Nocturnal observation of wildlife is a popular tourist attraction. However, there is very little research about its impact on wildlife and thus the optimal trade-off in minimizing impacts and maximizing visitor satisfaction.
We first used a questionnaire-based survey to determine the characteristics of a satisfying nocturnal wildlife tour for visitors to a popular Australian rangeland tourist site. This revealed a particular interest by visitors in high-tech wildlife observation equipment such as night vision devices and bat detectors. Further satisfaction was gained from the types of wildlife viewed and the conduct of the tour. Respondents underestimated aversive effects on wildlife imposed by night-time tours.
With this context, we analyzed observation methods typically employed in night-time wildlife tours. We compared the results achieved with different illumination (white vs. red vs. infrared light), watch modes (sitting at artificial watering points vs. hiking in creek beds), observation times (starting at dusk vs. 2 h past dusk) and wind speed. Abundance and species richness of the non-bat fauna and bat activity were greatest at artificial watering points directly after dusk during calm nights. A night vision device enhanced by infrared light facilitated closer observations, the viewing of undisturbed wildlife behavior and revealed more species than under white or red light.
We consolidated our findings from the visitor survey and the wildlife observation research to recommend a tour design that minimizes impacts and optimizes observation outcomes when conducting night-time tours of wildlife.