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A pilot investigation of a wildlife tourism experience using photographs shared to social media: Case study on the endangered Borneo Pygmy Elephant

Walker, Obelia (2018) A pilot investigation of a wildlife tourism experience using photographs shared to social media: Case study on the endangered Borneo Pygmy Elephant. Honours thesis, Murdoch University.

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The increasing popularity of social media in the last decade has led to a considerable amount of user-generated content being shared online, with personal photography representing a significant portion of this. At the same time, the application of social media data to scientific research has also gained momentum. This thesis presents a preliminary exploration of how tourist-generated photographs sourced from social media can be applied to the analysis of both wildlife and social based dimensions of wildlife tourism experiences. To demonstrate proof of concept and a framework for how this approach can be employed, a case study on the viewing of Borneo Pygmy Elephants during riverboat tours along the Lower Kinabatangan River in Sabah, Malaysia from August to October 2017 is provided.

The wildlife-centred research presented in this study found that 73% of the reported elephant sightings occurred within 1 km of agricultural land adjacent to the river (predominantly being oil palm plantations). This finding was reflected in the results of the social analysis on tourist responses to elephant-viewing along the river, with 30% of photograph captions on Instagram making reference to conservation issues, including the loss of natural forest habitat.

To ensure sustainability of elephant-viewing tourism at this destination, site specific management requires ongoing and real-time information, particularly relating to landscape level issues. The findings of this pilot study suggest that social media derived content can be used to supplement and enhance understanding of wildlife tourism experiences by providing up-to-date information pertaining to visitor experience and the location and conditions under which wildlife is observed. The study also highlights the benefit of adopting a multiple-platform approach to researching different aspects of wildlife tourism, reflecting the different ways that social media platforms are used. Further work is required to validate and assess the reliability of data sourced from social media against traditionally collected empirical data in order to extend this approach to larger datasets.

Item Type: Thesis (Honours)
Murdoch Affiliation(s): School of Veterinary and Life Sciences
Supervisor(s): Newsome, David and Simpson, Greg
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