Next week, as current chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia Inc., I head to Melbourne to meet some of the local organising committee for Australia’s third conference on wildlife tourism, plus representatives from Tourism Victoria (our major sponsor), Zoos Victoria and Parks Victoria. I’ll also visit the two venues we are deciding between for the conference, and we should make the final decision by the end of the week.
Wildlife Tourism: a Force for Biodiversity Conservation and Local Economies?
This will be an exciting conference, with keynote speakers from Malaysia, Indonesia,USA and Australia speaking on important themes, and with plenty of opportunity for round table discussion.
From the WTA website:
Tuesday: welcome to delegates, registration
Wednesday: international aspects
How do other countries asses the value of, promote and manage wildlife tourism? What problems have they faced and what solutions have they found?
Which associations perform a similar role to Wildlife Tourism Australia in other countries, and what are their goals and activities?
What is new in wildlife tourism in our our nearest neighbours (New Zealand, New Guinea, Southeast Asia, Antarctica), and could there be more cross-promotion of wildlife travel between our countries, and promotion of our general region to the rest of the world?
Thursday: contributions of tourism to conservation
How are tour operations currently contributing to conservation of wildlife and their habitats (including monetary contributions, habitat restoration, public education, conservation breeding, citizen science etc.)?
What is the potential for increased contribution by wildlife tourism and the tourism industry in general to conservation of wildlife and habitats?
Friday: the value of wildlife tourism to local economies
What do we already know of the contributions of wildlife tourism to local and regional economies?
What kinds of wildlife tourism can encourage tourists to visit less-traveled regions, spend an extra night , or make repeat visits?
What obstacles are faced by small businesses and NGOs trying to stay afloat while offering high-quality wildlife experiences and interpretation to visitors?
Who should attend?
Wildlife tour operators (including birding tours, whale-watching, reef-diving etc.)
Managers and other staff of ecolodges, rural B&Bs, farmstays etc. who offer bird-watching or other wildlife experiences
general tour operators and guides who include wildlife-watching amongst their activities
Zoos, wildlife parks and museums
Researchers and students of wildlife tourism, ecotourism, nature tourism, nature interpretation/education and related topics
Travel agents and tourism organizations
Local and state government bodies
Others with an interest in tourism which involves wildlife
We hadn’t run a Coochiemudlo Island trip for a while, so it was very pleasant to be back on the island, this time with a gentleman from England who had been on three of our other tours and his friend from USA.
The tide was low as we arrived, so as we neared the red cliffs the island derives its name from I was scanning the beach for soldier crabs hoping they hadn’t already finished their foraging and headed back into their burrows.
Soon they appeared as a vague shadow moving across the sand, so we hurried over for a closer look. A white ibis was also very interested, and it was at least good to see one eating something natural rather than picnic scraps
When disturbed, the crabs quickly bury themselves, then reappear a few minutes later. After feeding, they will all o so and wait for the next low tide.
Birds seen that day included the following:
The banksias were starting to bloom, and should soon attract lots of nectar feeders
I almost expect the mangroves here to start walking like triffids
but this rather tattered eggfly found them safe enough to settle on
After a seafood lunch at Red Rock Cafe we headed back to the mainland to look for wallabies for our American guest, and found them at two locations within Redands before our final journey back to the city
Our 6- or 8- day small-group outback tours run on demand, but at a maximum of twice a year (once in autumn. once in spring – summer is too hot, and in winter the reptiles aren’t active and we’re usually busy with other tours).
We’ve had an inquiry for a tour this spring, and could do it in early September or mid-October.
Let us know if you’re interested in joining in, so we can start planning.
The butterfly walk on the Araucaria property has been planted out with the food plants of local caterpillars, divided into the five major families of Australian butterflies.
Every month I walk the trail 5 times on 5 separate days, recording the butterflies I see: once in the morning, twice at mid-day (when butterflies ae most active), once late afternoon and once after dark (when some of the caterpillars are more active). For several years we saw no obvious increase in butterflies, but suddenly this summer they more than doubled in frequency of sightings
So far our butterflies include:
Pieridae (whites and yellows)
Most common: Lemon Migrant and Grass Yellow
Others: Caper White, Albatross and (introduced) cabbage white
Caterpillars: none as yet, but many grass yellows seen apparently laying eggs on Breynia leaves
Nymphalidae (nymphs, browns and danains):
Most common: Monarch (introduced), evening brown, aeroplane, lesser wanderer
Others: common brown, blue tiger, jezebel nymph, common crow, varied eggfly, meadow argus, admiral
Lycaenidae (blues and coppers):
Most common: ? several unidentified (tiny and very fast!)
Others: pencilled blue, speckled line-blue, wattle blue
Caterpillars: none seen
Most common: orchard butterfly (several on finger lime in our butterfly walk, also on orange tree near house)
Others:blue triangle, dingy swallowtail
Caterpillars: orchard butterfly, blue triangle
Hesperidae (skippers and darts):
Most common: orange palm dart
Others: regent skipper, common red-eye, orange ochre and a few unidentified (as for Lycaenid spp above)
Caterpillars: orange palm dart, in roll of palm-leaf
I’ve just attended the World Parks Congress on behalf of Wildlife Tourism Australia Inc.
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/
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.
Twice before we’d booked for snorkelling at Cook Island, which we had so many times looked towards on the third day of our tours while watching for dolphins, but had never visited, with Cooly Dive. Each time the weather had been so bad they had to cancel the cruise. With the cyclone up north I was afraid we’d get some rough weather down our way as well.
We had just led a three-day wildlife tour, but added a couple of extra days at the request of our British guest, to include snorkelling and Aboriginal culture, and he was flying out the following day.
Third time lucky!
The sea is always a little rough as you enter it from the mouth of the river, and we were all given life jackets as a precaution
Unfortunately it was rough enough to make my stomach a bit queasy on the way (I hadn’t bothered with seasick pills as it seemed such a short distance, but maybe I shouldn’t have been taking so many photos while clinging to the edge of the plunging boat)
We soon reached Cook Island, well-known for nesting seabirds and turtles
Holding our masks firmly to our faces we each obediently took a big step outwards from the boat and sank swiftly below the water
We soon saw what the dives here are famous for – a turtle (unfortunately the visibility wasn’t good enough for a better photo).
We saw another later in the dive, also a wobbegong shark (a small harmless species, and regrettably I didn’t manage a recognisable photo), toadfish and lots of other fish and scattered bits of coral. Our English guest also saw a pike fish.
Then finally back to the boat:
Darren heading back to the boat
Maybe next time the water will be a little clearer and we’ll get some better photos, but apart from my seasickness (which worsened on the return trip – must remember those pills next time!) it was a nice introduction to diving at the island.
Wildlife Tourism: A Handbook for Guides, Tour Operators, Job-seekers and Business Start-ups
Most 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.
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 email@example.com if interested. Cost $27.50 plus postage ($5 Australian, $12 Asia-Pacific, $15 elsewhere)
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?
Other interactions with animals
7. Wider conservation issues
Getting it straight
Some threats to wildlife
Learning about conservation problems while still enjoying a holiday
Animals obviously need plants, but many plants also need animals. If all seeds drop beneath the mother tree, they’ll be competing with their mother and with their siblings for light, water, space and nutrients, and there may be heavy shade under the mother. They are also more easily found by seed-eating animals if they are in a big clump on the ground. The tree has a better chance of contributing to the next generation if its seeds are spread through the forest (or other habitat) in the hope that some of the sites are better for germination and survival. Many trees, shrubs, herbs and vines simply scatter their seeds in the wind, but in the rainforest there’s not so much breeze, and when there is, the seeds are likely to hit a neighbouring tree and thus not travel far.
Frugivory (fruit-eating) is obviously useful for the animals that derive the nutrients, and if they also digest the seed (as parrots and many pigeons do) it’s not much good for the plant. If however they only digest the soft parts and regurgitate or pass the seeds through their digestive tracts unharmed (as some of our pigeons do, and also bowerbirds, honeyeaters and many others) they also provide an unwitting service for the tree, vine or other plant they fed on.
I was attracted to the topic because it involves so many disciplines – conservation biology (we can’t think only in terms of conserving species,but need to consider the relationships between them and others they interact with, and are there particular animals that threatened =plants depend on, and threatened animals that depend on particular fruits, especially in lean seasons?), ecology, evolution, animals behaviour and physiology.
I’ve been conducting research on frugivory and seed dispersal, especially local birds that eat rainforest fruits, for some years now. One of the most popular fruit in our region – in terms both of of numbers of individual birds and the numbers of species feeding on the fruits – is a native fig Ficus rubiginosa (formerly regarded as F. platypoda). So why aren’t there more growing around here?
I’m currently looking at this and other local plant species from three angles: (1) what eats them and how frequently? (mostly looking at birds, but other creatures as well) (2) where do frugivorous birds sit when not feeding (and thus likely to deposit seeds) and (3) what conditions do they need for germination and growth?
I do most of the observations alone, but guests on our tours can also assist on forest walks by helping to find birds that are either eating fruit ( for 1 above) or doing other things (for 2 above).
For the third aspect of the study, I’ve been germinating seeds in the brush house, but am now about to embark on some experiment field plots. In the photos below, Darren is heeling set up some of these experimental plots which in the future can be viewed by visitors to the Araucaria property and which I hope will help answer some of my queries.
Frugivores other than birds include fruit bats and other mammals, some lizards (especially the larger skinks and dragons), fish (but not many in Australia) and ants, and we’re planning more observations of these.
Dugongs and more at Tangalooma, Moreton Island, near Brisbane
I had a delightful surprise at a business breakfast meeting run by the Queensland Tourism Industry Council (QTIC) a couple of months ago. I dropped my business card as usual into the bowl of cards while preparing to listen to a speech by our opposition tourism minister, and won the draw for an overnight trip for two to Tangalooma Resort, including return ferry journey, dolphin feeding, accommodation and buffet breakfast.
So two of us (Ronda and Denis) headed off in pre-dawn light to the wharf on Brisbane River, pleasantly surprised to find they had also allowed us free parking for two days.
So we were soon leaving Brisbane and heading for the one of the world’s largest sand islands
Near the resort is a grim reminder of the island’s whaling days – now the whales are appreciated more as magnificent, intelligent, playful animals than for their body parts. This harpoon was bent during such an animal’s struggles while its captors waited for it to slowly exhaust itself
Nearby a whistling kite fought his reflection in a resort window (they’re nesting nearby and don;t want rivals), and also rebuffed some crows that were protesting his presence
A white-faced heron sat nearby
A pied cormorant wandered down towards the bird feeding area
While waiting for our room to be prepared, we watched fish and seabirds being fed
Now the bit I’d really been waiting for! After lunch we headed off on the eco-cruise to seek dugongs and other marine life.
And sure enough, within 20 minutes we had found a dugong
They don’t leap out of the water like dolphins, just quietly feed on the sea-grass (they’re sometimes called ‘sea-cows’) and come every couple of minutes or so to the surface for a breath of air. Our guide told us they do some farming – pulling out the sea-grass species they don’t like so much, which facilitates the growth of their favoured species
I had previously patted an Amazonian manatee (one that had been confiscated as an illegal pet and being prepared for rehabilitation into the wild, near Manaus) and seen a captive dugong a tSeaWorld, but this was my first sighting of a wild dugong, so I was quite enthralled. He surfaced several times before we left I’m to seek other creatures
A cormorant dived for fish alongside our boat
The wrecks that were deliberately sunk as artificial reefs for fish and other marine life are popular with kayakers and divers
That evening we indulged in the activity Tangalooma is famous for – dolphin feeding
The feeding of the dolphins is carefully regulated, based on research on effects offending practices her and elsewhere
Lines of visitors are speed out so that the dolphins also spread out, not crowding together, competing for food and knocking each other over. Thy are not fed enough fish to satisfy ten, so have to keep up their skills at catching wild fish each day. Visitors are requested to hold the fish under water so dolphins don’t strain their muscles trying to reach up for them. Frozen fish are thawed in fresh water to avoid them being too salty. Young dolphins are not fed while still feeding from their mothers. Visitors are advised not to pat or otherwise touch them while giving them the fish, to avoid any stress.
The close contact with these wild creatures does have an emotional impact, and we hope that many of the people participating now have a more positive attitude towards them as a result
Next morning we enjoyed a hearty buffet breakfast (also included in our prize)
We spent the day relaxing, watching birds and finally watching another bird feeding session and dolphins feeding session before finally leaving. We would have loved to spend a few more days