Wildlife Tourism: evolving to meet present and future challenges and opportunities
Our presentation will define and describe wildlife tourism and how it overlaps and intercepts with ecotourism and discuss the environmental, social, cultural, and economic challenges to sustainable wildlife experiences.
Wildlife tourism can include captive wildlife and consumptive practices (hunting and fishing) and is not necessarily educational. Wildlife Tourism Australia (WTA) was born out of the CRC for Sustainable Tourism, but from the outset decided not to include consumptive uses. Its objective is to promote the sustainable use of a diverse wildlife tourism industry, including well-run captive settings, that supports conservation and encourages high quality interpretation.
Challenges to this can be cultural, economic, or environmental. Examples of unsustainable visitor expectations are when visitors are encouraged or allowed to take selfies with wildlife which can result in injury or death of said animal, including culling if the animal becomes aggressive, or in wasted energy or abandonment of good feeding grounds by a frightened animal. An example of negative environmental and cultural impacts would be so-called “Eco resorts” that ignore and crowd out host communities, greenwash instead of truly minimising impacts on fauna and flora, and offer poor interpretation.
Visitor perspectives are impacted by the loss of species due to current and future climate change and ongoing habitat destruction. We will give further examples of these challenges and how the sustainable nature tourism industry can evolve and assist in mitigating impacts using a case study of an urban species affected by climate change that is still unrecognised for its tourism potential.
Presenting with Sera Steves.
Maree is Vice-Chair of Wildlife Tourism Australia (WTA), Queensland state representative of Interpretation Australia, and Wet Tropics guide with a history of wildlife interpretation and visitor services in protected places and wildlife sanctuaries. She has a Masters of Wildlife Management and is currently undertaking a higher degree examining societal values for flying foxes by assessing impact of education/interpretation programs, including tourism potential, in changing attitudes toward flying-foxes. She is a joint convenor of the Australasian Bat Society’s (ABS) Flying-fox Expert Group and created and coordinates the annual ABS Australasian Bat Night program, including coordinating the Cairns Bat Festival since 2015. Maree has presented to national conferences of Wildlife Tourism Australia, Australasian Wildlife Management Society, Australasian Bat Society and Interpretation Australia on the subjects of bat tourism, interpretation and flying-fox management. Current projects include development of a virtual reality flying-fox experience and an Australian Bat Tourism Trail for ABS and WTA.