How to have minimal impact on natural wildlife
For most of history,
man has had to fight nature to survive;
in this century he is beginning to realise that in order to survive,
he must protect it. Jacques-Yves Cousteau
Australia’s native wildlife is threatened by habitat degradation, pollution, predation/competition by introduced species and general anthropogenic disturbance. Natural areas are the last refuge for many of our amazingly diverse and beautiful species including many that are vulnerable and endangered.
Bushwalkers that use natural areas must respect wildlife, and cause as little disturbance as possible. Give wildlife as much space as possible and do not interfere with them.
Human Food and Wildlife
Carry out all food scraps and do not feed wildlife. Human food is not part of the natural diet of wild animals, and it can make them sick. This includes seemingly healthy and plain foods like fruit and bread. Animals that are fed by humans quickly learn to associate food with humans. They can become reliant on that human food and aggressive towards people. They will quickly learn to harass people or steal food from future bushwalking groups that pass through the same area. Even crumbs left behind at lunch can teach animals to associate food sources with popular rest points on bush tracks. Prevent this from happening by securely packing up leftover food scraps and carrying everything out, including biodegradable foods like apple cores, avocado pips and orange peels.
Walk calmly and quietly through the bush: do not make sudden loud noises when walking. Consider buying a good camera with a sufficient zoom lens to take wildlife photos, instead of getting too close to the wild animal in person. Closing in on an animal can scare them away. Perhaps they were there to feed or breed, or escape from a predator. Scaring an animal causes unnecessary stress, and has the potential to have significant ecological consequences, particularly for threatened or vulnerable species. Never touch or corner an animal for the sake a photo. If you spot an animal, watch quietly and calmly, and take the experience home as a great memory.
National parks provide refuge for native animals to persist as human development increases. They provide important habitat for many vulnerable and threatened species to survive. While dogs are wonderful companions in an urban context, consider carefully which natural areas are suitable.
Dogs are not allowed in:
- national parks, with the exception of trained assistance dogs for people with disabilities
- other areas where dogs are prohibited (Companion Animal Act 1998 – Section 14)
Dogs are allowed in:
- state forests
- some regional parks
- Many urban outdoor areas (check the Companion Animal Act 1998 – Section 14)
Many pet owners argue that because their pet won’t attack or harm any native wildlife, it should be allowed to access natural areas. But it’s not just the danger of a pet attacking a native animal, the mere presence of a dog can scare birds away from breeding areas. Researchers found lower bird abundance and diversity in dog walking areas even when dogs were kept on leads, suggesting that birds perceived dogs as predator threats regardless of if they could actually attack1. So keeping a dog on a leash isn’t enough: when heading out into natural areas, organise for pets to be looked after back at home, and enjoy native Australian wildlife in their natural habitat.
Occasionally a bushwalking group may find an injured animal on the track. If close to civilisation, consider alerting WIRES, otherwise, leave the animal alone. The animal will either recover naturally or die and become a food source for another animal or soil nutrients for plants.
Further Reading References for minimising wildlife impacts
Effects of Nonconsumptive Recreation on Wildlife: A Review. Stephen A. Boyle and Fred B. Samson. Wildlife Society Bulletin (1973-2006). Vol. 13, No. 2 (Summer, 1985), pp. 110-116
Influence of Recreational Trails on Breeding Bird Communities. Scott G. Miller, Richard L. Knight and Clinton K. Miller. Ecological Applications Vol. 8, No. 1 (Feb., 1998), pp. 162-169
Effects of Ecotourism on Distribution of Waterbirds in a Wildlife Refuge. Mary L. Klein, Stephen R. Humphrey and H. Franklin Percival. Conservation Biology. Vol. 9, No. 6 (Dec., 1995), pp. 1454-1465.
Does Repeated Human Intrusion Cause Cumulative Declines in Avian Richness and Abundance? Samuel K. Riffell, Kevin J. Gutzwiller and Stanley H. Anderson
Ecological Applications. Vol. 6, No. 2 (May, 1996), pp. 492-505
Banks, Peter B., and Jessica V. Bryant. “Four-legged friend or foe? Dog walking displaces native birds from natural areas.” Biology Letters 3.6 (2007): 611-613.
Kerlinger, Paul, et al. Wildlife and recreationists: coexistence through management and research. Eds. Richard L. Knight, and Kevin Gutzwiller. Island Press, 2013.