Opinion: Balancing tourism with kangaroo paws

4th May 2018

Source: Newcastle Herald | By: Herald Editorial | Posted: May 4, 2018

THE kangaroo is, for better of worse, likely the first thing any international visitor associates with our wide brown land. 

It is no surprise, then, that a chance to encounter them in the grounds of Morisset’s psychiatric hospital has achieved such a rarified status as a best-kept secret of Australian tourism. 

Tourism is part of the modern Hunter’s bread and butter. It’s an industry that delivers almost a billion in expenditure today and more than a million visitors, a figure that Newcastle leaders say will conservatively double by 2027. 

That industry obviously requires attractions, reasons to visit and to linger in the Hunter for travellers who in turn stimulate our economy. Despite no promotion, and indeed attempts to quash it, the word has spread far and wide about the site’s kangaroo population. 

Lake Macquarie MP Greg Piper’s push to better regulate the attraction this week did the same. Hopping swiftly into European and American media, the call to manage the site and prevent the types of injuries already documented is a timely one. The area’s evolution into an attraction has led to the development of growing pains that now need addressing. 

Wildlife carers have seen many of these problems first-hand, as has the operator who says roughly 500 visitors a week ask him to ferry them to the site. Given the site appears in none of the traditional promotions one might expect, its appeal appears to support Mr Piper’s argument that “the joey has left the pouch”. 

A working group exploring how the site can be managed is an important step to finding a solution that might protect both visitors and our native animals. Beyond reaping the rewards of its tourism potential, however, it must also be remembered that these are wild animals that deserve respect.  

Greater oversight from rangers and those dedicated to protecting and preserving the site’s natural allure could be established through the working group if deemed necessary. As it stands, the risk of injury to uninformed visitors and the animals through mistreatment is evidently present.

These tensions between tourism and ecology are not new, and are complicated by the fact the site lies within an active hospital. Constraints to the status quo may not be welcomed, but they will almost certainly improve on the prevailing self-regulation.

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