The thrill of watching animals in the wild has gained widespread popularity, especially in the tourism industry. Inspired by programmes like Planet Earth, many people set out to discover their ‘inner Attenborough’. Our resident Zoologist Holly Foat looks at the impact this may have on wildlife and provides tips on how to watch wildlife the responsible way.
There is arguably nothing more exciting in life that watching a whale breach in front of your boat or watching a bear hunting in its natural habitat but there is often concern associated with wildlife tourism. Sometimes the animals or the environment can suffer from increasing tourist numbers, habituation and disturbance. However, if wildlife watching is well managed then the animals and the environment can benefit from both the increase in awareness and education among the tourists and the extra finance for conservation projects.
Spectacular experiences available…
There is an amazing array of trips for you to experience the awe inspiring wildlife of the world. These include tracking the endangered tiger
, watching whales
at various locations around the world, Gorilla safaris
, polar, grizzly and brown bear watching
and a huge number of conservation projects
involving big cats, orang-utans
, fossa and many others!
Many areas will have a code of conduct in place to protect the species you will be watching. For example, whale and dolphin watching boat trips will have a set distance which they should keep and will not be able to chase or follow the animals. Australia has government guidelines for whale and dolphin watching
, Scotland has a dolphin space programme
and Wales has the boat users’ code of conduct
. If you believe a trip is disturbing the animals, let the operators know your concern.
Some wildlife watching operations use bait to lure the animals to where the tourists are. This can be detrimental to some species, especially predatory species such as shark and monitor lizards that learn to associate humans with food. But others species will benefit from supplementary feeding if it is suited to their diet as long as they don’t become dependent on it.
The key to a good wildlife watching trip is education. Every trip should give the tourist a talk or pamphlet about the ecology and conservation of the species. Ideally they should also be involved in further research or funding of conservation projects.
- Wrap up warm! If you’re on a boat or hillside it’s likely to get cold. Even in a hide it can get cold, especially when your sat waiting and not moving. So wear layers of clothing that you can put on or take off depending on the temperature.
- Take a camera, binoculars and lots of spare memory cards or film but try to avoid using your flash.
- If you’re on foot, don’t stray from marked paths and trails.
- Don’t wear perfume or smoke and try to be as still and as quiet as possible so not to disturb the animals. Try to avoid clothing that rustles or anything with noisy Velcro. Don’t take your dog with you as they tend to bark at unfamiliar animals.
- Keep a safe distance from wild animals. Disturbed animals have a tendency to become unpredictable and may attack if they feel threatened.
- Patience is a virtue and you will need plenty of it if you want to see something special.
- Appreciate what you do see. Wildlife sightings are not guaranteed so you might not see that big emotive animal that you were hoping to, but don’t be disappointed, just enjoy what you do see. The chances are that you will see several other animals that you wouldn’t see at home which are equally as exciting but less publicised.
For more information on animal welfare issues in tourism, see our animal welfare section here
See wildlife in the wild, take a look at all our wildlife holidays