Part of the allure of visiting Australia is its unique animals. Cuddly koalas, inquisitive kangaroos and colourful birds are often featured in international promotions.
However, not all Australian animals are as friendly as kangaroos and koalas. Snakes, sharks, spiders, poisonous fish, marine stingers and crocodiles can cause serious injury or death.
Tourism is Australia’s largest service sector export industry, accounting for nearly 10% of total export earnings. The industry directly employs over 500,000 people.
Keeping tourists safe is important if the industry is to continue to thrive. So do Australia’s deadly animals deter visitors?
At a national level the presence of deadly animals does not appear to affect the capacity of the country to attract international tourists. After a long period of low growth, which had more to do with the high value of the Australian dollar than deadly wildlife, international arrivals are again on the rise.
Recent figures from Tourism Australia show that in the last 12 months international arrivals increased by 7% to reach 6.7 million. Spending rose by 13% to A$34.8 billion.
Keeping tourists safe
The results of just published research into swimming in the sea in Cairns give some insights into the concerns tourists have about deadly animals.
The majority of respondents were worried about dangerous marine animals, with 80% nominating crocodiles as posing the greatest danger to swimmers, closely followed by marine stingers. Concerns about sharks and stingrays were also high.
The results of the research confirmed that tourists are at least somewhat aware that they may encounter deadly animals in some areas of Australia. The vast majority of respondents (82%) reported they were aware that marine stingers might be encountered during their trip to Cairns.
However, the presence of dangerous animals did not deter people from swimming: 60% of domestic visitors and 83% of international reported going swimming. However, respondents did report taking precautions. Most (81%) chose to swim in beach enclosures and over half reported wearing a stinger-proof swimsuit while swimming.
Not all respondents particularly liked stinger-proof suits. One respondent reported that it was like wearing a full-body condom.
Apart from educating tourists about the potential to encounter deadly animals there is also a need to protect them.
In northern Queensland, as in other parts of the country, coastal communities have developed a range of strategies to protect tourists and members of the local community. Strategies generally include education, lifeguard patrols, warning signs and the installation of stinger-resistant swimming enclosures.
Measures of this nature are effective only if tourists, and locals, restrict their swimming activities to protected areas. The evidence from this research indicates that most tourists have recognised the dangers and do swim in protective enclosures.
What about the locals?
Elsewhere in Australia, the main threats are posed by sharks, crocodiles and, to a lesser extent, snakes.
In a recent article on shark attacks in Australia over the period 2002 to June 2014, Australian Geographic reported that there had been 22 fatal attacks. Almost all victims were Australian residents.
Crocodile attacks are relatively rate. However, because the coastal rivers and beaches of northern Australia that tourists find so enticing may also overlap with salt water crocodile habits, caution is required.
Protecting tourists and locals against shark and crocodile attacks is more difficult than against stingers. Once again education is a key element and based on the evidence of the low overall number of attacks each year appears to have been effective in keeping tourists, and locals, safe.
While many tourists are concerned about dangerous animals it does not deter them from visiting Australia. The message for the nation’s tourism industry is that it is important to tell tourist that there are dangerous animals and assure them that strategies have been put into place to protect them. It is also important to tell tourists that they need to adopt sensible precautions such as wearing stinger-proof swimsuits and swimming in areas that are protected.
From a destination perspective it is important to ensure that funding is sufficient to maintain protective infrastructure such as stinger nets, warning signs and consumer education programs.
It is also important to ensure that emergency services are adequately funded and that staff are trained to assist tourists who may not understand English.
This article is part of our series Deadly Australia. Stay tuned for more pieces on the topic in the coming days.
Last night I was watering the garden with a hose. It is easy to see how stressed the plants are on a 38 degree day, but then I remembered that the animals in my garden need water too. So I filled some shallow bowls and placed them in quiet shady spots. During a hot Australian summer day, such an act can save a life. A small life, perhaps, but every little bit counts.
I have a small suburban garden but it still supports a range of insects, birds, frogs and reptiles. Whenever we move a pile of wood we disturb some lovely spotted geckos. Even in the city most Australians will have possums moving through the trees and skinks sheltering under the back steps. Suburbs on the edge of town have wombats, wallabies and kangaroos. Birds and insects live everywhere. On hot days all creatures will seek water and shade.
So why not add a routine to your normal gardening chores and put out some water for wildlife? Here are a few hints to ensure that the animals benefit.
Tips for watering wildlife
Use only shallow bowls so small animals do not drown. Alternatively (or additionally) add a few rocks or sticks so they can easily crawl out. Do not use metal bowls as these will become hot and may burn their feet or paws. Place the water in a shady spot, out of the way of human activity and protected from domestic pets.
Birds and tree dwelling animals will appreciate water hung at various levels. You can nail a plastic tub to a fence, or hang a modified water bottle in a tree.
If you are able to set up a hose to mist a shady corner in the garden, you will create a small haven for wildlife. I did this last night with the excuse that the lemon tree needed a good drink anyway.
Don’t worry if you don’t see the animals using your water. It is likely that they prefer privacy and will use it when you are not looking.
On the other hand, if you do see animals showing signs of heat stress, you may have to take further steps.
Caring for heat stressed wildlife
Animals that are suffering from heat stress will behave strangely. Nocturnal animals that are out during the day, tree dwelling animals sitting on the ground, or animals that are lethargic or staggering are all showing signs of stress.
The first concern about stressed wildlife is your own safety. Do not approach snakes, flying foxes, large kangaroos, eagles, hawks or goannas. Your best bet is to contact a trained wildlife carer for advice.
It is a good idea to have the phone numbers of your local wildlife carers handy, or download the wildlife rescue app.
If it is safe to do so, you can assist a heat stressed animal by picking it up in a towel, placing it in a well ventilated box in a cool spot and provide water. Do not feed the animal or handle it more than necessary. The animal may recover enough to release again in the evening, but if not you will need to take them to a wildlife carer or a vet.
Wildlife and bushfires
Unfortunately many Australians now live under the threat of bushfires and face evacuations throughout the summer months. Obviously, fires are bad for both domestic and wild animals. The best thing you can do during an evacuation is to take your dogs and cats with you and leave out plenty of water for wildlife.
If you do find injured wildlife, take them to the vet if it is safe to do so. Never go into a fire affected area searching for injured animals. This is a job best left to trained staff who are coordinated by the appropriate agencies and assisted by volunteers who have had the right training.
On the other hand, all of us can help by putting out water for wildlife. Every little bit helps.