Emotional processing as an important part of the wildlife viewing experience

 Visitors to parks, protected areas and other natural settings are commonly awed by big mountains, beautiful waterfalls, and turquoise green lakes, yet often it is the chance sighting of a wild animal that ignites a feeling of excitement and passion.

This research examined wildlife viewing experiences in the Canadian Rocky Mountain National Parks to identify which factors contribute to a meaningful wildlife viewing experience and to explore the value and meaning of that experience. Using a qualitative research approach designed to elicit rich descriptions of wildlife viewing experiences, key factors such as proximity and species emerged as important aspects which contribute to meaningful wildlife experiences and which are consistent with previous research.

More importantly, however, was that making meaningful experiences appears to be a result of the emotional connections that are associated with a wildlife encounter and the emotional processing of that experience. This finding suggests that truly meaningful wildlife experiences may be developed through a series of stages from pre-encounter, to the actual encounter, to post-encounter and finally, longer-term reflection.

Consequently, managers of parks and protected areas may choose to pay greater attention to visitors’ emotional connections with wildlife and use these relationships to facilitate more meaningful visitor experiences.

Management implications

1. The information obtained in this study demonstrates that visitor interactions with wildlife are important in creating meaningful nature experiences.
2. If park and protected area managers can encourage and enhance such types of experiences, several positive benefits may include such as increased visitation, positive economic impacts, and increased awareness, concern and efforts towards education and conservation.
3. Potential strategies include encouraging visitors to make an emotional connection with the wildlife they encounter and developing ways in which they can reflect on those experiences.
4. Additionally, managers can aid visitors in continuing to process their experiences after they occur.