Best Practice Management Guidelines
Best Practice Management Guidelines
- Business Plan – Use a documented business plan as an integral part of your management system; this need not be a complex or expensive process. A regular SWOT analysis is useful. Remember to incorporate a risk management section. Once you have a business plan, USE it – it should not be a shelf decoration
- Market Research – Conduct ongoing market research and integrate that into your planning; again this can be done in relatively simple and inexpensive ways. For starters, there is much to be lerarned from the internet, and you can ask perintent questions of your own guests.
- Teamwork – Develop effective teamwork within your organisation to cover the range of skills required for high quality wildlife tourism.
- Build Relationships – Build strong relationships with other groups with an interest in nature-based tourism, such as protected area staff and regional or local tourism associations. Work to build positive relationships with local competitors.
- On walking tours, keep your visitors on the track
- While in road transport, avoid driving off-road in areas of natural habitat and drive carefully, especially at night and at dawn and dusk, to avoid roadkills.
- In your interpretation, tell your guests about the importance of habitat for wildlife and link this to increasing awareness of wider conservation issues.
- Where feasible, get involved in habitat restoration and protection. Integrate this into your presentation, and where possible get your clients involved too.
- Seek advice from managers of natural areas you are using on how best to reduce environmental impacts.
- Use a relatively small group size. Obviously this needs to be offset against the commercial viability of your enterprise, but bear in mind that large groups are more likely not only to damage the environment, but also to scare away the wildlife, and make it hard for each individual to see the animals and hear the interpretation, thus making your visitors experiences less satisfying.
- Develop an interpretive program ensuring that your program follows best practice principles for interpretation.
- Regularly ask for feedback from your visitors to ensure that the experience you are providing is enjoyable and educational.
- Integrate your interpretation with your marketing.
- Talk about the variety of types of species of wildlife.
- Highlight the importance of wildlife in terms of conservation and ecosystem function.
- Include interesting features of wildlife natural history.
- Address conservation threats faced by wildlife in your area.
- Highlight some of the current wildlife management issues for species around your property.
- Talk about everyday things that visitors can do to help conserve wildlife.
- Provide your visitors with guidelines for minimal impact when encountering wildlife.
Planning and Managing Wildlife Encounters
- Natural Experience – Provide as natural an experience for the visitors as possible. This is not only good for the wildlife, but research indicates it is what international visitors who pay to participate in nature-based experiences increasingly want.
- Avoid Handfeeding – In general, avoid handfeeding or handling of wildlife living in natural areas. Explain to your guests that this is important for the animals’ welfare and maintaining a natural ecosystem. Where feeding does occur, ensure that it is minimal and uses nutritionally appropriate food.
- Do Research – Do research on your local wildlife species and populations. This includes reading about them, talking to local experts such as national parks staff and wildlife researchers, and spending time searching for and observing the animals yourself. For example information on changes in behaviour through the day, distribution and use of habitat will help you to find the animals without the need for any handfeeding or habitat manipulation. Knowledge of their social organisation will help you understand what the animals are doing so you can explain to visitors. Understanding wildlife behaviours will help you to plan in such a way that you minimise disturbance with your visitors.
- Use Technology - Find out what technology is available to assist you in providing satisfying wildlife encounters and learn to use it properly. Good use of spotlights and binoculars are particularly important, and creative use of remote viewing systems have been used to good effect. Where possible, assist your guests in the proper use of binoculars.
- Be Flexible – Plan for flexibility in your tours and do what you can to adjust the tour to your guests’ interests. Although most of your groups may not have a special interest in some species of wildlife, by knowing where certain other populations are you will be able to respond when you do get such a group. This also makes it more interesting for the guide!
- Habituation – Take steps to habituate the wildlife without use of food or other rewards. The best way to do this is to make sure that your group keeps quiet and still, and stays at a distance at which the animals after a short period of time resume their natural activity; then continue watching for a few minutes. When you leave, do so slowly and in a direction away from them. Do not try to hide from them, the idea is to let them know you are there but that you are not a threat. Over time, you will find that the distance at which they resume their activity gradually decreases.
- Wildlife Spotter - If you have more than one guide with a group, it may be useful for one to go in front as the ‘wildlife spotter’. Once they have sighted an animal, they can ensure that the rest of the group approaches carefully and does not disturb the animal.
- Minimal Disturbance – A good principle for minimising disturbance to wildlife as well as providing satisfying visitor experiences is that you should not cause the animal to move away. Ideally, although they will nearly always initially stop what they are doing and look at you, they should resume their previous activity while you are present. Sometimes it is not possible to avoid the animals moving away; in such cases do not attempt to pursue them. It is not possible to prescribe a minimum approach distance or other set criteria because these will vary with species, habitat, degree of habituation, weather conditions, activity, and many other factors. Learn to predict how close you can get under different conditions, and to anticipate their behaviour so that the visitors do not continue to approach when the animals show the first signs of disturbance by becoming alert.
- Conservation – Contribute to the conservation of your local area and wildlife, and use this in your promotion. Where possible involve your visitors in these activities. For example, operators who run tourism activities on their own land can undertake habitat restoration or enter into conservation agreements such as the Land for Wildlife scheme. Operators can get involved in wildlife research or monitoring, and involve their visitors in these activities. Operators can get involved in local natural resource management and conservation issues, and lobby for increased resources for such management. Income from tourists can be channelled into an environmental cause, either through voluntary donations or as a small proportion of the tour/attraction price.
- Build Relationships – Build positive relationships with wildlife researchers and protected area managers working in the area based on mutual benefits. They can provide you with information to incorporate in your interpretation, and help with methods to help find and observe the animals, and can be a relatively time-efficient way of improving your wildlife knowledge. Their cooperation may also help you in securing access to good wildlife viewing areas. You can provide them with ongoing basic monitoring of the animals and habitat. Further, you can get involved in management decisions that may affect the animals and help ensure that your tourism resource is protected.
- Tracks, Scats and Traces – In providing an interesting wildlife experience for visitors, remember that it is not only the animals themselves that may be of interest, but also their signs (use a field guide to help you). This includes tracks (especially if you learn to interpret their behaviour from tracks), droppings (from which you can show visitors what they eat and how to distinguish them from other species), shelter and lying areas, paths created through vegetation, and skeletal parts. Signs can be of particular value in cases where you have difficulty finding large numbers of wildlife. One wildlife tourism operator in Tasmania who is also a highly skilled naturalist carries around a wildlife kit containing items such as skeletal parts, a bird’s nest, and materials for creating plaster casts from wildlife tracks. He reports that these provide great interest and are very handy at times when wildlife encounters are few.
- Education – If necessary, educate your visitors that wildlife are wild animals and it is important not to disturb them.
- Safety Warning - If your guests are travelling through areas of wildlife habitat when they leave you, remind them to drive slowly and keep their eyes open for wildlife, especially in the dusk and dark.
- Use Cameras – Encourage visitors to use zoom or telephoto lens on their cameras so they do not need to approach closely for photography (do not allow flash photography direcyly into the faces of nocturnal creatures., especially those tha fly or glide).