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Walk on the wild side: Pros and cons of animal tourism


Anne-Louise Brown
12 August 2015
The frenzy surrounding the arrival of Migaloo, the white humpback whale, in waters off the Gold Coast, reflects the deep desire of humans to see such iconic creatures in the wild.

Increasingly, animals are incorporated into the tourist experience, and a new book edited by Southern Cross University’s Associate Professor Kevin Markwell, from the School of Business and Tourism, critically focuses on how animals are used of tourism.

Animals and Tourism: Understanding Diverse Relationships, comprises 18 chapters written by 23 authors from around the world examining the ways tourism and animals intersect - as tourist attractions, wildlife conservation tools, as travel companions, objects of hunting or photography, or even as meat on a tourist's plate.

“Undoubtedly, whale watching is one of the great success stories of wildlife tourism, with coastal towns along Australia’s east coast benefitting economically from the annual whale migration,” Dr Markwell said.

“It is clear it’s provided opportunities for many people to see whales at relatively close range, to learn more about them and to develop a stronger sense of empathy for them.

“Whale watching, like many other forms of wildlife tourism, is seen to be a low impact, sustainable form of tourism. Yet, as highlighted in the book, whale watching is, itself, dependent on the oil industry to transport tourists from where they live to places where they can see whales.

“In many cases boats, aircraft and motor vehicles will be involved, thereby eroding at least some of the sustainability credentials from this form of tourism. And whales, living free, may still be affected by unintended consequences of whale watching such as when boats get too close or when there are too many boats operating in the one area.”

According to Dr Markwell, there are many paradoxes, inconsistencies and ambiguities that occur in the human-animal relationships existing within tourism.

The recent controversy surrounding the killing of Cecil the lion by a trophy hunter in Zimbabwe highlights such inconsistences, with trophy-hunting tourism economically valuable for developing countries but also a troubling and exploitative practice.

“Tourism as a system of representations, structures and embodied practices is an excellent domain in which to explore human-animal relationships,” Dr Markwell said.

“Animals, or their representations, are present at every stage of the tourism process - at the time when people are deciding where to go and what to do, within the transportation phase and of course at the destination.

“One of the principle themes explored in the book is that of the ethical treatment of animals within tourism. There are many examples where animals are exploited as objects of entertainment and regarded as commodities that can make a profit, regardless of welfare.

“Our contemporary relationships with animals are the outcome of complex historical, cultural, social, economic and political structures and practices that underlie an array of individual attitudes and beliefs. The meanings we attach to animals and the moral status we give to them varies across times, spaces and cultures.

“We turn animals into symbols, commodities, myths, competitors, collaborators, enemies and friends and tourism is a realm in which these inconsistencies, contradictions and ambiguities are continuously played out.”

Animals and Tourism: Understanding Diverse Relationships is published by Channel View Publications and is out now.
Photo: Dr Kevin Markwell