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.

Wildlife Tourism conference

Araucaria Ecotours guests learn how to approach animals with minimal disturbance

Australia’s third national Wildlife Tourism conference, “Wild Benefits” is to be held at Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast, Queensland, 1st – 3rd September 2010

The call for papers has been extended until 30th June, and already a very interesting variety of topics have been contributed

There is a great line-up of expert keynote speakers, on human/wildlife relationships, the social, economic and environmental benefits of wildlife tourism, and the environmental measures needed to ensure minimal negative impact.  Several workshops are planned to encouraged discussion and debate on important issues such as how wildlife tourism can contribute to wildlife conservation and how best to interpret wildlife to a diversity of nationalities and  mixed groups.

Visit the Wildlife  Tourism Australia website for further details

How can wildlife tourism best serve wildlife conservation?

At the coming national conference on wildlife tourism (Wild Benefits) on the Gold Coast Australia, September 1st-3rd 2010 I’ll be leading a half-day workshop on ‘Walking the Walk’.  We often talk about the benefits of wildlife tourism to conservation, and many are making it happen in a variety of ways.  How can others involved in wildlife-related tourism – whether running a tour company, a wildlife park, an ecolodge or a farmstay – get started, and how can those already doing so most effectively increase their support of wildlife conservation?

You may like to read  Higginbottom, K., Northrope, C. and Green, R. J. 2001. The Positive Effects of Wildlife Tourism on Wildlife. Wildlife Tourism Research Report Series No. 6, Status Assessment of Wildlife Tourism in Australia Series, CRC for Sustainable Tourism

Do you think wildlife tourism can be of real benefit to wildlife conservation?  How? Would you like to share what you know about attempts that have worked well (and those that haven’t – they are all learning experiences), or ideas on new ways of making it happen? Please feel free to leave comments on this post, and of course please consider registering for the conference and joining in this and other discussions!

Kruger National Park 2010

Baboons surveying their territory in Kruger National ParkDenis and I (Ronda) have just returned from a wonderful twelve days in Kruger National Park…. a wilderness area the size of Israel, with an amazing animal life. It was my second visit, Denis’s first.

‘But would it be your ideal holiday?’ I was asked when I mentioned we were taking time off from wildlife-watching to go wildlife-watching. I replied it would be pretty close, and the trip itself only confirmed this.

young giraffe in Kruger National Park with mother and zebraThe new flight from Australia to Johannesburg with Virgin Australia offered a great deal, and we hired a 2WD car for 12 days (4WD is expensive and generally not necessary).

Safety is one issue that stops people from traveling here, but we never felt in danger (no more so than anywhere else anyway). Driving from Joburg to Kruger is easy, and the airport is the same side of the city as the highway towards Kruger. In Kruger itself, you feel  protected against crime (not too many muggers want to be out there amongst the lions), and if you keep windows up when predators or baboons are around and don’t anger any elephants, you should stay pretty safe against most possibilities.

Chameleon in KrugerWe weren’t especially focused on the Big Five (a term that comes from the most dangerous animals to hunt) – we wanted to see everything, big and small. One of our first sightings was this brilliantly-green chameleon crossing the road with its strange, back-and-forth movements that made each step forward seem painfully slow.

It wasn’t long before we saw one of the big guys though – an elephant appeared close to the roadside, then ambled quietly away.

We were to see a lot of them – single males, small groups, and large herds with everything from babies to utterly massive individuals – quietly feeding, crossing the road, or at water tanks – or just the other side of the car!

Those in the river were really entertaining to watch – elephants know how to have fun, and love water!

Cheetahs in Kruger National ParkNear Orpen Dam, we saw a herd of impalas making a great fuss about something across the road. We followed their transfixed gaze and saw our first wild cheetah – no two cheetahs, wait on … three, four! A family feasting on an impala, so the group over the road had good reason for concern.

We didn’t see many other predators this time, apart from one lioness half-hidden by the lush vegetation (end of dry season would have been better for visibility), two African wild cats and a hyena. But we also saw porcupines, loads of zebras, giraffes, wildebeest and wart-hogs (and impalas of course), ostriches, secretary birds, and much, much more.

Most of the time you have to stay in the car for your own safety, but can wander around the rest camps (these are like small villages with a range of accommodation from basic camping to luxury, surrounded by high electric fences), and can get out at hides, picnic areas and long bridges.

Two things I didn’t do on my last visit were sleeping in an overnight  hide and  walking in the wilderness.  This time we did both.

The hide was at Shipandane, near the Mopane rest camp.

I left my mobile (cell) phone in the car and when I went before dusk to retrieve it, there was a huge male elephant with massive tusks on the far side of the car-park, devouring a tree. I watched him very carefully and would have retreated instantly  had he showed the slightest interest in me, but he didn’t look at me until after I had the phone and was back behind the gate.

The hippos put on a good performance until too dark to watch, and dance of the fireflies that followed was marvelous.

Our walk with two well-armed rangers from Lower Sabie took us through the wilderness for three hours, stopping to investigate rhino dung and termite mounds and view giraffes, kudu and hippo.  The hippo caused us to divert from the track near the water and scramble up a hillside instead – hippos are one of the most aggressive of all African wildlife, and can be very territorial.

The rest camps of Kruger are pretty safe, surrounded by tall chain wire fencing with electrified wire at the top and electrified grids across the road at the entries, and cater to all levels of comfort.

Indigenous foods were hard to find. We bought a small jar of spirit containing a mopane worm (caterpillar of an emperor moth) but would like to try the more traditional style some time (I’ve eaten witchetty grub in Australia, and bamboo caterpillars in China, so why not? And it’s not much different zoologically from eating lobster). There is a useful article on the lifecycle, ecology and harvesting of mopane worms in Science in Africa.

All in all a wonderful trip – I’ll be posting more details on the SANParks forums soon

Bird-watching tourists in Australia: research report

birdwatching with Araucaria Ecotours

A new report on PRACTICES, NEEDS AND ATTITUDES OF BIRD-WATCHING TOURISTS IN AUSTRALIA has just been published by the Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre.  The report is co-authored by Dr Ronda J Green (proprietor of Araucaria Ecotours) and Dr Darryl Jones of Griffith University.

By clicking on the link above you can download a summary sheet or the entire document (warning: its rather large) for free or order a hard copy through STCRC.

From the STCRC:  “The Sustainable Tourism Cooperative Research Centre has just released research exploring bird-watching tourism in Australia. The research – Practices, needs and attitudes of bird-watching tourists in Australia included an extensive survey of national and international bird-watchers. Tour operators and accommodation providers who support this niche tourism sector also contributed to the research.

The report has delivered a more comprehensive overview of bird-watching tourism in Australia by:

Investigating the diversity and common features amongst bird-watching tourists
Determining what bird-watchers most want to see and do in Australia
Investigating the role of the tourism industry in bird-watching
Investigating bird-watchers’ opinions and practices in relation to conservation

Researchers have presented 18 key findings which will be of interest to bird-watching tourism destinations, tourism operators and niche tourism government departments.”