There are many people who are really mad about animals. The reasons for this attraction and the consequent willingness to bond with wildlife are quite simple. In the biophilia frame (human affinity for other species), the reasons range from aesthetic (beauty) to emotional (attachment), from sentimental (affection) to intellectual (curiosity).
It’s not surprising, than, that wildlife tourism is becoming more and more important. Today many people travel to observe the animals in their natural habitat or consider the sighting of wild animals while travelling an important added value.
However, even people who deeply love animals often don’t know that some apparently harmless behaviours are actually quite harmful.
Here some golden rules for the wildlife tourists best practice:
1) SILENCE AND SLOWLINESS
Animals are extremely sensitive to noise and unusual movements. To be able to admire them without interfering too much with their routine, it’s necessary to stay silent and move slowly. By the way, if you are loud and careless you will also have no chance to spot the shy species.
The ideal solution to reach the areas where they are located is to get there if possible on foot or by another animal (horse, donkey, etc.).
Unusual noises and movements often cause them such a level of stress that they are no longer able to look for food, mate or take care of the offspring. They can easily get sick and die as a consequence of human intrusion.
Some well managed natural reserves have hides from which it is possible to observe the surrounding wildlife without causing too much disturbance.
2) KEEP THE RECOMMENDED DISTANCES
Never get too close to a wild animal. Close proximity can cause great damage to the animal (stress, sickness, abandonment of offspring, etc.) but it could also damage you. Because of their size, characteristics and temperament, some wild animals can be very dangerous even when they do not seem to be. It is also important to bear in mind that many species become more aggressive during the mating season and when they care for the young.
It is necessary to forget the cute and harmless image that sometimes cartoons, comics and toys created in our perceptions and become aware of the animal we are actually facing.
The recommended distances vary from species to species and from place to place. Guides, rangers, signs or (hopefully) common sense will tell you more. In any case, for big animals we generally recommend at least 50 meters, for predators at least 100.
In January 2018 4 seal pups died after their mothers abandoned them, probably because too stressed and disturbed by visitors or their dogs. Terrible news like this are unfortunately not unfrequent and sometimes local authorities are obliged to keep visitors out from certain areas to protect the wildlife. If you want to learn more about Norfolk Seals and read our advise, click HERE.
3) DO NOT TOUCH WILD ANIMALS
There are wild animals that are not dangerous and that sometimes you are lucky enough to have at hand. Even in this case, if you want to cause no harm, you will not caress or cuddle them. We perfectly know his is a hard thing to do, but there are good reasons to make this sacrifice.
In case of the young, the mother could no longer recognize their smell and abandon them, but there are also concerns for the adults. In fact, the contact with human often causes stress to the animal and, in any case, could set a precedent. If a wild animal gets habituated to human contact, one day it could trust the wrong human being.
4) NEVER FEED WILD ANIMALS
A wild animal is properly wild until it is completely free, able to fend for itself and is in no way domesticated. Providing food to a wild animal inevitably leads it to rely on humans to survive and diminishes his ability to look for food independently.
However, to satisfy human desire of close encounter and nurturing behaviour, there are places where animal feeding is part of the tourist experience. Wildlife feeding is a really borderline activity, but we could say it is acceptable only if:
- it is structured in a well managed feeding programme and performed exclusively on certain days or times. Fundamentally it does not have to be the main way the animals feed in the area.
- food provisions are provided by the wildlife area managers, to keep food quality and quantity under control.
- It is monitored by biologists or ethnologists who regularly evaluate the impact of the feeding activity
- It is organized to support wildlife during periods of environmental stress, such as drought or particularly hard winters.
Obviously everything changes when it comes to animals kept in captivity or those already used to human presence and interaction (animals in urban parks or farm, working animals and so on) but, actually, they cannot be considered wild animals.
5) CHOOSE THE RIGHT PLACE
If you can choose (and you can!), choose to do wildlife tourism in a place where:
- animals are protected and their well-being monitored
- tourists' accesses are regulated and adjusted if necessary
- part of what you pay is used for environment protection and conservation
People who love animals and do not want to cause them any harm have to find a great deal of patience and good binoculars for a responsible, safe and anyway rewarding wildlife experience.
Everyone would like to pet a cute and cuddly animal, also to establish a more intimate sensory contact, but the challenge is another. The challenge is choosing between a selfish and a respectful experience. The challenge is to choose which kind of Wildlife Tourist you want to be.