Whether it’s whale-, bird-, shark- or bear- watching, wildlife watching generally is claimed to be one of the more sustainable activities in tourism. Tourists receive the opportunity to get to know flora and fauna close-up and learn more about their habitat and behaviour. These wildlife-based experiences, however, can also entail significant negative impacts on both wildlife and the accommodating habit. It can cause effects on reproduction, survival, and long-term viability of various populations of species. These impacts are driven by the indirect effects of human presence. Direct effects include the provision of artificial food resources (to encourage sightings), habitat degradation, use of limited resources (e.g. water), construction of infrastructure, human waste and litter, noise pollution, as well as the introduction of non-native species and diseases. All the named aspects can consequently have a huge impact on the habitat quality. Bearing these effects in mind, ecotourism done right can however not only work, but it can work well. Tourism remains a key source of revenue for conservation and provides important experiences for visitors to become familiar with wildlife and the contemporary threats to biodiversity. But it is always important to remember that if the animals and the environment are not treated properly, this branch of tourism will no longer exist. Therefore the negative impacts need to be understood and managed in a sustainable manner, in order to maintain wild-life and habitat in an adequate way.
Especially for endangered or dangerous species, it is recommended to book a guided tour to learn more about the animal and its behaviour. But even though it is always more interesting to have a guide by your side for any form of animal, you can, for example, observe birds very well on your own, possibly with the support of an app or a book. But no matter how or with whom you observe animals, always keep the following things in mind:
- Do not disturb or touch wild animals. You cannot only get harmed or harm the animal themselve, but it can cause long-term behavioural changes.
- Try not to be unnecessarily noisy. Silence can help you hear and observe wildlife better.
- However, if you find yourself in a region with brown bears, for example, it is advisable to make yourself noticeable in order to avoid an involuntary encounter. This type of bear is rather shy and avoids contact with humans.
- Do not try to help wildlife that is injured or sick. Call the local wild-life service for any advice.
- Do not touch or pick up dead wild animals. They may carry diseases.
- Neither touch or pick up young animals; most of the time the parents are staying nearby and will either protect or abandon their young.
- Never feed wild animals. It can change its behaviour and therefore cause long-term damages.
- Do not get too close to wild animals. There have been several times where animals attacked without the slightest warning. Be sure to research the animal and its behaviour beforehand, to make sure how to react during an encounter. Respect the wild animals and maintain an appropriate distance to them.
- Do not litter in any means. Waste can have a huge effect on flora and fauna.
- Do not collect any plants or animals.
- Beware of fire in nature reserves. Campfires are often forbidden in such places. Also refrain from smoking in the wild as it can cause unintentional fire.
- Flashed photography is not recommended while you are watching wild animals. It will scare off the animals and make it harder to get a glimpse of them.
- Be in the right place at the right place. Study the animal you want to observe before and get to know their habitat and when it is mostly visible in the wild. Here it is also important to pay attention to the habitat in which the animal is located during a certain season.
- In order to not scare the animals off before you even see them, don’t carry a heavy smell on you, such as perfume or scented bodycare. The noses of animals are often way more developed than human noses and can take up smells from kilometre far away distances.
- Try to be invisible to the animal. Unlike their sense of smell and hearing, the eyes of many animals are not as developed, but they still perceive bright colours as a warning colour. It is recommended to wear earth tone colours to blur in with surrounding nature. Here it is again important to wear clothes that do not make loud noises like squeaking or rustling.
- Be prepared. As simple as it sounds, you should be well prepared for wildlife watching. As you spend a lot of time waiting and standing still, it is important to pack enough food. It is also important to dress appropriately, as it can be either very cold or very warm.
- Two things are also particularly important to take with you on the tour: A camera and binoculars. Although some people don’t care much for the perfect photo, binoculars allow you to get a much better view of any animal, no matter how far away.
- And finally, it must be emphasised once again: the locals know best. So it’s best to go with an experienced local guide. They can also tell you exactly how to prepare and behave. Furthermore, the guide will of course be able to tell you everything about the animals to be observed.