Australia is a strange place. It is home to famous marsupials such as kangaroos, koalas, wombats and Tasmanian devils, as well as quokkas, numbats and many other marsupials you may never have heard of. In fact about half our mammal species are marsupials, and we have no native monkeys, bears, cats or hoofed animals. We do have the very peculiar furry but egg-laying platypus and echidna, the world’s best mimic (lyrebird), the laughing kookaburra, the tall and flightless emu and cassowary, bowerbirds that construct elaborate, decorated bowers, and most of the world’s cockatoos. We share the world’s largest crocodile with tropical Asia and have a smaller crocodile found nowhere else. Australia is also the probable birthplace of songbirds, parrots and pigeons, all of which we have a-plenty.
Some animals are easy to find: colourful parrots are common in most cities, wild grey kangaroos abound not far from some of our capitals, and there are many places to watch the flight of thousands of large and noisy ftuitbats or watch whales in season. Other creatures may take more effort and patience: e.g. climbing a mountain to see rockwallabies, heading way out into the true outback for big red kangaroos and desert birds and reptiles, waiting at dawn or dusk for shy platypus, or diving in southern seas to find the strange leafy sea dragon.
In Australia you can dive the coral reefs amid brightcoloured fish, turtles and other creatures, swim with whale-sharks or minke whales, see penguins waddle ashore at night, watch animals gather at an outback waterhole before sunset and then camp under a sky of brilliant stars, hike through rainforests or the typical Aussie bush (eucalypt forest and woodlands), explore caves, canoe down scenic rivers or watch thousands of glow worms (very different from fire-flies, although we have them too) light up at night. You can instead sit comfortably on the veranda of an ecolodge watching birds and wallabies, go seeking animals on safari in air-conditioned vehicles or visit well-run wildlife parks that emphasize research, public education and conservation breeding, with a variety of fascinating creatures you may not otherwise see if here for a short visit.
Wildlife Tourism Australia’s website introduces you to environmentally-friendly tours, accommodation and wildlife parks throughout the country, with tips for your own independent travel, and how not to disturb the animals you wish to see. There is also much information on native animals, discussions on conservation and other issues, best-practice guidelines and links to much other information, including books and research papers.
Our members (tour operators, accommodation providers, wildlife parks, academic researchers and others) agree to commit to supporting wildlife conservation, animal welfare and quality interpretation (“interpretation” here means enjoyable education of a kind that provides a deeper understanding and appreciation of wildlife and their habitats).
You may also like to help with wildlife research. Wildlife in Australia, as in other world regions, face many problems. Climate change, habitat destruction, increasing human population spreading into wildlife areas, the black market trade, human-wildlife conflicts, changes in fire regimes, vehicle collisions, diseases and many other pressures are causing concern about the survival of many species. There is much that we already know, to guide conservation plans, but also much that we don’t yet know, and some tour operators conduct research or assist researchers. If you can reliably identify Aussie birds and other creatures you can directly help with recording observations, or otherwise assist by finding animals to point out to the research leader, taking relevant photos, setting and washing live-capture traps, measuring tree-trunks or carrying equipment. You can learn a lot about research techniques and about the animals themselves, as well as having a feeling of accomplishment at helping the wildlife you have enjoyed seeing. See http://www.wildliferesearchnetwork.org.
Wildlife Tourism Australia also runs conferences, workshops, wildlife expos and other events. Whatever your interest in Australia’s wildlife, visit www.wildlifetourism.org.au