Kangaroos in the wild

Ethical encounters: How to avoid animal cruelty when interacting with Australian wildlife

Tourists may flock to Australia for the beautiful beaches, bustling cities and (virtually) guaranteed sunshine, but it goes without saying that a trip Down Under would not be complete without seeing the unique and fascinating animals that call this vast country home.

The national emblem of Australia includes a kangaroo and an emu, but these are just a couple of the incredible creatures you will find here.

From the impossibly cute koala to nature’s anomaly, the duck-billed platypus, to the unfairly demonised crocs and sharks, you will most likely have an animal encounter or two on your bucket list. But how can you ensure that being near the animals doesn’t harm them in any way?

Firstly, I’d like to highlight that I’m by no means a wildlife expert and my ideas are based entirely on my own experience of wildlife encounters. Nonetheless I hope you will find this useful 🙂

Here are some important points – in my opinion – to consider when planning to see Australian wildlife.

Seize the opportunity to see animals in their natural habitat

The clue is in the name but aside from this, you should always endeavour to see wildlife in the wild – and there is no excuse not to do this in Australia.

The Great Barrier Reef in Queensland is a must-see for most tourists and this is the perfect chance to experience Australian marine life, whether you want to scuba dive, snorkel or simply enjoy the underwater world from the comfort of a glass-bottom boat.

Tragically, the Great Barrier Reef is becoming a shadow of its former self due to the devastating effect of coral bleaching caused by climate change, and scientists predict that 95% of the reef will be dead by 2050.

If you want to experience a less-visited and still largely unspoilt reef, head to Ningaloo on the northwest coast. The huge advantage is this is a fringing reef so you do not even need to go with a tour operator to see it – you can simply swim a few metres from the shore and be face-to-face with rainbow parrotfish, octopi and maybe even a shark (if you’re lucky!).

If you do want to go on an organised tour, there are plenty to choose from and the majority are committed to ecotourism and causing minimal impact on the environment. You should still always check this – look for the Eco Certified Advanced Tourism logo on their website or literature.

When I was in Coral Bay, swimming with whale sharks was at the top of my bucket list (and I was so lucky I got to do it! Read more about it in my blog post).

Ningaloo whale shark

If you’re more of a land-dweller, you can still see lots of amazing animals in the wild. From the fairy penguins in South Australia and Victoria, to the Tasmanian devil on its eponymous island, to the crocodiles of the Northern Territory, there are tour companies out there committed to ensuring tourists get a glimpse but still have the animals’ wellbeing as a number one priority.


Always respect laws and signs about interacting with wild animals

In some cases, this will be for your own safety but you should always pay attention to Australian wildlife legislation – even if you think it seems strict.

In recent times visitors have descended on Rottnest (an island off the coast of Perth, affectionately known as “Rotto”) with the sole aim of getting a quokka selfie.

Although the quokka – small rat-like marsupials which appear to be perpetually smiling – are tame due to the amount of attention they receive (and the fact there are no predators on the island), will willingly approach humans, it is imperative that you do not touch them or feed them. Anyone found guilty of harming a quokka can expect to receive a penalty, whether that is a fine, a lifetime ban from the island or even a prison sentence.

Rottnest quokkaInstagram has actually added a warning about animal abuse to the hashtag #quokkaselfie in an attempt to protect the quokka, although this has been met with criticism from Tourism WA, who believe it “does not serve to educate or inform the public about our conservation efforts or direct people to how they might develop a better understanding of this native species”.

Regardless of your thoughts on this, it’s best to put the welfare of the quokka (or other animal) before your photo opp.


Only visit wildlife sanctuaries that rescue and rehabilitate not zoos (generally)

This can be a tricky one as some people would argue that zoos play an important role in conservation and protecting endangered species from extinction. However, it is still essential that you check the animal welfare and environmental policies of the zoo or centre before you visit.

Look on their website for a mission statement or accreditations, but you might still want to take these with a pinch of salt. Generally, “sanctuaries” or “rescue centres” are more dedicated to animal welfare as they aim to rescue, rehabilitate and sometimes release the animals back into the wild. If you have any doubt though, it’s probably best to not go and to try to find a way to see the animals in the wild instead.

If you’ve seen Blackfish, then you’ll know that SeaWorld on the Gold Coast is a no-go… If you’ve not seen it then you should definitely watch it!

Avoid touching or holding animals for photo opportunities

Even wildlife rescue sanctuaries in Australia will sometimes offer the opportunity for tourists to have their photo taken with or holding an animal (usually for a fee). Obviously, it is really difficult to generalise but if it doesn’t seem “right”, then just don’t do it!Kangaroo joey

Queensland is the only state that allows people to hold a koala – in other states you can have a photo standing next to one clinging to a branch.

I visited Greenough Wildlife & Bird Park, just outside of Geraldton, WA, where I held an orphaned kangaroo joey. I did have some doubts beforehand but I was reassured by the fact the keepers wrap the joey up in a blanket to bottle-feed him, so me holding him was no different to this. Also, they had plans to rehabilitate him for release in the future so I felt that my five dollar donation was going to a good cause.

Keep your distance and enjoy the view!

I believe it is absolutely worth it keeping your distance (and staying still and quiet) when admiring Australian wildlife in the wild. I was lucky enough to see a colony of wild fruit bats at Cape Range National Park in Exmouth, WA – and my goodness, were they noisy!

Kangaroos in the wildI also saw kangaroos in the wild in the suburbs of Brisbane who seemed oblivious to our presence. It is amazing to think that these wild animals live in such close proximity to humans.

But most breath-taking of all for me was seeing a pod of wild dolphins swimming just off the coast at Noosa National Park. When I’ve seen wild dolphins in the past, they’ve always been “performing” for humans either waiting to be fed or swimming alongside the boat. But these dolphins did not know we were there and it really was an incredible experience to see them doing their own thing!

Do you agree with my ideas? Is there anything I’ve missed? Leave me a comment below 🙂




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