. Others were to be released, using a portable halfway-house to accustom them to their new surroundings before being given access to the exit and then gradually becoming more independent of food provided. A daily free-flight show was a spectacular and enjoyable way of introducing us all to several of the species, and since most of those present were South Africans one would hope that many would leave with a renewed appreciation and respect for the birds of their country.

I know there are a number of larger operations in South Africa with a similar combination of wildlife care and tourism – some specializing in elephants, cheetahs or others species, some more general – but we didn’t get a chance to visit these.

Our own carers here in Australia struggle so much to pay for food, shelters and medications for wildlife in their care out of their own pockets, it could be useful to consider how some might benefit by appropriate demonstartion to the public.

I remember one carer  – from Northern Territory  I think – who also runs some kind of tourism accommodation ,   complaining that when she applied to become a wildlife carer she was refused on the grounds that she might just want the animals to enhance her business, whereas she was genuinely concerned with wildlife, being a major reason why she started her business where she did.  I have personally cared for many animals in the past, and am still a member of Bat Conservation and Rescue, but don’t take it on at the moment because of my somewhat erratic lifestyle,  often never knowing from one day to the next whether we’ll be called out on a tour.

I have heard of operations that have abused the situation, keeping animals in inadequate enclosures, and allowing too many noisy people to view them. Still, with adequate checks on how things are run, there would seem to be potential here for responsible tourism that could at least assist carers in their struggle to afford the care they give their animals. Perhaps it would be an individual carer able to open the doors at certain times, showing what kinds of problems animals face and what is involved in caring – maybe some animals could be approached by the visitors and others viewed only from a distance or quietly through a two-way mirror or ‘peep-hole.’ Perhaps several carers could combine their efforts, and perhaps involve a tour operator to drive guests between them.

I’d be very interested to hear what others think.