Each year millions of people travel on holidays to a variety of ecosystems to observe wildlife. Given the popularity of this activity, it is surprising that so little scholarly attention has been devoted to it. There is, of course, a substantial literature devoted to tourism, to ecotourism, and even to wildlife tourism (though the last genre has received a lot less attention than the others). But thus far, nobody seems to have bothered to develop a way of theorising wildlife observation ‘itself’ – i.e. the practice of sensing, conceiving and interpreting wild animals, as a part of, but also as a distinct aspect of the practice of travelling, or indeed of gazing at objects whilst travelling. If this is true for wildlife observation amongst tourists in general, it certainly is true for the observational practices of tourists in particular biomes, the ecosystems of which may generate their own observational particularities.
My recently published Observing Wildlife in Tropical Forests addresses this lack of research by developing a geosemeiotic approach to wildlife observation amongst tourists visiting tropical forests. The following are a series of excerpts from that book which I have adapted for the purposes of the Coenoscopics series, and which may serve a dual purpose: to theorise wildlife observation, but also to problematise common sense understandings of a variety of issues involving observational practices more generally.