Ecological and human dimensions of tourism-related wildlife disturbance at the Waitangiroto white heron (kotuku) colony, South Westland, New Zealand
Growing public interest in viewing wildlife in 'natural' habitat poses the problem to conservation managers of balancing the potential benefits of wildlife viewing tourism with the protection of endangered wildlife. The process of evaluating the acceptability of negative effects from tourist/wildlife interaction is problematic and subjective, particularly where effective impact monitoring procedures are absent. This thesis incorporated both ecological and social science research methods, under a 'human dimensions' framework, to examine both the ecological and human aspects of the wildlife disturbance concept. A case study approach was adopted that focussed on the effects of a commercial wildlife-viewing tourism operation on the white heron (or 'kotuku' - Egretta alba modesta) colony at Waitangiroto Nature Reserve, South Westland, New Zealand. A three stage research design was devised. The first stage was a series of qualitative interviews with 15 stakeholders (i.e., people who may affect, or are affected by, changes to the management of the colony). The interviews documented major concerns about potential impacts from wildlife-viewing tourism at the colony. Stakeholders voiced particular concern about the effect of boat traffic on heron and other birdlife using the Waitangiroto waterway. These concerns were addressed in the second stage through ecological field study conducted during the 1995/6 kotuku breeding season. Various unobtrusive observational methods (including direct observation and the use of time-lapse video) were applied to examine tourist/wildlife interactions. Boat traffic significantly reduced the number of birds seen on the waterway including kotuku). Adult kotuku commonly flew in response to passing boats, while fledged kotuku chicks were absent from the boat-affected section of the waterway. Visitor presence at the hide had no marked effect on kotuku behaviour at the colony, although interactions between kotuku and other disturbance stimuli had a more pronounced effect. Fledged kotuku chicks' feeding behaviour on the waterway exhibited a diurnal pattern associated with adult feeding behaviour. Observations were made at the Okarito Lagoon to examine the dispersal of, kotuku chicks from the colony, although none were positively identified. In the third' stage, stakeholders evaluated the acceptability of observed tourist/wildlife interactions. Their assessments of the acceptability of observed interactions varied, however, all considered the absence of fledged heron chicks from the boat-affected section of the waterway to be 'very unacceptable'. The study sought also to establish a long term effects-based impact monitoring programme and to provide 'baseline' data. Various management recommendations are presented with respect to minimising impacts on wildlife at the colony.... [Show full abstract]
Keywordskotuku; wildlife viewing; nature tourism; Waitangiroto Nature Reserve; wildlife conservation; animal behaviour; human dimensions; wildlife management; ecological impacts; tourism impacts; white heron; Egretta alba modesta; tourism; wildlife disturbance
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