Issues of animal welfare have been prominent in debates in the mainstream and social media over the last year and more. In South Africa the campaign against lion petting has come to the fore. Drakenstein Lion Park is a sanctuary for captive born predators, in the Cape Winelands. It provides sanctuary for hand reared lions which cannot be released into the wild. As Drakenstein argues genuine lion sanctuaries are not involved in captive breeding and do not offer petting opportunities. The Campaign Against Canned Hunting argues that lion cubs for petting, cuddling and walking, are the product of factory farming, taken from their mothers shortly after birth. When they are too large, and too dangerous, to be petted and cuddled they are sold on for canned hunting and finally the bones are sold on for medicinal use in Asia. These animals are fully exploited and petting is a part of that life time chain of exploitation. Petting lions can be dangerous there are reports of tourists being bitten by lions as they pose for the camera with them.
Elephant riding and circus tricks has been widely criticised. The demand from tourists for tricks, and the opportunity to ride on elephants, feeds an industry which tames elephants for the trade. Baby wild elephants are brutally treated, tortured, to break their spirit in the Phajaan – “the crush”. The issue is raised by campaign organisations ranging from PETA who take the view that “animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, or use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way”. Others focus more narrowly on animal welfare and object, for example, to the breaking of elephants or the petting of lions. Intrepid is an example of a company which has now dropped all elephant rides from its programme and which has explained in detail to its customers why.
The views which people have about animal rights and animal welfare vary within and between cultures. When we travel we take our attitudes and ethics with us and we may expect the outbound industry to demonstrate that it shares our values and not to offer experiences and visits to attractions where animals are treated in ways which are unacceptable to us. Some will just avoid experiences which we find unacceptable others will campaign to see such practices cease.
The difference between the animal rights and animal welfare approaches is perhaps most apparent at the moment in the campaigns about the acceptability or not of the presence of orcas and dolphins in visitor attractions where they often also perform tricks. Views range across a spectrum from those who oppose any containment of orcas and dolphins to those who argue that what matters is their welfare. This debate stirs passions. For some the issue of “caging” large intelligent marine mammals is a non-negotiable infringement of animal rights. Others argue that the industry needs to work to improve the welfare standards in the attractions. Richard Branson has engaged with the whale captivity issue and instituted a review with Virgin Holidays.
ABTA The Travel Association, has led the way by developing an animal welfare policy to help members “to assess and improve performance within the tourism supply chain” ABTA’s work has been thorough and comprehensive. They have worked with a wide range of NGOs and other experts to develop a set of seven guidelines on animal welfare including specific guidance on best practice in tourism, including animals, dolphins and elephants in captive environments, wildlife viewing, working animals and specific guidance on Unacceptable and Dangerous Practices. This work, which sought the expertise of Born Free in particular, has taken several years to complete and the result is a comprehensive set of guidelines which deserve to be taken up and applied by governments, industry and travellers around the world.
At WTM in November, Simon Pickup of ABTA will be talking about the guidelines along with Born Free, the animal charity with which ABTA worked most closely; Virgin Holidays who have been using the guidelines to review their practice; and Dolphin Discovery, who are one of the largest suppliers of dolphin encounters throughout Mexico and the Caribbean. Elsewhere, Intrepid’s Geoff Manchester will be talking in the session on Better Wildlife Tourism about why the company is dropping all elephant rides from their programme.
Tuesday 4th November
15:45-16:45 Better Wildlife Tourism – Whose Responsibility?
17:00-18:00 How Much Responsibility Should Tourism Take for Animal Welfare?