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Wildlife tourism and the natural sciences: bringing them together

Rodger, Kate Jane (2007) Wildlife tourism and the natural sciences: bringing them together. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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Wildlife tourism, the viewing of wildlife in their natural environment, is a growing sector of tourism world wide. The presence of diverse and unusual wildlife is a major influence on visitors choosing Australia as a destination. Little is currently known about the short and long term impacts on the wildlife on which such tourism depends. This has resulted in management agencies making decisions on the suitability of human-wildlife interactions based on insufficient data. Given the diversity of possible impacts and responses, plus concerns surrounding sustainability, it is essential that good empirical scientific research is available to inform management. Therefore, the aim of this study was to understand and hence improve the use of science and monitoring in the management of wildlife tourism.

This study, using surveys, interviews and case study analysis, drew on tour operators, managers and scientists perspectives and understandings of the role of science in the management of wildlife tourism. From tour operators perspectives, accessed through a mail-based survey, insight into features of the wildlife tourism industry in Australia today was provided. It was identified as an industry characterised by diversity in destinations, activities and expectations. Furthermore, the levels of engagement by scientists with tour operators are low, raising concerns about the industry's sustainability, if science is regarded as an essential component of sustainability.

From managers and scientists perspective, accessed through personal interviews, several barriers were identified as hindering scientists from engaging in wildlife tourism science. These included scientists perceptions of power, their normative beliefs of science, and difficulties with transdisciplinary work. Today's culture tends to show a shift away from scientific research. In the past researchers were able to receive funding by appealing to society's faith in science. However, this is not the case today. Through being disengaged and objective scientists have experienced decreased power over funding allocations and in turn decreased funding. Another barrier was the dominant normative view of many biologists and ecologists that wildlife tourism science was not real science because it is subjective. The final barrier was difficulties with the actual research due to the transdisciplinary approach needed.

The case study analysis, of science and wildlife tourism science in the Antarctic region, illustrated how these barriers can be overcome under certain circumstances. Using actor-network theory and the broader sociology of science, this part of the study described the power relationships and potential transformations between scientists, wildlife and managers, which allowed the development of research into human wildlife interactions. By highlighting the use of principles from the natural sciences, wildlife tourism scientists were able to enrol actors into their network. However, this actor network was not permanently 'black boxed' due to scientists' adverse perceptions of the significance and necessity of wildlife tourism science together with their normative beliefs on science, with the network ultimately disbanding.

Key findings from this study included the importance in recognising the epistemological and ontological position that scientists occupy. A broadening of training of natural scientists is required so that they can reflect on their paradigmatic position. Wildlife tourism scientists need to acknowledge and understand different scientific paradigms exist and be able to work across them. Furthermore, wildlife tourism scientists need to emphasise their affinity with the normative beliefs of the biological sciences in their research activities. As the scientific community is subject to values and bias just the same as any other human enterprise, wildlife tourism science would be more readily achieved and accepted by the use of methodologies developed by wildlife biologists to give scientific validity to wildlife tourism science. Only with the employment of the biological principles tied in with the social sciences (i.e. transdisciplinary) will the scientific community have higher regard for wildlife tourism science. Finally, there is a need for scientists to become more politically and socially engaged. Given the importance of science for managing wildlife tourism, mechanisms for increasing the use of science in human-wildlife interaction research are critical for the long-term sustainability of this industry.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Environmental Science
Supervisor(s): Moore, Susan and Newsome, David
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