Following on from our last blog on the topic of responsible vs sustainable tourism, and coinciding with the upcoming launch of our very own Animal Protection Network, it seems fitting to start 2020 on the topic of social impact collaboration (or corporate social responsibility as it’s historically been known).
So what is ‘social impact’?
It is undeniable that some of the biggest solutions to global problems require positive collaboration. Each of us, in all our various roles (as citizens, employees, parents, consumers, and community members) have an intrinsic role to play in creating these solutions. Our decisions in life, at home and in business, can create social impact: A significant, positive change that addresses a pressing social challenge.
In the case of ANIMONDIAL, we exist to do just that – to make a significant, lasting change for the better protection of animals in tourism, and the ecosystems and communities that rely upon them.
I remember when I once asked Daniel (co-Director of ANIMONDIAL) what inspired him. He shared an experience during a zoo investigation many years before, when he had come across a bear, alone in a barren cage. He relayed that the bear had nothing – nothing to stimulate him – he was lifeless and despondent. That was until, a small leaf floated through the iron bars, and the bear suddenly came to life, grasped the leaf with his paws and played with it. Repeated pouncing on top of it. He was overjoyed. That was until the wind blew the leaf through the iron bars, out of the cage, and out of reach. It was as if the leaf had never happened. The bear returned to the lifeless state. One simple leaf had rekindled his spirit momentarily. The episode had reaffirmed Daniel’s purpose, to strive to improve animal welfare and spare animals such unnecessary suffering.
I met Daniel whilst working for an international animal protection organisation, where I headed up corporate fundraising, and he led on the animal welfare, political and tourism strategy. It was this chance setting that ignited our shared vision to protect animals in tourism and would then result in the foundations of our bespoke social purpose.
Businesses want to be involved with charities in developing solutions to complex problems and I’ve seen a number of them make valuable commitments to partner in an effort to do good, most as part of our work at ANIMONDIAL: Etihad Airlines, Mind UK, Allianz, Uber, STA Travel, Kuoni, Marie Curie, Make A Wish and Jaguar Land Rover. Here is your business case:
With the rise of socially conscious consumers – Millennials and Gen Z, fast becoming the most dominant consumers in society, more businesses are becoming aware of the need to demonstrate their social impact. But this goes deeper that the promise of post-recession Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR), and aims to tackle the root cause, rather than applying a band-aid. Now a business can truly become the hero and showcase its inspiring commitment.
ANIMONDIAL exists to support travel businesses to become leaders for responsible animal-based tourism, not only demonstrating positive branding and enhanced PR and public engagement, but also by proactively making an impact on the ground.
Simon Sinek, British-American author and motivational speaker stated: ‘People don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.’
Recent surveys have proven the value of these words:
- 91% of global citizens expect companies to do more than make a profit; they believe companies need to proactively act responsibly and address issues (Better Business Bureau, 2016)
- 71% of people are more likely to buy holidays from companies that care (ComRes Survey 2017)
- 90% of travellers are concerned about animal welfare (Thomas Cook, 2019)
Travel and tourism can reach into the most remote and isolated destinations. Through partnering with trusted NGO projects around the world, you can offer arguably the biggest social impact of any industry on the protection of animals and communities. This support does not just have to be financial; it can be far greater than that! Consider including projects into itineraries. For example, our partners Mahouts Elephant Foundation offer an incredible once-in-a-lifetime experience of ‘glamping’ in the Thai forests, walking with elephants and eating local cuisine around the campfire with indigenous people.
Or support them at a distance through in-kind donations or promotion to customers. Etihad Airways chose creative methods of charitable support including the optional donation of air miles, the sale of the charity’s bracelet onboard, and the promotion of its work in-flight. In return, Etihad benefitted from inspiring content for customers and colleagues, the development of their anti-wildlife trade policy, and the promotion of the company as leaders in the protection of animals and communities.
Or how about considering responsibility through your supply chain? World Cetacean Alliance offers a trusted Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching Certification Scheme for suppliers of said experiences; The Humane Society runs a Forward Food initiative, which encourages businesses to ‘put more plants on plates’ through sustainable, healthy and compassionate menu choices. Now how about that for an inspiring in-flight meal alternative?
This month, I attended the New York Travel Show, where I was asked to join a panel hosted by the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) to discuss how adventure travel can become a source for meaningful good. Travel and travel operators have the power to inspire a global movement of conscientious conservation, thus educating, encouraging and empowering travellers to do the right thing. If 60% of ATTA members are outbound operators, taking US citizens to other parts of the world, their members provide the means to inspire travellers to care for global destinations and thus help solve some of the biggest issues – from sustainability, to animal welfare, child protection and community empowerment. In return, their businesses will have eyes and ears on the ground, and become more highly regarded as one that listens to its customers and cares for the planet.
So what steps can you, as a travel business or individual, now take?
- Consider what big issues you would like to focus upon solving.
- Consider what social impact you are able and driven to make to solve these issues.
- Consider a strategic NGO partnership with a perfect project to help you solve this issue and help you make dramatic impact on the ground.
- Contact us to get all the answers through a FREE 30 minute consultation!
Our goal at ANIMONDIAL is to inspire travel industry colleagues to consider what positive impact your company can make on the planet and which NGOs of shared purpose you could partner with to maximise that impact.
After all, it’s “social” impact! So let’s get together, businesses and charities, and work together.
As we approach the end of 2019, and look forward to the seasonal festivities, there is no better time to reflect, and consider our social impact. In particular, how our actions are benefiting, or could do more to benefit, the community and the environment on which we depend. In the tourism sector, this is usually referred to as sustainable or responsible tourism. Both terms are becoming more popular and more relevant, but is this just greenwashing, or actually part of a revived ‘green revolution’?
A week ago, I had the pleasure of attending the Global Sustainable Tourism Council (GSTC) annual conference on the island of Terceira in The Azores. The event, hosted by GSTC and The Azorean Government, attracted over 250 people from 42 countries to this remote Atlantic island, to discuss sustainable destination tourism. Fittingly, the occasion was marked by The Azores receiving a destination’s sustainability award. Of course, any destination that fulfils recognised sustainability criteria should be applauded, but is it right to assume that this includes both sustainable AND responsible outputs? Recognising that it is possible to be sustainable, without necessarily being responsible. This is a fact that is often overlooked by an industry that is trying to do the right thing.
Sustainability refers to the ability to maintain an activity at a certain rate or level (i.e. the availability of flights to The Azores), whilst responsibility refers to taking a conscious decision and accepting the consequences of one’s actions (i.e. a heightened carbon footprint). Noting that this was a particular concern of the delegates of the GSTC conference, many of whom had to take a minimum of two flights to travel to Terceira. This sort of dilemma applies to animal-based activities too: for example, whilst it may be considered sustainable to keep dolphins in captivity – recognising that wild dolphins and whales continue to be caught from the wild to sustain the captive population – it is questionable whether is it a responsible act, noting that studies indicate that the welfare of these animals may be compromised.
In my opinion, there should never be a question of one or the other (sustainability vs responsibility), but instead a consideration and a combination of both values. Whereby the assessment of status and performance, decisions taken, or terms used, include both sustainability and responsibility criteria. In order to maximise our benefits and minimise our negative impacts (on a destination), we must therefore a) ensure our activities can be sustained but, b) that these cannot be at the detriment of the resource upon which it relies, and c) that it does not directly, or indirectly cause irreversible damage. The business case is also attractive: minimised negative impacts = more customers = increased customer satisfaction and loyalty = increased customer expenditure and profit (University of Surrey). Establishing both these values into the operations and activities in the travel destination, business, or conference, is therefore the obvious way to go.
There is a great deal of advice and guidance available to facilitate this sustainable and responsible approach. Whether your destination or business is embarking on its first tentative steps of a brand-new journey or needing help to refine an already trodden path, there are a number of resources to guide you on your way. For general advice, there are the GSTC Criteria that ‘serve as the global baseline standards for sustainability in travel and tourism’, with its Destination criteria (GSTC-D) (December 2019) including baseline measures on wildlife interactions and animal welfare in tourism. ANIMONDIAL is pleased to have inputted and advised on this content.
For general guidance on wildlife interactions and animal welfare, ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines is recommended. Today, ABTA has launched the 2nd edition of the Guidelines and ANIMONDIAL is pleased to have contributed, ensuring that the latest evidence has been taken into account (abta.com/animalwelfare).
For bespoke impartial advice and guidance that is aligned with your unique business model and brand identity, ANIMONDIAL provides a variety of services. These include policy development and integration, a procurement health check, training and internal comms guidance. In addition to minimising any negative impact, ANIMONDIAL can also help to maximise the benefits through introductions to our carefully selected NGOs, projects and experiences. These provide travel businesses the opportunity to offer unique experiences that also make a positive difference to animals involved in tourism.
So, this Christmas, and into 2020, consider adopting BOTH sustainability and responsibility criteria and support, financially or in-kind, one of ANIMONDIAL’s trusted NGO partners.
Wishing you an enjoyable Christmas season and a successful 2020!
In 2020, ANIMONDIAL will be relaunching its Animal Protection Network providing a portfolio of carefully selected NGOs, animal-based projects and experiences. Contact us for more information.
On attending the Elephant Wellbeing and Thai Community event, hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) at WTM London (November), it occurred to me how important it is to consider an issue from its cultural perspective. Noting that perceived cultural divides between traditional practices, ‘foreign’ opposing views and industry standards can been a significant obstacle when seeking meaningful change.
Take elephants in tourism as an example. This is a hotly debated issue with a range of impassioned views on how elephants should be involved in tourism. Many are based on emotive sentiment, animal welfare science or sustainability ideals, none of which I condemn, but I do feel that more could be achieved, and opportunities realised if thought was given to the local culture, livelihoods and economic relevance. Listening to the owners of the Asian elephant attractions attending the TAT event, it was evident that they feel threatened and confused by the various standards imposed on them by foreign entities. I can understand that point of view, particularly when those ideals rarely consider the status quo or consult such attractions.
As I have come to realise as a Director for ANIMONDIAL, it is of vital importance to engage all stakeholders, understand the many points of view and if you can, see the activity and resulting implications for yourself. Only then can a complete picture be formed, and if required, viable solutions be identified. At ANIMONDIAL, this approach gives us the ability to provide our clients with complete and accurate information that aids their informed decision-making.
By example, during my recent investigations into the trade in dog and cat meat in SE Asia, it has been important to engage with the local communities to understand their motivations for the trade. This has helped to formulate an awareness-raising campaign as a viable option, both regionally and internationally, by focusing on the associated animal cruelty and public health concerns. Incorporating constructive engagement with the authorities, animal rescue and alternative livelihood options. This will likely be the approach taken by our clients, Four Paws International, during their awareness-raising campaign in 2020.
Perceived cultural divides between nations and geographical regions should never been considered an obstacle or a challenge but instead a need to engage, understand and find common ground. From experience, taking this time is likely to deliver opportunity. Particularly, when the realisation is that there are often common goals between stakeholders that then help to deliver tangible solutions to those recurring challenges.
The TAT’s Elephant Wellbeing & Thai Community discussion concluded that there is a need for a collaborative approach, whereby stakeholders need to work together, and be willing to compromise their position, in order to deliver meaningful change. In my humble opinion, this approach should be tried and tested in all eventualities where cultural divides are perceived. Otherwise the recurring challenges for the travel industry in relation to animal involvement in tourism (as well as with other issues) are unlikely to be resolved.
If you would like to find out more about ANIMONDIAL’s collaborative work to improve the welfare of captive Asian elephants or address the associated risks of the dog and cat meat trade, please contact us or, if you haven’t already, sign up to our monthly newsletter.
On World Tourism Day (27th September) there is no better time to take stock and consider our actions, the implications of our actions, or the consequences of not taking any action at all.
Ill-thought through actions, can cause irreparable damage, whereby tourism has negatively impacted on the environment, natural habitats, people and wildlife, but when managed well, tourism can be a force for good.
It is indeed heartening to see many tourism businesses now embracing a responsible and sustainable approach. This is evidenced to deliver cultural, social, economic and environmental benefits and influence meaningful change. In my capacity as an animal welfare in tourism specialist, with over a decade of experience, I have seen how commercial interests have eclipsed animal welfare concerns. But I have also had the pleasure of working with businesses, such as Thomas Cook, DER Touristik, STA Travel, Audley Travel and Collette, that strive to make a difference by placing animal welfare on their priority list. Importantly, however, animal protection should never be regarded as a ‘green’ option, or a sacrifice of profit, on the contrary evidence indicates that protecting animal welfare throughout the supply chain makes business sense, and enhances reputation and profit.
I believe the main obstacle preventing more travel businesses from adopting animal protection measures, is a general lack of understanding of the complex topic, and an overpowering stigma that making such a commitment will subject the business to intense scrutiny and challenge. It certainly does not have to be that way!
I established ANIMONDIAL, the animal welfare in tourism consultancy, to provide the means for travel businesses to better understand animal welfare, and how to better manage animal activity within the supply chain, whilst respecting commercial interests and brand identity. Our services include a comprehensive review of current practices, supportive training, animal welfare auditing services, and impartial, practical guidance to help businesses make informed decisions on the products they sell.
With more pressures than ever on tourism businesses ‘to do the right thing’ and ‘end the exploitation of animals’, it is a measured, but strategic approach that is required. Just delisting once popular animal excursions or activities as ‘unacceptable’ practices overnight, is likely to cause greater problems. Such action often leaves the in-destination animal attractions, established to meet the demand of inbound tourism, to pick up the pieces and find a tangible solution. I feel that such an outcome is irresponsible. Firmly believing that international tourism should not turn its back on the attractions that it helped to create, and make profit, but use their influence to enforce change.
On this World Tourism Day, ANIMONDIAL considers the biggest challenges for animals in global tourism and encourages travel businesses not to walk away from the problems, but to instead be part of the solution.
By example, in my first Blog, I focused on the outcomes of the elephant riding boycott; reporting that the well-intentioned campaigning against the activity, had in fact caused more complex animal welfare and public safety concerns. Importantly, supplier delisting has not ended elephant riding, on the contrary it is still widely available, and there are now wider concerns over the promotion of misinformation, exploitation, and obscured activity.
The elephant ‘tourist’ camps were established to accommodate the 2,000 displaced, conditioned elephants from timber extraction activity in Thailand in 1989. By the late 1990s, the concept had been established and these elephant experiences soon become the most popular tourist attraction in Thailand, influencing similar activity elsewhere. Today, there are thought to be over 300 elephant ‘tourist’ camps, 4,700 captive elephants and an equal number of mahouts in just Thailand alone, all reliant on the travel industry. Delisting the product is therefore unlikely to safeguard the welfare of the elephants and the mahouts, and consequently an alternative approach must be found.
ANIMONDIAL positions itself at the forefront of such challenges. In fact, working with stakeholders, we are developing a solution for the captive elephant industry in SE Asia that we believe will improve standards, phased-out bad practice, modify the offering and maintain a viable industry for all to benefit (including the elephants!). Expect an update in my next Blog.
This is just one example of many where we feel we can make a difference and I certainly welcome the collaboration with businesses, NGOs and academics in identifying and delivering viable solutions to such recurring animal welfare problems that continue to challenge the global travel industry.
This November, the British Travel Association, ABTA, is likely to publish its revised Animal Welfare Guidelines. Updating the 1 st Edition, published in 2013. I have had the pleasure of working with ABTA, and many of its members, in the development and delivery of their animal welfare commitment for many years. This comprehensive guidance on animal welfare in tourism is a ‘must have’ resource for all travel businesses. However, just a word of caution and encouragement – please take care when considering your actions and the implication of those actions. Clearly it will take time to not only understand the complexities of animal activity and the dependence on some for communities’ livelihoods, but also that the consequences of not taking any action to try to influence positive change, may well have wider repercussions.
Noting that more than 90% of tourists have said it is important for their holiday company to take animal welfare seriously, and the fact that there is impartial guidance readily available, travel businesses now have the means to demonstrate their achievements beyond the pure acceptance of this principle.
Please do not hesitate to contact us to learn more about how ANIMONDIAL’s services can help your travel business deliver an inspirational animal welfare commitment.
This August, as millions of tourists enjoy the excursions offered during their seasonal holiday, travel companies deliberate over their 2020 product offerings. Selecting the right excursions or attractions is essential, not only to ensure vendors meet brand expectations, but further that safeguards are in place to protect against risk. This includes the selection of animal-based experiences, whereby making the wrong choice, as highlighted in my previous Blog, could heighten risk and damage reputation. With increasing talk about animal welfare in tourism, and it is an important topic to consider for product procurement managers.
I have been working with the travel industry since 2004, when I helped create the first guidance for travel businesses on animal welfare in tourist attractions. Since then, animal welfare has risen through the priority rankings and is now included in the sustainable tourism shortlist.
Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Collette Travel, John Sutherland, makes the case:
“Our guests trust us to make the best decisions about who we work with and what types of products and services we purchase. Animal welfare is important to us, and our product offerings need to relate to these values. We strive to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to how we interacted with animals.”
As a Director of ANIMONDIAL, which works with travel companies to better manage tourism’s impact on animals, it is clear to me that these businesses want to do all they can to protect animals. However, this becomes a problem when considering the complex needs of the different animal species involved, the board spectrum of activities on offer, knowing where to start with hundreds of products, or what information source to use. It can be difficult to know who to trust.
ANIMONDIAL is a good place to start. We take an impartial approach, adapted to your needs and brand identify, and coupled with decades of knowledge and experience in the applied animal welfare science, ANIMONDIAL is the animal welfare in tourism specialist.
“It was important to us to work with experts who could review all of our offerings, give us thorough research, and help us determine whether our vendors met our expectations,” explains John Sutherland. “That’s why we chose to work with ANIMONDIAL because we were confident that we will be empowered to make the right decisions.”
Making the right choices, establishing and promoting policy to protect animal welfare, and positively engaging your vendors, or suppliers, to encourage good practice, is the way to go. Taking these steps is likely to enhance brand, increase ticket sales and influence wider, permanent industry change that you can shout about.
Emma Snipp, Head of Safety and Responsible Tourism at STA Travel, recalls:
“Daniel has provided us with invaluable guidance on our product portfolio. With Daniel’s support we have improved the welfare of animals in tourism throughout the STA Travel supplier chain and raised awareness of STA Travel’s stance on animal welfare with consumers and the wider travel industry”
ANIMONDIAL can indeed help travel businesses embed animal welfare safeguards throughout the functions of the business. Together with the UK travel company, Rickshaw Travel, ANIMONDIAL has produced the Animal Welfare in Tourism Starter Kit. Specifically aimed at small and medium-sized travel companies, the step-by-step guide provides impartial advice and practical guidance on how to get started and understand animal welfare in the context of tourism.
“ANIMONDIAL’s insight and clear expertise on animal welfare in tourism, has significantly improved our understanding of the issues at stake. Their guidance in reviewing our animal experiences and helping us develop our animal welfare policies has been invaluable.” – Jim Millwood, Audley Travel.
Furthermore, the ANIMONDIAL partnership with the Preverisk Group provides a range of additional invaluable services for the travel industry, combining Health & Safety knowledge with animal welfare expertise to create a resourced of auditing excellence. Whether that be excursions to view orangutans in Borneo, a visit to a captive animal facility, a donkey ride to a historic site, or a whale-watching experience, our all-in-one services provide for all animal welfare protection needs.
John Sutherland concludes:
“We hope that other tour operators and the travel industry at large will join Collette in ensuring that we are all traveling in harmony with nature.”
ANIMONDIAL’s Starter Kit consists of a guidance manual for business-wide use, and a film specifically produced to aid product management and sales teams. This comes with an offer of a FREE initial consultation to find out how we can best support the individual needs of your business. Reserve your copy here.
Get in touch now to learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s services.
Over my 20 years working for improved animal welfare, a common question I have often been asked, concerns animal sanctuaries, and how to distinguish a genuine sanctuary from a bogus one?
Unsurprisingly these can be tricky to differentiate. Many facilities keeping animals in captivity include words such as “sanctuary”, “rescue” or “rehabilitation” in their name or description. By example I refer to the hundreds of so-called elephant sanctuaries in SE Asia (the subject of my May Blog), which loosely use such words. However, from first-hand experience, few of these facilities appear to conform to the operations consistent with an animal sanctuary. ANIMONDIAL advises all travel businesses, seeking to include an animal sanctuary into their holiday offerings, to first identify whether their operations and objectives are consistent with recognised best practice.
From the definition in the Collins English Dictionary we understand a sanctuary to be ‘a place where [animals] are protected and allowed to live freely’. Whilst the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) and the European Alliance of Rescue Centres and Sanctuaries (EARS), organisations that certify animal sanctuaries, recognise these facilities as providing temporary or lifetime shelter, care and rehabilitation to animals in need. Namely animals that are injured, confiscated, orphaned or abandoned. This was the definition I used when drafting ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines: the comprehensive guidance for travel businesses and suppliers of animal experiences (ABTA 2013).
Genuine animal sanctuaries prioritise the welfare of the animals in their care. Whereby each animal is provided:
- A nutritious diet and an environment consistent with their specific physical, social and behavioural needs;
- A non-exploitative environment, where animals should be able to ‘live freely’, with limited human disturbance (unless for a valid medical or welfare need).
Genuine animal sanctuaries follow operational protocols, which should be readily available, that define their procedures and safeguards to uphold:
- Long-term financial and operational viability;
- Quality animal husbandry and veterinary care;
- A non-breeding policy (where actions are taken to prevent breeding);
- A non-exploitative environment, whereby animals are not bought or sold, used in public interactions or required to perform.
Overall, running an animal sanctuary is hard work. They usual operate on limited resources, constantly fundraising and are run by impassioned people, who constantly strive to improve animal welfare and tackle the very reasons that necessitate their existence. Unfortunately, there are many facilities that do not operate as above, predominantly only sanctuaries by name, appealing to travel businesses, volunteers and tourists through the use of words we associate with kindness. It is vitally important that facilities are investigated or audited before procurement; a service that ANIMONDIAL provides.
During my experience working in the animal welfare protection sector I have been lucky enough to meet and work with some inspiring people who operate animal sanctuaries. A reason why ANIMONDIAL supports many animal sanctuaries, which provide credible alternative experiences to inappropriate animal activities that may no longer be acceptable to travel businesses.
By way of the ANIMONDIAL Blog, it is our hope to inform and guide travel businesses through the minefield of issues that arise when considering tourism’s impact on animals and the natural world. There is little doubt; this is a complex topic. However, ANIMONDIAL exists to provide travel businesses with complete and accurate information, through impartial advice and practical guidance, to enable informed decisions. Everything your business needs to improve its animal and environmental protection credentials.
Please get in touch to learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s work.
Known for their complex social societies, far-ranging travel and remarkable cognitive skills, cetaceans have long been admired. It is therefore not surprising to learn that cetaceans attract tens of millions of tourists a year: this includes visits to captive facilities to watch cetaceans perform daily shows and interactions, to reportedly increasing numbers of tourists choosing to view these animals in the wild.
Much like captive elephants in tourism, the subject of my previous blog, captive cetaceans continue to generate debate in the travel industry. Species experts claim that cetacean welfare is compromised in current captive facilities*, whilst established marine parks insist that they provide practical-based learning that inspires people into action (AMMPA). Whatever your opinion or alliances, it is important to acknowledge: the decline in acceptability in keeping cetaceans in captivity for entertainment purposes; the fact that many travel businesses have decided to no longer offer these activities; and the increasing interest in responsible and sustainable alternatives.
So, what does the future hold for cetaceans in tourism?
Recognising that once popular animal attractions are now falling out of favour, which can place the lives of the animals involved in jeopardy, finding solutions that protect the animals is a journey worth taking. Although complex and fraught with challenges, this is a task that ANIMONDIAL has taken on to support and guide efforts to improve animal protection and minimise negative impacts in global destinations. In my previous Blog, I considered the future for the thousands of Asian elephants involved in tourist interactions, and the necessary collaborative work of stakeholders to modify activities, safeguard livelihoods and improve elephant welfare. A similar approach is needed to safeguard cetaceans in tourism.
When considering the future for cetaceans in captivity, evidenced bad practice needs to end, activities to improve cetacean welfare should be applied, and long-term solutions to current problems need to be enacted. Dolphins First, a strategic perspective being formulated by a group of cetacean experts, endorses an approach that would deliver short-term and incremental improvements to dolphin welfare while longer-term solutions are developed:
- Provide animals with ongoing environmental enrichment, involving a variety of different enrichment objects and activities that encourages species-specific behaviours, to curb behavioural abnormalities;
- Permit animals to access both the holding tanks and the larger display pools during rest time;
- Permit animals unrestricted social contact with each other, unless there are medical issues or social incompatibilities;
- Manage and redirect captive breeding under a conservation and welfare-based regime, controlled by an independent scientific commission in compliance with laws and regulations of international authorities and agreements;
- End the wild capture of cetaceans, unless required for rescue and rehabilitation for release;
- End any public contact and theatrical shows, requiring a focus on educational output: natural attributes and species conservation;
- Invest in the creation of coastal sanctuaries to rehome displaced animals from closing commercial facilities;
- Phase out in-land concrete tanks for coastal facilities by 2040 or as the latter become available.
Cetaceans are also viewed in the wild, and with the growing popularity of whale/dolphin-watching, animals can be subjected to large numbers of vessels carrying tourists. Unless these activities are controlled, the welfare of wild cetaceans can also be under threat. Tourist boats have been reported to chase cetaceans or encroach on their space for close-up experiences, whilst the feeding of, or direct contact with wild cetaceans can cause injury and unnatural behavioural change.
Establishing international standardisation, such as the World Cetacean Alliance’s (WCA) ‘Global Best Practice Guidance for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching’, would improve viewing practices and safeguard wild cetaceans. Whilst initiatives such as WCA’s Whale Heritage Sites recognise destinations making a concerted effort to end captive exploitation and protect wild populations of cetaceans. ANIMONDIAL is supporting the work of WCA to realise these viable solutions.
Working with stakeholders that includes destination partners and suppliers, higher standards in animal welfare can be achieved, ending bad practice and identifying more sustainable and ethical cetacean experiences. For decades the tourism industry has been the primary driver proliferating the numbers of captive cetacean facilities and captive cetaceans; it would be irresponsible for them to now walk away from the problems and instead should do all they can to influence and deliver meaningful change.
If you would like to work together with ANIMONDIAL to phase-out bad practice, improve the protection of cetaceans and define responsible alternative experiences, please get in touch.
ANIMONDIAL is proud to work with Dolphins First, the World Cetacean Alliance and the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary to bring compassion to cetacean tourism.
* Key captivity concerns:
- Keeping cetaceans in small, featureless tanks has a negative impact on physiological, mental and social needs (Waples & Gales, 2002);
- Denied adequate space, wide-ranging carnivores, like cetaceans, develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour (termed stereotypies) and aggression (Clubb & Mason, 2003);
- Limited social environment and unnatural group dynamics lead to aggression and injuries;
- Sedatives are administered to suppress anxiety and aggression (& encourage eating) (Knight 2013);
- Loud music and the regular, repetitive noise of pumps and filters cause significant stress and damage (Couquiaud, 2005; Wright et al, 2007);
- Mothers and calves are routinely, prematurely separated to stock other dolphinariums;
- Performances include conditioned, unnatural behaviours, such as “tail-walking”, the balancing of balls, spinning of hoops, and trainers being pushed and pulled through the water;
- Captive facilities are not self-sustaining (Van Lint et al., 2006);
Captive orcas live shorter lives compared to wild orcas (Jett & Ventre, 2015);
- Captive beluga whales live about half as long as wild beluga whales (Stewart et al., 2006);
- Cetaceans are still captured from the wild to stock dolphinariums (e.g. Cuba, Japan, Russia).
Driven by the ban on timber extraction in Thailand and a devised programme to monetise the thousands of displaced elephants, tourist facilities sprung up across the country in the late 1990s. These offered elephant riding, performances and hands-on interactions, and tourism demand rocketed, attracting private business to the highly lucrative industry. Today, reports indicate that there are over 4000 captive Asian elephants in Thailand, many kept in substandard conditions, housed in hundreds of ‘elephant camps’, and visited by tens of millions of tourists each year. This includes quite a diversity of different models: from the traditional elephant camp, to the so-called ‘hook-free’ and ‘chain-free’ elephant ‘sanctuary’, to observation-only experiences.
This March, I visited 10 elephant camps in Thailand as part of my new role at ANIMONDIAL, the animal welfare in tourism specialist consultancy. The small, but representative selection included traditional camps, offering elephant riding and performance, as well as facilities that are heavily marketed as an ‘elephant sanctuary’. These so-called sanctuary camps appear to have been recently established in response to the elephant-ride boycott and, whilst riding is not offered, tourists can engage in other interactions like elephant bathing, unsupervised contact and uncontrolled feeding.
Whilst my specific findings relating to animal welfare have already been relayed to our client for follow-up, I did want to raise concerns about some of the activities offered by these facilities:
- Importantly a true animal sanctuary should operate a non-breeding and not-for-profit approach. Therefore, a facility that is proactively breeding, commercially trading in elephants, or encourages direct contact interactions, should not be considered a sanctuary or rescue centre.
- A large, wild animal, an elephant can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Therefore, any activity where tourists are in close proximity to, or in direct contact with elephants, there must be constant supervision by a competent mahout. Pregnant or infant elephants should not be involved with tourist activity.
- Elephants require sufficient space to move about freely and comfortably, and to exercise choice, to maintain a healthy condition (Asian elephants can walk between 25km to 200km a day in the wild). Whilst the chaining of captive elephants overnight is commonplace in Thailand, longer chains (up to 20 meters) will permit elephants to interact with their environment.
- Elephant diets should be high fibre and low nutrients and provided in sufficient quantities to permit 16 hours of feeding a day. Food for captive elephants should ideally comprise of 70% browse (freshly-cut branches, grasses, hay) and 30% high-fibre animal pellets. Whilst high calorific foods, like bananas and sugar cane, vegetables and bread, should be kept to a minimum, as large quantities are likely to lead to obesity and related health problems.
These are important factors for travel businesses to consider if selecting captive elephant experiences for your itineraries.
Boycotts may have had good intentions, but they can often result in wider issues of concern that require a greater effort to tackle. The good news is that efforts are underway to standardise the captive Asian elephant industry, improve elephant welfare and safeguard the safety of the tourist. It is an initiative devised by the travel industry, for the travel industry.
For decades tourism has been the primary driver proliferating the numbers of elephant camps and captive Asian elephants, it would be irresponsible to now walk away from the problem and should do all it can to influence and deliver meaningful change.
ANIMONDIAL is collaborating with Travelife for Tour Operators and other key stakeholders to bring compassion to elephant tourism.