Animals in Tourism launch

We successfully launched our Animals in Tourism Report on the 11th December at the House of Commons. The evening was hosted by Steve Reed MP who emphasised the need for a greater understanding of the issues and why the work of Tourism Concern was so important.

Mark Watson (Executive Direction – Tourism Concern) welcomed the guests and introduced the speakers, presented the layout of the document and briefly spoke about each section. He also highlighted that although animal welfare is not what Tourism Concern usually focuses on, Tourism Concern felt that ethical travellers would want to be aware of both human rights and animal welfare issues. He stated:

  • Progress was being made and that general awareness on the ethical issues around swimming with dolphins, SeaWorld and captive orcas was now in the public conscious – however, more awareness on issues such as the elephant trekking and canned hunting was still needed.
  • If tourists were more aware about elephant trekking few would still want to undertake it.
  • Even well-manged animal interactions, such as gorilla trekking, still had some negative impacts – however, these were outweighed by the positive conservation benefits they provided.
  • That there were still many human rights issues still to address in tourism and that the social and economic conditions faced by many communities meant that animal welfare was often not a priority for local communities and that tourists needed to take more responsibility for their impacts.

Elephant trekking ethicalThe second speaker was Nick Stewart (Head of Campaigns, World Animal Protection), who introduced their research, taken for a Ride in which they were looking at the conditions of elephants used in tourism attractions in Asia including all elephants in Thailand.

The study found 3 out of 4 elephants are living in poor and unacceptable conditions. All of these are kept at attractions offering elephant rides, so the correlation is clear.  When not giving rides or performing, the elephants were typically chained day and night, most of the time to chains less than 3m long. They were also fed poor diets, given limited appropriate veterinary care and were frequently kept on concrete floors in stressful locations near loud music, roads or visitor groups. Visitors often see elephants as docile and harmless animals, despite being recognised by elephant keepers and mahouts as one of the most dangerous animals to handle. The wild nature of captive elephants requires great efforts from elephant keepers to handle and control elephants.  He also believes that most tourists sign up for experiences with elephants because they love wild animals and don’t know about the cruelty behind the rides, tricks and photo opportunities. If people knew the facts, then they wouldn’t participate in cruel elephant activities.  The best place to see an elephant is in the wild or, at a genuine elephant sanctuary.

After, Glen Cousquer (University of Edinburgh) spoke about his research on mules. He highlighted that mule-owner’s social status is low and therefore they can easily be exploited and causing poor living conditions of the mules.

Then, he also emphasised that there is an urgent need of training of mule owners to improve their knowledge and understanding of mule-keeping, however, it is also crucial to teach tourist to be able to identify unethical practices which highly contribute to the exploitation of muleteers or be responsible for animal neglect, abuse and cruelty. Glen explained that tourist can easily identify if the animal is suffering by looking at the bits they use. It is important to recognise the difference between a traditional bit and the more human stainless still bits. Traditional bits, especially those that have been produced locally and poorly made cause constant pain and suffering to the animal and make it difficult for them to eat.

Dylan Walker (Chief Executive Officer –  World Cetacean Alliance) started his speech with a short story about a whale which was released at Brighton beach in front of 15K people. However, at the end of the story, he added that the whale was an inflatable…..It was a symbolic event, at the Whale Fest, to raise awareness to conserve and protect cetaceans and their habitats in the world’s oceans, seas and rivers, to ensure their continued health and survival. He also added that in fact that a whale has never been released back to the wild before. Then he talked about their role as the world’s largest Partnership working to protect whales, dolphins and porpoises (cetaceans). He also highlighted that local communities play a crucial role to protect cetaceans and their participation needs to be supported by experts, educated individuals Through their numerous partnerships with various stakeholders.

They are committed to preventing all cetaceans from being held in captivity other than for rehabilitation and release purposes. However, he emphasised the need for healthy oceans is increasing the pressure is higher than ever before.

Clare Jenkinson (Senior Destinations & Sustainability Manager, ABTA), introduced ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines, which is divided into seven parts: Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism,   Animals in Captive Environments, Dolphins in Captive Environments, Wildlife Viewing,  Elephants in Captive Environments, Working Animals and Unacceptable and Discouraged Practices. The manuals chart a set of minimum requirements designed to assist in improving animal welfare as well as phasing out poor practice. They are working with their members and destinations around the world to ensure that they use the manuals to help raise standards of welfare across the world. Their member does not have to meet minimum criteria, however, she mentioned that she can see an increasing interest from tour operators to implementing these guidelines.

The final speaker was Vicki Brown (Travel Writer & Editor – Responsible Travel), who introduced their approach to improving animal welfare in tourism. She highlighted that they believe that wildlife belongs in the wild, however, there are few exceptions. She explained that they had to manually edit or remove all the trips from their website which did not meet their principle. They constantly monitor all tour operators and reviews that they receive about any possible animal welfare issues and they also encourage others to report if there is concern about any of their trips. They also promote Travellers’ Animal Alert, developed by Born Free Foundation, where tourist can report if they saw an animal in poor conditions.

Many of their holidays allow people to see animals in their own environments, representing natural behaviours, and these holidays will also contribute towards the conservation of this wildlife and their habitats. She also mentioned that in some cases there is no satisfactory alternative to wildlife being kept in captivity. While there has been much focus on animal welfare, they believe it is more important to consider whether the animal should be captive in the first place.

At the final discussion, there were questions about how individuals can raise awareness about these issues among their friend and family and how they can help this animal. Moreover, the main and most controversial discussion was focusing on elephant trekking. Some believed that an immediate ban on elephant trekking would be best; however, others thought that this would only work if there were better alternatives for the captive elephants. However, everyone agreed that wild capture and training of baby elephants for tourists was unacceptable. At this stage, we believe that the most important work to be done is looking after the high number of elephants currently “working” in tourism, their rehabilitation and welfare and that raising awareness with travellers – encouraging them to choose to view elephants in their natural environment, rather than for rides.

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