GUIDE TRAINING – LEADING BY EXAMPLE AND INFORMATION:
- All our tours are fully guided by experienced, highly-trained Wildlife Guides.
- Our Wildlife Guides are trained to impart an environmental ethic that respects the animals and ecosystems that we encounter. We inform our guests of the least intrusive way to behave around wild animals. We speak quietly around wildlife, walk slowly towards them, stopping often, and we insist that our guests do the same. We all remain at least 10 metres away from wild koalas, wallabies, kangaroos and possums, as these animals are easily distressed. This is a self-imposed limit.
- We train our Wildlife Guides intensively and continuously and we encourage further learning on all aspects of the environment. Natural history books are available to all Guides on loan from our collection. We compile Special Sightings every month with a list and photographs of all unusual sightings of animals, insects, plants to keep Guides up to date. This is sent to all our Wildlife Guides, Researchers and to the local Field Naturalist Club, Bird Observers Club and local National Park Rangers.
- The owners, with over 20 years experience with wildlife, are often invited to give talks to interest groups, universities and community groups about wildlife behaviour and working with Australian wildlife in the wild. We often work with media, promoting the intrinsic value of wild animals, the region and the ethics of eco- and wildlife-tourism.
WILD KOALA RESEARCH
- Since 1998 we have tracked and monitored the movements and lives of over 98 wild koalas that we encounter on our tours. Each resident koala is named, photographed and identifying markings are noted. These wild Koalas are not tagged, caught or handled in any way – they are identified by observation at a distance, through binoculars. Each day every koala found is located on a map, they are photographed, their tree species and their behaviour is noted.
- At the end of each year these findings are compiled, analysed and a report for the year is provided to all our Wildlife Guides, Koala Researchers and to the National Parks Service, local Field Naturalist Club and Koala-specialist Wildlife Carers and veterinarians to assist with understanding of Koalas in this particular wild habitat.
- This Project is our own initiative, and fully funded by our tour company. A Researcher is employed one day per week to input data, Janine (owner) devotes two days per week to Koala Research analysis, and on every tour Koala Researchers go out ahead of the tour group to find Koalas and monitor them before the group arrives. This ensures a high degree of success with koala sightings (100% over the past 5 years) and adds 3 hours of monitoring data to each day’s sightings.
- Echidna Walkabout has developed a non-intrusive method of identifying individual wild koalas by their nose markings. The method is currently in the process of being published scientifically, with two Asst Professors as co-authors. This method, once accepted by science, will lead to reforms in the handling of wild koalas in research projects - there will no longer be a need to catch and tag all koalas in a project to collect data on individuals.
- The nose marking identification method is being presented to a US wildlife conference in October 2014.
WILDLIFE HABITAT CREATION:
- The wildlife habitat we support is a privately owned property of 14.5 ha/36 acres in the Brisbane Ranges west of Melbourne, adjacent to the Brisbane Ranges National Park. 75% of the property is natural Box-Ironbark woodland – an important and endangered habitat type. The other 25% of the property was old lightly grazed farmland, mostly cleared but largely covered in native grasses.
- Native Grasslands with Kangaroo grass, several varieties of wallaby grasses, spear grass, poa, weeping grass, native wildflowers and orchids improving each year. Native grasslands are one of Australia’s most endangered habitat types with only about 1% of Victoria's grasslands remaining.
- The aim for this site is to retain the existing habitat and improve it for the use of wildlife. So far we have created a new wetland from the remains of an old shed foundation, planted hundreds of indigenous trees and shrubs, encouraged native grasses and improved the water quality of the existing wetland where we have frogs, yabbies and visiting herons, spoonbills and more.
- We are creating wildlife corridors through regeneration and some revegetation, removing any weeds, and improving the diversity of the existing woodland.
- We have a resident mob of Eastern-grey Kangaroos, at least 2 Swamp/Black Wallabies, the occasional visit from a Koala and Echidnas, and many birds.
[photo - wild kangaroos choosing to relax close together in the sun, out of the wind, where they feel safe on the property. Some recent plantings are in the foreground.]
IMPROVING OUR ENVIRONMENT ON TOURS:
- on all tours that visit the You Yangs Regional Park the Wildlife Guide and tour guests remove Boneseed - an invasive, introduced weed. Boneseed covers large areas and crowds out smaller native shrubs (particularly fruiting saltbushes) and grasses that are food for wallabies, kangaroos and a huge variety of small birds. Over the years we have been visiting this Park we have seen a noticeable reduction in this weed species in the areas we visit most.
- we run regular Volunteer Days for locals with the purpose of educating local people about their wildlife, and removing Boneseed Weed. Each locals day removes over 8,000 weeds.
- we take all rubbish with us when we go, often including anything we find left behind by others. All natural products (95% of our rubbish) are brought back to base and composted.
- we check the fireplaces left by others in the National Parks we visit, and put out any campfires left in a dangerous condition.
- we gently inform other park users of the laws and codes of the National Parks. For instance we often stop and ask dog owners to put their dog on a leash while in the You Yangs Regional Park, which helps protect the wildlife.
- we are active in promoting the care and rehabilitation of injured native wildlife. The owner and three of our Guides hold permits for wildlife rescue and care.
- train all our staff to look out for injured native wildlife, and we carry a first aid kit for wildlife in all vehicles. We stop and check road-killed animals, and often move them off the road to prevent native predators from being killed by cars whilst feeding on roadkill.
- we drive slowly in National Parks and wildlife areas to avoid killing or injuring wildlife on the road
- as a serious and committed ecotour operator, our emissions from vehicle fuel have long been a concern for us. While we can't forego the use of vehicles, we do everything we can to limit unnecessary usage. So we have implemented a simple, set pickup schedule, just for the Koalas & Kangaroos IN THE WILD one day tour. We have chosen five hotels that are quick and easy to access, are easy to find, and are already popular with our guests and agents.
- we clean our vehicles with one small bucket of recycled water (we trap clean cold water from the shower before it heats up) and an “Enjo”-style re-usable cloth that uses no chemicals and very little water to clean. After use the water is put on our native garden.
- we wash linen/tablecloths and all our own clothing in phosphate-free, biodegradable washing detergent.
- we wash crockery, cutlery and food containers using biodegradable detergents.
- we buy locally produced fruit from our local market and independent businesses. All fruit supplied on tour is Australian grown.
- we buy locally produced sandwiches made by an independent small business within 500m of our office/base. Food is picked up each morning on foot, or on the way to the guest pickup.
- we support local independent shops and accommodation on our extended tours by eating-in at cafes some days and by ordering packed picnic lunches from our accommodation provider.
CLIENT PRE-TRIP INFORMATION:
- we call all extended tour clients the day before their tour to answer any questions they may have, confirm timings, what to bring, most suitable clothing and to give a weather forecast.
- for day tours: we give all clients a note of introduction with important contact information, and a short summary of their day.
- for extended tours: we give all clients detailed wildlife and natural history notes.
- clients receive a keepsake – a wildlife art card produced on recycled paper, with some information about one of the animals we are likely to see on tour. The artwork is done in-house by the owner.
LOCAL COMMUNITY INVOLVEMENT:
- all our Wildlife Guides, Field Researchers live locally – many in the smaller towns outside of Melbourne, close to the sites where we operate.
- some are registered native wildlife carers
- we are active members of the local Field Naturalists Groups and Bird Observers Clubs in the areas we work in.
- we share our wildlife sightings with local people visiting the National Park – often passers-by notice our group looking at a koala, for instance, and so we invite them to join us for a short time to see and learn about the animal. This encourages local pride in the wildlife and in the area.
- we regularly run volunteer days for locals. These events are extremely popular and usually have a waitlist. The purpose of these days is to educate local people about their wildlife, especially wild koalas - how to find and watch them sustainably and report on sightings. On these days we also remove thousands of weeds that are invading koala habitat.
- from the beginning, the Wathaurong Aboriginal Co-operative have been involved in our planning and research for tours in their area. They taught us what to say about their Culture and how to say it. They continue to be valued mentors to our business.
- one of our Wildlife Guides/Researchers is an Aboriginal woman from the Wathaurong Community.
- we promote and encourage Aboriginal–guided cultural interpretation on all group, special and private tours.
- we employ Aboriginal Guides as much as possible. No non-Aboriginal person should speak for the Aboriginal People of Australia. In addition, we and our Aboriginal mentors teach our non-Aboriginal Guides about the protocols of dealing with, and speaking about, Aboriginal People
- we create awareness and understanding of the local Aboriginal Culture by working with and learning from the local indigenous people, employing indigenous people where possible, including them in tours where possible and passing on respect for their culture to our guests and staff.
REDUCE, RE-USE, RECYCLE ON TOURS:
- we minimise vehicle travel and fuel use by employing local people and using local suppliers and businesses as much as possible.
- we minimise off-road vehicle travel. Our tours are designed in such a way that vehicle travel is conducted on made roads. We do not use four-wheel drive vehicles for passenger transport – they are not required and their energy costs are high.
- we avoid disposable plastic bags for carrying or storage of fruit. Instead we pack our fruit into re-usable, washable canvas bags for carrying, and store fruit in re-used stay-fresh green bags designed to keep food fresh. These bags are washed and re-used until they wear out.
- we avoid disposable products. Our cutlery, crockery and food containers are all enamel, metal and hard recyclable plastic* (*will not be replaced - see below) and are washed and re-used.
- We avoid plastic. When a hard plastic item wears out we replace it with plant-based biodegradable alternatives, metal, sustainable timber, recycled paper or cardboard, fabric or wicker.
- we transport food in hard containers which are washed and re-used, or in paper bags which are composted or recycled.
- we discourage the use of throw-away plastic water bottles by recommending that travellers bring their own bottle which we re-fill on request with tap water from a large storage container. We do not provide disposable water bottles to our guests – if travellers don’t have their own bottle we offer a cup which we wash and re-use.
- we pack dirty dishes in washable fabric bags while on tour, rather than in plastic.
- we compost food scraps. The compost is used on our bush property/wildlife refuge to assist the growth of native plants.
- we only use 100% recycled office paper. When we can’t avoid printing documents, we double-side and recycle our own. All incoming paper is checked for a clean back and placed in the printer for another use. Our brochures and business cards are produced on 100% recycled stock.
- we recycle all paper, glass and suitable plastics & aluminium through the local government recycling system.
- our office and home use low-voltage light globes; all lighting, heating, computers and office equipment are turned off overnight; we do not use air-conditioning in our office or home.
- linen, tablecloths and our own clothes are dried on a washing line outside. We choose not to have a clothes dryer.
- we compost all food scraps and natural products.
- water is conserved in our office – see Water Conservation
- the wildlife habitat buildings are fully 6 star rated energy-efficient design incorporating passive solar collection, double-glazed windows, full insulation to ceilings, walls and under floors and use plantation and sustainably –harvested non-rainforest timbers throughout.
- the property effectively uses solar power and solar hot water and outside lighting, a worm farm, compost bins, low energy/low water appliances. Rainwater collected in tanks is used throughout and all grey/black waste is treated in an environmentally-friendly system which uses worms and other organisms to turn waste into safe irrigation water.