Year 2020 has been a truly devastating year for the travel and tourism sector, and some may say that it is a completely inappropriate time to encourage business to become more responsible and to better protect animals.
However, this pandemic has demonstrated the outcome of overexploitation of natural resources for economic gain, and the deadly consequences of ignoring expert warnings. Whereby the exploitation of nature, its wildlife, and its limited resources, results in biodiversity loss, climate change, and greater potential of viral emergence. During tourism sector resurgence, there is perhaps no greater need to review and reduce our negative impact to ensure our future resilience.
This is also the view of Prue Stone, Head of Sustainability at the UK-based adventure tour specialist, Explore. As with most travel businesses, 2020 has been incredibly challenging but, despite restricted working hours, company management has fully supported her decision to work with ANIMONDIAL, and others, to create Explore’s animal protection commitment.
In the hope that Prue’s experiences can inspire and guide other travel businesses to create their own business’ commitment to better protect animals – I have asked Prue to share her thoughts:
“Developing Explore’s animal protection commitment was both a necessity and a luxury. The need for change is very real, and the time for change is now. However, in such a challenging time, and noting that it takes time to create a suitable policy, and possibly money involved, it is also a luxury. A balance needs to be found.”
ANIMONDIAL advocates the importance for each business to create their own animal protection policy within their wider sustainability commitment. Ever since I started work with the Federation of Tour Operators in 2004, creating animal protection guidance for travel businesses (that formed the groundwork for ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines), I have advised businesses to create their own unique commitment as the first important step. Defining their next steps.
“I think the process of creating a policy from scratch, or even reviewing an existing one, can become a point of reflection, or internal audit. We all assume we are “doing the right thing”, but when was the last time we actively checked? By writing down clear guidelines, providing explanations and examples, and communicating them clearly through the business and supply chain, you are ensuring transparency and greater understanding. Ultimately it will allow us to move towards a better future for animals and wildlife and encourage others to do the same.”
Knowing where to start, and what to include in your policy is a challenge. Particularly with so many issues, external pressures, and the multitude of animal species and activities available – whilst also seeking to protect local livelihoods – How do you start drafting such a policy?
“I started by reading other companies’ policies, in a variety of industries, thinking about how each of these made me feel. I wanted to create something that felt authentic to Explore, which encapsulates how we operate and what we believe in. But there are so many issues to consider, and no one policy will ever be perfect. I take comfort from this. I didn’t need to create a policy that could be scribed in stone, I needed to create one that was right for us now, and acknowledge that it will change over time. And indeed, the changes that we need to make also take time.”
Unfortunately, it is never the case of one approach fits all, and your animal protection commitment should reflect your companies’ brand values and operations, but are there key principles to include that you would recommend to other travel businesses?
“The most important components of any policy are commitment and support, more so than the finer detail. Commitment from the person or team writing the policy, those that make the operational changes as a result, those communicating the policy and those ultimately adhering to the guidelines on the ground. There also has to be support from the top level of management, to allow for the time this process can take and how it will filter through the business’ operations.”
Tour operators are regularly under pressure by well-intentioned activists to remove certain practices with animals or modify operations. How do you manage these pressures around your commercial obligations, or have you just removed the ‘unacceptable’ activities all together?
“It is important to identify any areas of concern or activities which are known to harm animals and to act quickly in the first instance. However I don’t believe removing all activity is the answer to sustainable industry-wide change and a knee-jerk response may also cause greater detriment. Change comes from working together, learning from one another; across cultures, countries, industries. At Explore we know, we alone will not have the impact that is needed to protect all animals, but if we reach out to our peers, our suppliers and our customers and together we all move in the right direction – then we can start to see the changes that are so desperately needed.”
Consulting experts can help improve understanding and navigate the complexities of the topic, as well as help to predict the likely outcomes if certain activities are removed from product offerings. Explore acquired the support of NGOs Four Paws and the Born Free Foundation, as well as the expertise of ANIMONDIAL. How did that work out for you, and would you advise other businesses to work with experts when creating their animal protection commitment?
“The breadth of advice, the different perspectives, and the challenge this all presented was as important as the resulting policy. One size doesn’t fit all, and each partner added something unique. Four Paws, for example, highlighted the need to weave the community element into our policy, whilst ANIMONDIAL offers a board spectrum of knowledge and are specialists within the travel industry. It was the combination of ideals of “perfect” animal protection with the reality of human nature, our own ethos at Explore, and what we want for our holidays and customers resulted that ultimately defined our commitment.”
» Find out more about Explore’s Animal Protection Commitment
ANIMONDIAL also provides additional guidance to help travel businesses mitigate risk, minimise negative impact on nature and biodiversity, reduce the potential for disease transference, procure appropriate animal-based product and Build Back Better for Animals.
The ANIMONDIAL team wishes our blog readers a Merry Christmas and a New Year full of hope and resurgence.
Perhaps like me you have spent this month hellbent on listening to, and consuming all that WTM Virtual had to offer in the way of reassurances, advice, and inspiration for future travel and tourism?
Unusually for WTM to have the time to listen to the presentations, as well as to take part, has been hugely welcomed. A rare opportunity to hear the sentiments of others, to learn, to connect, and importantly, to think.
“Tourism can be a force for good”, certainly resonates, as well as the urgent call by Ministers “to create a safer, greener and smarter travel and tourism”. I certainly support such sentiments, particular in relation to animal protection and biodiversity regeneration, but whilst an important call to action, there remains difficulty for business to decipher viable actions from such a vision. This is a recurring challenge for travel businesses that want better to protect animals and the natural environment – and why the ANIMONDIAL consultancy was established.
The 2020 Living Planet Index (LPI) presented a stark picture:
- Between 1970 and 2016, there has been an average 68% decline in monitored populations of mammals, birds, amphibians, reptiles, and fish.
- One fifth of the world’s animals and plants – 32,000 species – are threatened with extinction.
- The planet’s biodiversity is in rapid decline, threatening ecosystem viability.
- This threatens our ability to access food and fresh water, medicines and materials, and our capability to combat Climate Change and future viral emergence.
Basically, since 1970, our Ecological Footprint has far exceeded Earth’s rate of regeneration.
There is really no time to waste, we need to act #ForNature.
Encouragingly, I have seen a shift in people’s sense of urgency, and support for action to better protect nature, but there is also a sense of disconnect too that must be addressed.
Perhaps it is so huge an issue that many people feel that action is best left to governments, or it’s the responsibility of big business, or that ending the Covid-19 pandemic has greater importance. These mindsets were considered in the ‘Tourism and Biodiversity, Friend or Foe’ discussion (available at WTM Virtual), which acknowledged the role of business to engage and invest in nature.
The discussion between responsible tourism professionals and conservationists also recognised that Covid-19, biodiversity-loss and the Climate Crisis are inter-related. Failure to protect and regenerate nature will ultimately increase the likelihood of greater environmental challenges, which includes further pandemics. Humanity’s wellbeing, prosperity and survival is therefore dependent on healthy, functioning ecosystems.
Nature is valued and enjoyed by everyone, we must do what we can to protect it.
As tourism businesses, we already know the importance of nature and what it uniquely brings to many destinations across the world. We know travellers are increasingly wanting to include nature in their holidays and ensure measures are taken to minimise negative impact. Tourism can also generate value in nature, influence the protection of key species (such as the Bengal tiger or mountain gorilla) and with tourism revenues, encourage local and national governments to better protect wild spaces and ecosystems.
Tourism, and the thousands of SMEs that underpin the industry, could therefore play a significant role in leading the charge on nature protection and regeneration by:
- Offering greater nature-based tourism product;
- Investing in local communities;
- Working with your suppliers to deliver sustainable activities and solutions;
- Supporting genuine community-based conservation;
- Ensuring only sustainable and responsible activities with animals;
These are obvious and easy steps in the right direction. Although we could do more.
Defining what to do, and how to make a meaningful difference is, however, a complex task. This was a reflection as I completed ANIMONDIAL’s submission to the Business for Nature consultation on the Post-2020 Global Biodiversity Framework. ANIMONDIAL has joined over 600 businesses to urge the world’s governments to set ambitious goals, targets, and policy directions in the lead-up to COP15 on the Convention of Biological Diversity (May 2021). Mobilising multi-sectorial businesses to influence governments to better protect biodiversity is certainly commendable, but it also occurred to me that businesses, particularly in tourism, could further step-up and play a key role. Particularly if those ambiguous visions were translated into relatable and viable actions to optimise output. Whereby overall recommendations to review, reduce and protect are specifically defined for airlines, accommodation-providers and tour operators, for instance. Whilst the SDGs provide important guidance, I would recommend the recruitment of sector and sub-sector champions to help the different businesses optimise on their output.
What is clear is that all businesses, and functions within, irrespective of the sector, must:
- Review their current activities against the SDGs and performance criteria;
- Measure and minimise negative impact;
- Act to better protect and restore nature and its biodiversity.
Check out ANIMONDIAL’s Build Back Better for Animals, supporting the tourism sector.
The other consideration to ponder is should there be ‘a stick’ to encourage those businesses that choose to ignore the urgency, or worse still, proliferate its demise? Justin Francis, WTM panellist and long-term pioneer of responsible tourism, certainly thinks so, he advocates a legal requirement for businesses to ensure biodiversity net gain and penalties for those that do not.
Ultimately everyone needs nature, but nature needs us too.
“In the midst of every crisis, lies great opportunity.” – Albert Einstein
This quote has sprung to mind several times over the past seven months and is perhaps now more poignant to the Travel and Tourism sector than most. According to the World Trade Tourism Council in 2019, prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, the sector supported 330 million jobs globally, and now as we hit the difficult winter season, we are likely to suffer 197.5 million job losses.
This is indeed a time of unprecedented global crisis, a time we switch to survival mode, to save our jobs, and our industry. However, there is STILL opportunity. Not of increased profit and market growth, but of increased global determination to fight an invisible war and build back with a greater respect for nature.
Nature is indeed ‘everyone’s business’. According to the Business for Nature Initiative, over half of the world’s GDP is reliant upon it, and through unsustainable supply chains, we are drawing away more than can be replenished.
At no time in our history has consumer priority towards safety and ethical standards been higher. People are putting their trust in businesses to make things better, and it is suggested that global brands have more influence over public conscious than our political leaders. Through Business for Nature, corporations are calling on governments to adopt policies to reverse nature loss in this decade. This is a journey I am proud to be a part of. This month ANIMONDIAL was honoured to reach the finals of the Lloyds Bank National Business Award for Social Impact for our work to galvanise the amazing work of NGOs and travel businesses through the crisis.
At this time of increased global unity, could we be facing a new revolution? – The Sustainability Revolution. Never have we seen such focus on ethical rights and responsibilities – the rise of veganism and ethical consumerism, the growth of importance of the Global Sustainable Development Goals… and then in walks Covid-19 to knock us all sideways! We need to better protect nature for our own survival. In this blog, I am choosing to focus on the biggest issue of this generation: the survival of Planet Earth, and the role of the travel and tourism sector to lead the way for the Sustainability Revolution…
First of all, let’s look at the problem…
In economic terms, nature is believed to have an estimated value generation of 44 trillion US dollars (equal to over half of the world’s total GDP!) However, humanity’s negative impact on the planet is not only contributing to the Climate Change Crisis but also increasing the occurrence of animal-to-human (zoonotic) infectious disease such as Covid-19. In fact, over 60% of all known diseases discovered in the last 50 years originate from animals and spread to us when the protective barrier of nature has been jeopardised.
But why should all this matter to us, the travel sector?
- The lack of tourists visiting national parks may well have stemmed the tide of negative impact caused by ‘over-tourism’, but the lack of revenue has resulted in less money generation for conservation efforts.
- With wildlife tourism supporting over 30million jobs, lockdown puts a huge strain on local communities.
- With park staff and anti-poaching patrols losing employment, threatened wildlife, such as the highly endangered pangolin or black rhino, are left increasingly vulnerable to further persecution.
- Tourism itself, puts an enormous stress on the natural environment, and encourages greater contact between nature and people, thus heightening exposure of viral transference.
- And of course, other animal species are at risk of catching the virus and passing it on. Malayan tigers at the Bronx Zoo contracted Covid-19, whilst non-human primates are also highly susceptible. As projects are struggling for funds to continue their conservation work – we are at risk of losing some of our most vulnerable animal species.
Recognising that up to 60% of holiday excursions or experiences, and up to 96% of all tourism activities in Asia, involve animals and nature, we must all take positive actions right now.
The good news, however, is that the Covid-19 pandemic has led to some ground-breaking positive change for animals and nature. As human activity has reduced, nature has taken advantage! There have been encouraging reports of re-wilding of urban areas. We have seen wildlife – from coyotes, spotted at the Golden Gate Bridge – to wild horses grazing in downtown Washington DC. In Asia, China is closing live animal markets and announcing a ban on wildlife consumption. And one of Southeast Asia’s most iconic tourist destinations, Siem Reap has taken major strides to protect dogs and cats by banning their trade and consumption.
Taking all of this into account, what steps can we take at this challenging time to aid our recovery and rebuild the travel and tourism sector for the better protection of the planet?
Step 1: Look inwardly
Whilst operations are grounded, this is a rare opportunity to review them – to return more effective and make the protection of animals and nature an integral component of our tourism agenda. Here are some ideas:
- Adopt new animal and nature SDG commitments for your business and ensure these are ingrained into all your business practises and operations.
- Use this opportunity to audit your tourism experiences that involve animals or nature to identify and mitigate risk of zoonotic disease transfer and negative local impact.
- Encourage activity-suppliers to adopt their own animal protection commitments through selling only responsible and sustainable experiences, and supporting suppliers to improve standards, avoiding loss of local livelihoods.
- Educate customers about animal and nature protection. Use this time to create new customer guidelines and educational materials to engage their interest and report any questionable activities.
Step 2: Collaborate!
‘Nature is everyone’s business’! Changing our relationship with nature is too great a task to do on our own. Working together we can make big impact for the better protection of animals and nature in tourism.
- Sign up to the World Trade Tourism Council Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade and the International Wildlife Trade Zero Tolerance Policy to to support the protection of endangered species.
- Join the World Economic Forum’s Business for Nature initiative, engaging governments to reverse nature loss by 2030.
- Support global tourism solutions: Work together to establish and invest in new solutions to some of the biggest, long standing issues for animals and nature in tourism.
- Work with NGOs to deliver meaningful change: This can be as simple as signing a pledge, donating skills or funds to help them deliver their work or including projects within holiday portfolios.
Step 3: Shout about it!
For the marketeers amongst us: do not let all this good work go unnoticed! Speak to colleagues and ask them to tell you what actions your company is taking to help save the planet and then shout about them! Tell amazing stories and win over the hearts and minds of customers by building your brand as one that cares for the planet! And importantly, use your influence to inspire others to follow your lead.
When lockdowns ease, we have a choice of returning to unsustainable ‘business as usual’, or to take greater responsibility moving forward. So, perhaps now is our chance to take stock, hit reset and set new intentions towards a better future. Join the new revolution and leave your legacy to save nature and save ourselves!
For all travel businesses keen to know more about how to Build Back Better for Animals,
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This spring I was asked to help with the 2nd Edition of The Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS): a comprehensive, voluntary guide to support tour operators, destination managers and guides, evaluate and improve travel guide quality and performance. The ATGS is due to be published in October 2020; a ‘must have’ for travel businesses seeking to Build Back Better.
Anyone who has travelled off the beaten track, enjoys exploring wild places, or prefers a more immersive travel experience may have had the pleasure of being accompanied by a tour guide. Not only do they provide ‘the face’ of the tour operator and keep us safe, but they can also provide a gateway to an immersive, and quite possibly, a transformational experience. Whereby a holiday, or tour, becomes educational and inspirational, as well as enjoyable.
Certainly, from my experience, the guide is an integral contributor, but I have also found that the opportunity to educate, and encourage responsible practices by guests is often lost. Particularly when their desire to interact with animals can place people at risk, jeopardise the welfare of animals, and taint the values of the tour operator.
It was therefore a welcome opportunity to contribute to the ATGS, ensure its alignment with industry animal protection guidelines, and incorporate relevant guidance to encourage responsible animal tourism.
It was also a pleasure to meet Myles Farnbank, Head of Guides and Training at Wilderness Scotland. Myles is an experienced wilderness guide with many years of sea kayaking, canoeing, sailing and mountaineering in some of the worlds wildest places. He is also a guide trainer and consultant. I have asked Myles to provide a Guest Blog for ANIMONDIAL. He considers the role of the tour guide, the importance of an international guiding standard, and the future for tour guiding.
Adventure travel has grown rapidly in recent decades. It has led to an increase in demand for professional adventure travel guides and, in turn, the need for accessible training and clear universal adventure travel guide qualifications and performance standards. Wilderness Scotland aspire to offer clients world class adventure travel experiences. Put another way, we aspire that our experiences are potentially transformational. We can’t guarantee this, as what is transformational for one person may not be for another.
However, we can aim to increase the potential for transformational experience. To do this well requires careful thought, planning and skill on the part of the guide and of course appropriate training that supports these aspirations.
Adventure travel guides are central to the delivery of professional, responsible and memorable adventure travel experiences. They manage safety and risk and ensure the overall quality of the participant’s experience while safeguarding the adventure travel company’s and the destination’s reputation. Moreover, adventure travel guides have a critical role to play in delivering and educating about sustainability with a focus on climate emergency, biodiversity preservation, and the social impacts of global tourism.
For a tour operator, when considering the inclusion of a guide, must consider the need for, and evaluate their ability to:
- Provide safe and challenging experiences
- Provide the highest level of customer service & hospitality
- Represent the company ethos & values
- Be advocates for the local communities, wildlife and landscapes
- Be destination and activity ‘experts’
- Be skilled in group dynamics, communications, leadership and marketing…
- Be flexible, fun, engaging and spontaneous
Being a guide involves a large and varied skill set.
“To be a guide you’ve got to be an expert in lots of different things: wildlife, culture, history, politics, you name it. You have to be a diplomat, a nanny, a psychiatrist, a paramedic, a cheerleader, you’ve got to be all sorts of things. You’ve got to be super-human.”
The range and availability of training for adventure travel guides varies greatly depending on where you are in the world. Some countries have well established training, qualifications and protocols in some cases tied into legal frameworks. In other countries there is literally no training available other than what a business or guide may have created themselves.
In an effort to bring together one integrated Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS), in 2015 the Adventure Travel Trade Association (ATTA) convened a working group of adventure travel professionals from 16 countries, including guides, business owners and tour operators. The ATGS is to be revised every 5 years, first by the working group and then through a public comment period. The 2nd edition has been revised between August 2019 and September 2020. It is to be released to the public in October 2020.
The ATGS is a framework businesses and guides can sign up to and use as the basis for their in-house guide training, as well as informing the development of formal qualifications. We at Wilderness Scotland use the ATGS in developing our guide training offer. Our award winning 12 day Wilderness Guide Training Programme, the first of its kind in the UK, used the ATGS as a framework.
The ATGS is based around five core competencies which have been identified as essential for adventure travel guides regardless of geography or activities:
- Technical Skills
- Safety and Risk Management
- Customer Service and Group Management
- Natural and Cultural History Interpretation
I have been involved in the working group for both editions. In this latest review I led a team focussing on the Sustainability competency. Daniel at ANIMONDIAL has been a crucial help reviewing the content around animal welfare in tourism. Our relationship with animals has been brought into even more sharp focus with the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic has had a huge impact on tourism globally with many businesses and guides fighting for commercial survival. However, tourism is slowly recovering and developing training and protocols around the ‘new normal’. The need for well trained and experienced guides providing both transformational, sustainable and responsible experiences is more important than ever.
The 2nd Edition of The Adventure Travel Guide Standard (ATGS) will be published in October 2020 and accessible through ANIMONDIAL’s October newsletter. It will provide the means for tour operators to evaluate the quality and performance of their guides, encourage tour guides around the world to advocate and apply sustainable and responsible practices, and support the travel and tourism sector Build Back Better for animals, people and nature.
ANIMONDIAL’s new initiative to guide and advise the travel and tourism sector to ACT #ForNature.
There is no better time, or need, to work together to build a fairer and more resilient society that is kinder to animals and the planet; through clear and achievable objectives and actions.
As the travel and tourism sector focuses on its recovery in what is still a highly challenging time, the UNWTO has called on the industry to “Build Back Better”, and deliver a fairer, more sustainable, and responsible future. Scientists to business leaders have urged industry-drivers and policymakers to ACT #ForNature. Whilst animal protection NGOs advocate an end to wildlife consumption, captive animal exploitation, and intensive food production.
These are all well-intentioned objectives, but my fear is that whilst businesses may support a more sustainable approach, few will enact these recommendations without clearly defined, quantifiable outputs.
Keen to help the travel and tourism sector “Build Back Better”, ANIMONDIAL, the specialist consultancy advocating responsible animal tourism, aims to help businesses Build Back Better for Animals.
Combining its expertise in animal welfare science, sustainable tourism development and social impact, ANIMONDIAL is offering a one-stop-shop of capacity-building and enhancing services to help businesses:
1. Maximise their positive impact
A healthy natural environment is intrinsically linked to the health of natural ecosystems, animals, and people.
If managed well, tourism can influence the better protection of nature and its biodiversity, valuing and investing in nature conservation and ecosystem services, creating jobs, and supporting local livelihoods. However, if poorly managed, tourism tends to exploit nature, its wildlife, and its limited resources, resulting in biodiversity loss, Climate Change, and greater human-wildlife challenges.
As explained in a previous ANIMONDIAL blog, a healthy natural environment is intrinsically linked to the health of natural ecosystems, people, and other animals, as well as vital for tourism productivity.
ANIMONDIAL’s ‘Animal-Friendly HealthCheck’ includes a review of existing animal-based activities, supplier auditing capacity, and advice on product selection and outward facing communications. This provides travel businesses all that is required to better protect animals and the natural environment.
2. Build resilience against public health risk
An incredible 70% of all human diseases discovered in the last 50 years originate from animals.
The World is now conscious to the fact that Covid-19, is a zoonotic disease, of animal origin, that had developed by a coronavirus jumping from animals to humans. However, whilst minimising close contact between people and animals, is an obvious solution, it is not a viable solution, considering animals are a vital resource for our enjoyment, comfort, livelihood, food, health, and survival.
In tourism, interaction with animals and nature is increasingly popular, with up to 60% of holiday activities involving animals (ANIMONDIAL) and 96% of travellers to the Asia Pacific undertaking a wildlife tour (UNWTO 2019); not least the 9 million livelihoods dependent on wildlife tourism.
ANIMONDIAL will help you establish safeguards in your operation and supply chain that will protect both people and animals from zoonotic disease, whilst an expert review of currently practices will identify and mitigate any high-risk activity.
3. Combat illegal wildlife trade
Sustainability can no longer be regarded as an ‘aim to have’, but an integral component of all that we do.
Ending the illegal wildlife trade is essential to protecting global biodiversity and controlling the emergence and spread of zoonotic diseases. Generated and proliferated by huge profits and minimal risk, the unsustainable trade threatens the survival of thousands of ‘endangered’ animal and plant species that are integral to the good health of the natural environment.
Travel businesses should work with their suppliers to ensure they do not sell or promote the sale, or transport of unsustainable wildlife or their products, and ask their customers not to pick up, collect or buy live, or parts of animals or plants.
As a biologist, it is often difficult to review some animal experiences objectively. Particularly when poor practice or negative impact is identified.
However, at a time when travel businesses are under greater scrutiny over the animal activities they sell, it is vital that any such decision is based on accurate and complete animal welfare assessment. This will help to identify any shortfalls against requirement and evidence to substantiate the need for improvements. ANIMONDIAL advocates this approach over the proverbial ‘stop sale’ (when a tour operator no longer sells an attraction), instead opting for constructive engagement, encouraging attraction-providers to make the required improvements. Stopping the sale of an attraction, relinquishes any influence over their activities. So, whilst tourism boycotts may well raise awareness about an issue, from experience they usually do little to address the concerns and can even make matters worse.
ANIMONDIAL offers travel businesses the chance to improve the protection of animals in tourism through working with attraction suppliers and non-profits, supporting carefully selected meaningful courses, and by providing their customers with guaranteed animal-friendly experiences.
5. Build back trust in travel
There is a distinct need for the travel and tourism sector to do more to minimise its impact on animals and the natural world to win back public trust.
Media has reported low public trust in travel, exacerbated by the covid-19 crisis. Animal protection NGOs continually criticised their perceived exploitation of animals in tourism, whilst the industry’s contribution to Climate Change is well documented.
ANIMONDIAL is keen to ensure those tour operators and travel agents, and animal-attraction suppliers, that actively seek to minimise negative impact, are duly recognised and rewarded.
ANIMONDIAL wholeheartedly supports the well-intentioned calls for decisive action by the travel and tourism sector to become more sustainable, resilient, and responsible. However, recognising that it may not be possible for the majority to achieve this on their own, ANIMONDIAL is offering its extensive knowledge and experience in animal welfare and nature protection to build a fairer and more resilient society that is kinder to animals and the planet.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority that determines species’ conservation status, there are more than 32,000 species threatened with extinction1. That’s a third of all assessed animal and plant species on Earth in need of protection!
We are accustomed to hearing about the conservation of tigers, gorillas, elephants, and even pangolins, but less so about the bog turtle, the short-legged horned toad, or even the basking shark. In fact, studies have revealed that the public places less importance on the conservation of threatened species with name that evokes negative emotions2, with the large, charismatic, terrestrial mammals the most popular3. Even though mammals are proportionally (26%) less threatened than other animals (Classes), compared to 41% of amphibians, 34% selected reptiles, 33% reef-forming corals and 30% sharks and rays.
Species conservation programmes, which are reliant on funding and public support, also tend to focus on those popular, charismatic animals, referring to terms, ‘surrogate’ or ‘flagship’ [species]: implying that less charismatic species benefit too. Although there is plenty of debate suggesting that this is simply not the case, with the less appealing threatened species losing out, even though their protection may be more urgent in ecological terms4. Consider sharks as an example, of the 500 species, 30% are classified as threatened, yet their image remains stigmatised by Hollywood movies.
I invited Dr Erich Ritter from SharkSchool, a member of ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network, to provide a different insight:
Consider this: one of ecotourism’s last frontiers is to freely interact with sharks. At a time, when swimming with dolphins continues in popularity, sharks still give most people a fright! But the real animal could not be further from the truth. Most of these magnificent species pose little threat to people. In fact, of the known 500 shark species, just a few individuals of 6 to 10 species contribute to 99% of the 60 to 80 incidents per year.
Sharks are the most abundant, top predators on the planet and are vital to maintaining an intact marine ecosystem. Their protection is therefore integral to a healthy marine environment – the largest of all ecosystems. So, we must do everything possible to learn to appreciate these animals, dissolve the stigma, and protect shark species, to protect the oceans.
I am encouraged that more and more scuba divers and snorkelers are starting to interact with sharks, on their own terms, but greater efforts are needed to introduce the general public to sharks and in the right context. For instance, cage-diving, seems counter-productive which it is, if there is no educational value. Include education value, and the experience becomes a lot more interesting and assures people an understanding of these animals and how they live. Unfortunately, however, too many shark tours lack an educational component, sensationalise the experience, and inject further fear into its participants. Sadly, few operators realise the unique position they are in, to spread the word.
Overall, sharks are misunderstood. People mistake their appearance, intelligence, and curiosity as “dangerous” animals. At SharkSchool, we aim to educate people about sharks, to appreciate their natural attributes, and in their environment, how to react around them. Our approach is based on the latest research and my many years of experience interacting with these species. Only when people fully appreciate these beautiful animals will their protection be assured.
At a time when nature conservation and species protection is as important as ever, least for our own survival, can we afford to pick and choose a species for protected, based on how it appears?
In my May blog, I had considered the importance of Nature Conservation, noting nature consists of a fabric of interconnecting relationships of multiple species. Any loss of biodiversity, such as its top predator (such as the shark), destabilises the ecosystem, not only devastating for nature; but equally, for ourselves. Focusing on the ‘popular’ species is clearly not enough, particularly if that skews priority from those environments where put simply, ‘charismatics’ do not reside.
By learning and appreciating more about the different species around us, including those that are perhaps consider less charismatic, could well ensure a more effective approach to Nature Conservation.
- Learn more about SharkSchool and its work to better protect sharks
- Learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network, supporting non-profits that protect animals and the natural environment
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ https://www.iucnredlist.org/
- Gregg et al. (2020) Many IUCN red list species have names that evoke negative emotions. Human Dimensions of Wildlife
- Albert et al. (2018) The twenty most charismatic species
- Kontoleon A & Swanson T. (2003) The Willingness to Pay for Property Rights for the Giant Panda: Can a Charismatic Species Be an Instrument for Nature Conservation? Land Econ. 2003;79: 483–499.
World news during the COVID-19 lockdown has been full of reports documenting what appears to be a revitalised nature. As human activity – industry, transport, and tourism – has stopped during global lockdown, levels of air, water and noise pollution have dramatically dropped, and nature has taken advantage. So much so, there have been encouraging reports of rewilding of urban areas. Where wildlife, from coyotes, spotted at the Golden Gate Bridge, to deer, wild horses and boar seen gazing in downtown Washington DC, Izmir and Barcelona, to dolphins observed swimming in Istanbul’s Bosphoros and the canals of Venice, have seemingly taken advantage of the lack of humans.
In my last blog, I considered humanity’s negative impact on nature and how our activities are causing heightened loss of biodiversity, which in turn, threatens our own existence. Now that human activity is reduced, due to the COVID-19 lockdown, it presents a unique opportunity to see if, and how nature will take back control, but further how humanity can better manage its negative impact on nature.
For instance, the lack of tourists visiting national parks may well have stemmed the tide of negative impact caused by ‘overtourism’, but the lack of tourism revenue has resulted in park staff losing their employment, ending anti-poaching patrols and wildlife monitoring, and local people, their livelihoods. However, this has caused other pressures, with conservation NGOs raising the alarm that threatened wildlife are suffering from heightened illegal logging and wildlife poaching.
ANIMONDIAL’s Animal Protection Network partner, the Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation recognises both the positive and negative consequences of the pandemic:
“Whilst COVID-19 has greatly impacted our research and conservation work due to travel restrictions, this unique situation has provided a unique opportunity to monitor marine ecosystems, which for the first-time face reduced human impact and minimal underwater noise pollution. It has also given Archipelagos more time to devote to the continued development of the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary. Once complete this will provide refuge for dolphins, seals, and sea turtles threatened by the immense impact of human activity on our seas and our planet overall.”
Elsewhere, wildlife reliant on humans for food, have ventured into urban areas in search of food. The deer from Japan’s Nara Park and primates in Lopburi Thailand, who are usually fed by tourists, have invaded city streets during the lockdown to find food. Their dependency on ‘free’, and likely calory-rich foods, from people has altered their natural feeding behaviour.
Whereas animals kept in a captive environment, who are also dependent on people for food, but lack the freedom to search for it themselves, are completely dependent on their carers. However, their presence, and the quality of care they provide is often dependent on revenues raised through ticket sales, government subsidised and donations, which have all but stopped the last three months.
This sense of purpose and responsibility for animal protection is evidenced by one of ANIMONDIAL’s partners, Ape Action Africa, a sanctuary for rescued primates in West Africa:
“Our initial challenge was to do everything possible to protect our rescued primates from the risk of COVID-19. Enhanced health and safety protocols were put in place, and our team began living permanently on-site; education and community programmes were suspended, and our doors were closed to the public. Though these steps have so far been effective in keeping our endangered gorillas, chimpanzees and monkeys safe, their future is by no means secure. Our income has dropped dramatically, and we are facing the biggest funding crisis in our history. We have cut our costs as far as possible, but we have to provide care for our 280 rescued primates, and our financial reserves are rapidly diminishing. We would ask anyone who is in a position to support our work to please donate and help us keep caring through these incredibly challenging times.”
Equally, the lack of tourism revenue has been tough on animal-based attractions. Reports from Thailand reveal that most of the 300+ elephant tourism venues have closed. The lack of income and restrictions on business operation has meant that many of the elephants have had to leave the venues and return home. This includes the elephant “centrals” like Ban Taklang Elephant village in East Thailand. Here the elephants’ sustenance and shelter has become the responsibility of their original owners who, before the pandemic, had survived off the rent of their elephants to the tourist camps. Now with no income, their future, that of their families and their elephants are becoming increasingly desperate.
If these hardships continue, only the most resourceful will survive. As demonstrated by ANIMONDIAL partner, the Mahouts Elephant Foundation, which runs ethical elephant-based experiences in northern Thailand:
“Overnight there was a complete stop in guest bookings that included international school groups, our own annual study abroad field course and some ground-breaking exciting research. All income came to an abrupt halt which is a huge challenge for any organisation. Whilst we have re-scheduled some bookings for later in the year, it will take some time for things to return to pre-pandemic normality. We are a highly skilled team on the ground and I am so incredibly proud of our team for re acting with professionalism and a passion for the work we do, everyone without exception has pulled together and due to some emergency funding we are keeping our whole team intact. We are continuing with planned infrastructure work, offering those in the community intensive English lessons and teaching mindfulness to key members of the team. We are excited to re-launch our guest programme as soon as travel is open again.”
Whilst it is fair to say that wildlife in the wild has had some respite from destructive human interference, it is perhaps premature to state that nature as made a comeback. However, these 100 days have given us a chance to take stock and change the way we think about change. Ultimately, whether this pandemic is good or bad for the environment depends not on the virus, but on humanity. As lockdowns are eased across the world, we have a choice of returning to unsustainable ‘business as usual’, or to take responsibility for our actions, protect nature, and work towards a better future.
ANIMONDIAL seeks a better world, where tourism is kind to animals. During COVID-19 pandemic, it is offering non-profit organisations access to FREE support and guidance through its ANIMAL PROTECTION NETWORK. Whilst tour operators have the chance to include responsible alternative animal activities in their holiday offerings. If you are interested in finding out more, drop us a message.
Last week I set about drafting the monthly blog for ANIMONDIAL with a focus on “Endangered Species Day” (15 May), to acknowledge its 15th Year Anniversary, but it wasn’t working for me. As I pondered how to bring together so many interconnecting streams of thought, I soon became embroiled in a complexity of message – as opposed to practical application. The protection of threatened species, ecosystems, and global biodiversity sounds good on paper, but advice and guidance to help the spectrum of different businesses to fulfil such broad objectives is often lacking.
In the travel and tourism sector, various policy incentives exist, but few include supportive guidance and viable actions that would be applicable to small to medium-sized businesses. I hope that this blog will go some way in helping travel businesses play their part.
On “Endangered Species Day”, we are reminded of the importance of protecting species, particularly those classified as ‘endangered’. These are species whose population has declined between 50 and 70% with the decline measured over 10 years or three generations of the species, whichever is longer. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), a global authority that determines species’ conservation status, there are more than 31,000 species threatened with extinction1. That’s almost a third of all assessed animal and plant species on Earth! Moreover, with each species having relevance within a wider fabric of interconnecting relationships (commonly referred to as ‘Nature’), a loss of a species could well result in a greater loss of biodiversity. Since the inauguration of “Endangered Species Day” (2006), the number of threatened species has doubled!
Biodiversity loss is primarily a result of two factors: the loss of natural habitat and a loss in genetic variance. Both occur naturally, but it is the relentless intensity of human activity that continues to have the greatest impact. The removal of vast areas of native habitat for industry, housing and agricultural development, soil degradation from overuse and pollution, to the overhunting and poaching of wildlife, are all considered major drivers in species displacement and extinction.
The World Economic Forum (WEF) ranks biodiversity loss in the top five threats humanity will have to face in the next ten years. In a recently published report2, it acknowledges that “Nature underpins our prosperity and wellbeing by providing economic value and security, supporting human development and equality, and increasing our resilience to climate change.” In economic terms, Nature is believed to have an estimated economic value generation of US$44 trillion (that’s over half of the world’s total GDP). However, despite this, humanity’s negative impact on other species, ecosystems, and global biodiversity is not only contributing to the Climate Change Crisis but, also increasing the occurrence of animal-to-human (zoonotic) infectious disease (e.g. COVID-19)3. This demonstrable connection between the health of animals, natural ecosystems and the health and welfare of humans was a focus of my March 2020 blog.
Humanity appears to be destroying the very resource we should value the most. We must therefore act now to save nature; to save ourselves.
Many people are wondering when life will get back to ‘normal’ after the COVID-19 crisis. Can we not use this opportunity to learn from our mistakes and build something better?
I realise these are already difficult times for the travel and tourism sector but, perhaps there is no better time to take stock and review previous operations – to return more efficient and effective. Importantly, ‘sustainability’ can no longer be regarded as an ‘aim to have’, but an integral component of all that we do. Tourism needs to review its relationship with animals and nature. Specifically, to identify, measure and better manage (or even to minimise) negative impact.
Simply adopting an in-office policy to “recycle, reuse and reduce” should no longer be considered enough to reverse nature’s demise and ensure our future security. Instead, this kind of initiative must be one of many within a multifaceted, strategic approach to optimise output. Involving all departments within your business as well as stakeholders across the supply chain.
Knowing that something needs to be done is the first step towards success, but knowing what to do and how to do it, is often the issue. ANIMONDIAL, the global tourism consultancy specialising in responsible animal tourism, is here to help cut through the complexity to identify tangible actions that are right for your business.
What can I do to better manage my impact on animals and the natural world?
Reduce your company’s negative impact on nature
- Adopt animal welfare and protection principles, advocated by ANIMONDIAL and the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines4, and offer only responsible tourism activities with animals and respectful wildlife viewing practices that uphold good welfare standards. Receive a bespoke service from ANIMONDIAL.
- Evaluate all your tourism activities / experiences that involve animals to identify and measure risk, end inappropriate activity, and seek to improve standards in animal welfare.
- Discourage your suppliers from sourcing animals from the wild; unless there is a demonstrable and justifiable conservation need. If in doubt, contact the national CITES Management Authority5.
- De-list tourism activities / experiences that involve the hunting of wild-born or captive-bred animals for the purposes of sport, trophy, or entertainment.
- Request that your suppliers do not commercially trade, breed or exploit their animals (this includes zoos, aquaria, animal sanctuaries, rescue centres and orphanages6).
- Product procurement teams and Destination Management Companies should inform all suppliers to ensure they do not sell or promote the sale of any of these unsustainable wildlife products. Refer to the European Commission’s Wildlife Souvenir’s Guide7 and use tools to identify threatened species7,8.
- Ask your customers not to pick up, collect or buy animals or parts of animals (including corals, sponges, shells, etc.) or plants (including orchids, seeds, seedlings, etc.) from the wild. Use online tools to identify the conservation status of the species involved1,7,8.
- Ask your airline partners not to transport live animals, trophies or products derived from animal or plant species that are listed under CITES Appendix I or classified as ‘Critically Endangered’ or ‘Endangered’ by the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™.
Invest in protecting and restoring nature
- Audit all of your tourism activities / experiences that involve animals or that take place in Nature to mitigate risk and ensure compliance with your adopted animal welfare and protection principles. ANIMONDIAL partner, Preverisk9, provides endorsed animal protection auditing.
- Adopt a fresh approach to managing associated risk and addressing persistent challenges by investing in solutions as an alternative to the ‘stop sale’ that modify product and tackle poor animal welfare standards. Contact ANIMONDIAL if you are interested in supporting our initiatives to better protect Asian elephants, cetaceans, turtles, and more in tourism.
- Support financially or in-kind projects and organisations that genuinely protect animals and or Nature. Contact ANIMONDIAL to access its list of trusted, community-based animal protection initiatives10.
Collaborate with others to make a difference
- Sign up and contribute to the United for Wildlife Transport Taskforce11; the WTTC BA Declaration on Illegal Wildlife Trade; and the IWT Zero Tolerance Policy12, and work with ROUTES’13 support to implement your commitments.
- Sign up to the World Economic Forum’s Business For Nature initiative, working with governments to reverse nature loss by 2030.
Changing our relationship with nature is too great an issue to be left to the scientists and policymakers. We must all take responsibility, end destructive activity, and strive to return what we have lost. Business (no matter the size) has a crucial role to play, by putting nature at the core of their activity and decision-making, assessing, mitigating, and managing animal and nature-related risk.
ANIMONDIAL is here to help you identify tangible actions that are right for your business.
To help ANIMONDIAL help your business better protect threatened species, ecosystems, and global biodiversity, we want to hear from you! Please complete this 2 minute survey and receive a FREE Animal Protection Health Check. Looking forward to hearing from you.
- IUCN Red List of Threatened Species™ https://www.iucnredlist.org/
- World Economic Forum (2020) Global Risk Report https://www.weforum.org/reports/the-global-risks-report-2020
- World Economic Forum (2020) COVID-19 and nature are linked. So should be the recovery.
- ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines 2019 https://www.abta.com
- UNEP-WCMC & CITES Secretariat, providing information on C US Fish and Wildlife Service, CITES permits and certificates https://www.fws.gov/international/pdf/factsheet-cites-permits-and-certificates-2013.pdf
- ANIMONDIAL (2019) Animal sanctuaries: more than just a name
- European Commission, The Wildlife Souvenirs Guide https://ec.europa.eu/environment/cites/info_souvenirs_en.htm
- CITES-listed species https://speciesplus.net/
- ANIMONDIAL (2020) Preverisk https://animondial.com/partners
- ANIMONDIAL (2020) Animal Protection Network https://animondial.com/animal-protection-network
- United for Wildlife Declaration https://www.unitedforwildlife.org/the-buckingham-palace-declaration/
- WTTC (2018) BA Declaration on illegal wildlife trade https://wttc.org/Initiatives/Sustainable-Growth/illegal-wildlife-trade
- The USAID Reducing Opportunities for Unlawful Transport of Endangered Species (ROUTES) Partnership https://routespartnership.org/
To mitigate the threat of zoonotic disease (like Covid-19), the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, last week, issued a communication that dogs should no longer be considered as livestock, and not eaten. Instead proposing that dogs are reclassified as companion animals. If approved, and enacted into law, this significant policy change may not only end the dog meat trade in China but, it could well result in positive repercussions across Asia. Perhaps even further, a change in the way human society views the use of animals.
According to the animal protection NGO, FOUR PAWS, an estimated 30 million dogs and cats are killed for their meat every year in Asia, including approximately 10 million in Southeast Asia. Their extensive investigations in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam have indicated severe animal cruelty during all aspects of the trade, the suffering of local people whose pets have been stolen for supply and the exposure of local communities, and even tourists, to dangerous zoonotic disease.
Tourism forms a significant part of the economy of their three focus countries, with the national tourist boards all seeking to significantly increase in-bound tourism. Certainly, the risk posed by the dog and cat meat trade is not yet understood by the travel industry. However, this has been considered by FOUR PAWS, noting in its report that people exposed to the trade, from capture to consumption, have contracted diseases like rabies, cholera or trichinella. Furthermore, evidencing that the trade exacerbates the ASEAN region’s inability to fulfil their rabies eradication commitment with a growing number of people, including tourists, attacked and bitten by rabid dogs.
I explained in my last Blog, and now evidenced, it is the keeping of animals (wild and domestic) in cramped, inhumane and unhygienic conditions that presents an unintentional incubator of disease. Infections spread rapidly, and where numerous animal species are kept in close quarters, particularly under poor conditions, zoonotic diseases can jump from one species to another, which may include the infection of humans. Covid-19 is a zoonotic disease.
Whilst the FOUR PAWS in-destination surveys have confirmed that few western tourists are likely to venture to intentionally eat either dog or cat, the visitation by Asian visitors to restaurants serving dog and cat meat is apparently quite frequent. Furthermore, exposure is also acknowledged to cause psychological distress amongst tourists. Reports on TripAdvisor, recount sightings of transported live dogs in cramped cages on the back of motorbikes (near Angkor Wat) in Cambodia, and whilst in Vietnam, there have been reports of live and dead cats and dogs being loaded and transported in the cargo hold of passenger buses for journeys lasting upwards of 18 hours. These sightings, and reports of sightings, are likely to deter travellers, noting 52% of British respondents to a recent poll indicating that they would not visit a country again if they were exposed to animal cruelty (ComRes 2017).
FOUR PAWS evidences that the dog and cat meat trade in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam involves extreme levels of cruelty and suffering, and at every stage, from capture, transportation to slaughter. Exercising extreme methods that will distress you, and that fail to recognise these animals as sentients.
Throughout my career advocating and advancing the importance of applied animal welfare science, thankfully I have rarely come across people who knowingly inflict harm on animals. In most circumstances, community education and national law fail to recognise other animals as sentients (being able to experience pain, suffering and distress), and therefore, human society has often considered other animals as commodities. Encouragingly, however, opinions are changing. Farmers recognise that good animal welfare produces better yields, zoo keepers seek to enrich the physical and mental welfare to maintain healthy animals, and the growing numbers of owners of dogs, cats, and other companion animals, recognise their animals’ have needs, and even personalities. In fact, the travel industry has too acknowledged the importance of upholding high standards in animal welfare. ANIMONDIAL was established to provide travel businesses unparalleled support and impartial guidance in this regard.
In Cambodia, Vietnam, and Indonesia, FOUR PAWS reports that only a small fraction of each national population eats dog and cat meat (Cambodia (12%), Indonesia (7%) and Vietnam (6%)). Neither is it part of a regular diet, with the meat largely consumed during social gatherings, or for perceived medicinal or energy-giving qualities. Consumption was found to be across the demographics. Whilst in Vietnam, where dog and cat meat are considered a traditional cuisine, there appears to be an increasing opposition, particularly because organised criminals are stealing pets to order, or for ransom, threatening their sale into the trade. While the trade is not illegal, there are increasing numbers of authorities and officials denouncing the trade in and consumption of dog and cat meat, which could now manifest following China’s announcement. It should only be a matter of time, with a growing percentage of people in Southeast Asia keeping pets. Although how many more millions of dogs and cats need to be killed before those policy changes are recognised?
FOUR PAWS is reaching out to the international travel and tourism sector. Specifically asking for its support, acknowledging the evidenced risk to public health and animal welfare, and encouraging Southeast Asian governments to follow in China’s example and to assign the dog and cat meat trade to the history books.
FOUR PAWS is specifically asking the international travel and tourism sector to demonstrate their commitment to #ProtectMillions of dogs and cats by supporting this statement:
“As a travel business who sends tourists to Southeast Asia every year, we care not only for the welfare of the people in the destinations our customers visit, but also the welfare of the animals in those destinations. This is why we are concerned by the plight of millions of dogs and cats, many of them stolen pets, that fall victim to the brutal dog and cat meat trade each year. Working with FOUR PAWS, we want to protect dogs and cats, ensure our customers are protected from the significant human health risks, and help influence an end to the trade. We stand united to protect millions of tourists, communities, and animals from the dangers of the dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia.”
Based on extensive research, investigations and on the-ground experience, FOUR PAWS proposes and encourages a number of actions to be taken by the governments of Indonesia, Cambodia and Vietnam to address the dog and cat meat trade and its detriment to so many sectors of society. »Find the full report here
We are largely all now living in uncharted times as COVID-19 takes a stronghold in our countries. Like millions of other people across the World, the British public is in lockdown. Whilst this is time to focus on survival, it is also an important time to take stock and to reset. Then, once this is all over and we resume our usual lives, we do our utmost to do better, and be better businesses. This is certainly the current sentiment of friends and colleagues within the travel and tourism sector.
COVID-19 has been devastating for tourism on so many levels, but within our roles and responsibilities, what actions can the sector do to ensure this kind of disaster does not happen again?
Reports have confirmed that COVID-19 is a disease of animal origin, and like SARS before it, it has likely originated from live animal markets 1. These are marketplaces, predominantly in Asia, where a large variety of live and dead wildlife species are sold alongside dogs and other domesticated animals for human consumption 2. Conditions within these markets are often crammed and unhygienic, presenting an unintentional incubator for many new diseases, carried by wildlife, that go on to infect humans. Anyone who read my last Blog will know about zoonoses (the diseases that normally exist in animals that can transfer to humans) and that the risk of transmission increases when in close contact with animals. COVID-19 is the latest in many such examples of dangerous zoonoses that include rabies, Ebola and the Plague. However, despite the acknowledgement by the World Health Organisation that zoonoses are a significant threat to global health security 3, few actions have been taken to raise greater awareness or impose relevant controls and restrictions.
For the travel and tourism sector, animals are a popular part of many travel experiences and, when managed appropriately, animals can enhance the holiday, improve education around biodiversity and aid conservation. However, studies have indicated that some activities can result in the poor welfare of animals and place people at risk. As acknowledged by ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines, this includes both physical injury risk and disease transmission, which becomes particularly pertinent when interacting with, or in proximity to animals.
Crucially, this is NOT a call, or an excuse, to abandon our pets, end our relationship with animals, or worse, end lives, but this is a wake-up call to recognise the risk of zoonoses and the need to enact measures to prevent risk. China and many other Asian countries have already suspended their live animal markets and trade in wildlife, after the identified connection with COVID-19, but there is no indication that trade will stop, indefinitely. In fact, these markets soon resumed following the SARS outbreak (2003), when similar connections were made.
My impression, and recommendation is that we need to rethink our relationship with other animal species, and specifically review how we exploit and interact with them.
It is not sufficient to just suspend activity for a short while, only to resume when the spotlight is removed – particularly if not doing so places people and or animals at risk.
Identifying, measuring and managing such risk was the topic of my webinar last week (25 March), as part of the Adventure Travel Trade Association’s “Meet the Experts” series. This included my recommendation to tour operators and travel agents to review all their animal-based excursions and in-destination activities to identify high risk and establish safeguards that protect both animals and people. This is specialist work, where I would recommend the expertise and assistance of ANIMONDIAL.
Importantly, it is not only the animal activities offered by tour operators that must be considered as part of your risk assessment. In addition, there are also in-destination, cultural activities with animals that may present a risk to your customers. Consider the live animal markets – a pool of zoonoses – tourists do frequent such places and could be encouraged to touch, eat “exotic meats”, or purchase live or parts of animals (as pets or curios, respectively). Additionally, the NGO FOUR PAWS, currently spearheading a campaign to end the dog and cat meat trade in Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia, estimates that 30 million dogs and cats are killed for meat across Asia each year 4. When I accompanied FOUR PAWS to investigate this trade, I saw numerous motorbikes carrying cages crammed with dogs (being taken to slaughterhouses) on the road to Angkor Wat, and the sale of dog and cat meat in Hanoi city’s tourist zone. Leaving the ethics aside, dog and cat meat trade has been linked to the spread of zoonoses including rabies and trichinellosis, and noting that only a small percentage of the population eats the meat, mainly for perceived health aids, perhaps the costs to life outweigh the benefits?
Overall, I feel that the travel industry should consider all risks and mitigate wherever possible, travellers must be made aware of any risks before they travel, and the tourism sector should use its influence to minimise risk in destinations, or to remove it altogether.
In the hope that we will soon have the COVID-19 outbreak under control and the vaccine is realised, could we, as the travel and tourism sector, do all we can to identify, measure and manage zoonotic risk within our operations? This includes adopting preventative measures, such as:
- Washing of hands before and after any animal contact.
- Screening animals kept in a captive environment for infectious disease.
- Ensuring captive animals are kept in hygienic conditions that offer free-movement.
- Undertaking a ‘health check’ audit of all your animal attractions and experiences*.
- Influencing suppliers to phase-out all entertainment-based animal handling.
- Working with destination partners and governments to permanently close the live animal markets, curb wildlife trafficking, and bringing an end to the dog and cat meat trade.
It will require a concerted, global effort to reset our relationship with animals that is based on respect, commitment and the highest of animal welfare standards.
Join ANIMONDIAL in striving for a world where tourism is kind to animals (and people).
- Find out more about ANIMONDIAL’s work with the travel and tourism sector and organisations seeking to protect animals. Why not join our LinkedIn Group?
- Find out more about the combined animal welfare and health & safety ‘health check’ auditing.
- Read about FOUR PAWS’ dog and cat meat trade investigation findings.
- New York Times (2020) China’s Omnivorous Markets Are in the Eye of a Lethal Outbreak Once Again. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/01/25/world/asia/china-markets-coronavirus-sars.html (Accessed 26/02/2020)
- Dog Meat Free Indonesia (2020) Calls for Indonesia to close down its Live Animal Markets. Available at: https://www.dogmeatfreeindonesia.org/our-work/news/item/celebrities-ricky-gervais-and-peter-egan-join-campaigners-in-calls-for-indonesia-to-close-down-its-live-animal-markets (Accessed 26/02/2020)
- World Health Organisation (2020), Zoonotic Diseases. Available at: http://www.emro.who.int/fr/about-who/rc61/zoonotic-diseases.html (Accessed 26/02/2020)
- FOUR PAWS International (2020) Dog and Cat Meat in Southeast Asia. Available at: https://dogcatmeat.four-paws.org/the-truth/a-four-paws-report-on-the-dog-and-cat-meat-trade-in-the-southeast-asian (Accessed 26/02/2020)