Animals in tourism: a risky business

Temple Macaque

How to tackle risk in your supply chain

Animal activities and experiences in tourism can pose a significant risk to both the health and safety of people and animals. Businesses operating or selling such activity should therefore make every effort to assess risk and manage it effectively. However, as with most matters concerning animals, there are multiple factors to consider, not least the fact that there are thousands of species, each presenting different issues. Understanding the potential risks and how to mitigate them is crucial.

Risk mitigation is essential to any business, to protect against financial loss and damage, and to sustain operation in the event of an unforeseen happening.

Risk for tour operators and travel agents that offer animal experiences include the probability that the activity could have a negative impact on the welfare of the animal, or worse, threaten their survival. Equally, the animal interaction may place people – whether a customer or an attraction employee – at risk of injury, or worse. Animals are after all unpredictable, and therefore potentially dangerous in nature.

Consider captive Asian elephants by example. These species are classified as a Category 1, ‘hazardous animal’, by UK Defra’s Hazardous animal categorisation1, noting the species’ ability to “cause serious injury or be a serious threat to life, on the basis of hazard and risk of injury, toxin or disease”. The guidance advises against unsupervised contact or without a suitable barrier between the animal and the public. Yet direct (supervised and unsupervised) contact between elephants and tourists is commonplace and encouraged in elephant camps across Asia. Whereby activities like elephant bathing (considered by some as a responsible alternative to riding) pose significant risks. Having visited such facilities, I do question whether those risks have been duly assessed and considered.

I would recommend that all travel businesses, and their suppliers, assess risk and consult hazardous rating criteria before permitting direct animal interaction of any kind. This applies to all animals, not only those large in stature, but also smaller mammals (such as primates), birds (like ‘birds of prey’), reptiles (including snake species and crocodilians), etc. This should apply to both wild animals in the wild and those in a captive environment. In close proximity to people, particularly when avoidance is prevented, most animals are likely to trigger their ‘fight-or-flight’, stress-response and enact their respective defence mechanism(s) (e.g. teeth, horns, spikes, poison, etc.). On my drafting of ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines in 2012/3, I had included Defra’s hazardous animal classification, and it is included in ABTA’s 2nd Edition of the Guidelines (2019)2 – a valuable resource. For instance, these Guidelines recommend that all elephant contact without a barrier is “Unacceptable”.

It is not only an animal’s ability to cause physical harm that should be considered. Many animals can also carry, or are infected by, disease transmissible to humans. These are known as zoonoses, or zoonotic diseases, which can pass between vertebrate animals, including humans. Zoonoses include bacterial infections, such as Salmonella, but also fungal infections, parasites and viruses (i.e. Ebola, Avian Influenza (H5N1), SARS and coronavirus (CoV)). For instance, holding of a reptile can result in the transference of Salmonella to a person’s hand (which may then be used to pick up food), an animal’s bite might transfer rabies, whilst airborne disease (e.g. Influenzas) can transfer through close proximity. Outcomes can range from mild to serious illness in humans and even death.

Equally, it is important to recognise that human diseases can severely impact on other animals, particularly those closely related species. For instance, a monkey eating a half-eaten sandwich may pick up a cold that could be deadly (and could be transmitted to other members of the troop). It is also not uncommon for tourists viewing primates in the wild, to undergo a medical check-up, and for imposed viewing distances to be no closer than a sneeze can carry.

It is estimated, globally, that zoonoses cause one billion cases of human illness and millions of deaths occur every year. Whilst zoonoses constitute 60% of the reported, emerging infectious diseases, with 75% of the newly detected human pathogens over the last three decades, originating in animals. As the world is increasingly interconnected, emerging zoonoses in one country can potentially constitute a threat to global health security3.

Risk assessments must therefore consider zoonoses, the risk of transference, and implement effective preventative measures.

When it comes to identifying the right measures to prevent the risks of physical injury and zoonotic disease infection, many would advise preventing direct contact between people and animals of wild species (in particular). Although, where that does take place, preventative measures are recommended.

Appropriate preventative measures include:

  • the prevention of transmission through the washing of hands (and other areas, where relevant) with soapy water or effective sanitiser, both before and after the contact;
  • the prevention of infection by not touching or feeding wildlife, or consuming meat from wildlife, or domestic dogs or cats;
  • the detection of disease by screening captive animals (particularly new arrivals) and where relevant, maintaining effective quarantine measures;
  • the control of the interaction through the requirement of appropriate conduct and constant supervision and vigilance.

Whilst, unethical and intrusive preventative measures (not advocated but to be aware of) include:

  • the deterrence of a ‘fight-or-flight’ response: removal of an animal’s claws, teeth or sting (etc.);
  • taping jaws shut;
  • the use of sedatives;
  • the separation of young for hand-rearing;
  • the prevention of the animal’s capacity to avoid participation (such as being held or tethered, or the pinioning of birds – removal of part of the wing or the clipping flight-feathers);
  • Euthanasia, before all other options which preserve life have been considered.

Customers, employees, the welfare of animals and reputations must be protected at all cost.

For a tour operator or travel agency, which may offer thousands of products, or excursions, involving animals (wild and domestic), it is understandably difficult to ensure the appropriate safeguards are incorporated into its operations and supply chain. It requires careful assessment, the identification of risk and the expertise to advise accordingly. As well as knowledge of the plausible risks across all commonly kept animal species!

I am pleased to report that this expertise is now available through the ANIMONDIAL-Preverisk partnership. This unique partnership combines over a decade of animal welfare in tourism expertise with auditing and post-audit excellence. It offers tour operators and travel agencies, and their suppliers, the opportunity to ensure all associated risk is identified, measured and controlled. Furthermore, it ensures that the animal activities and experiences meet appropriate animal welfare standards that includes their protection from fear and distress (mitigating any ‘fight-or-flight’ response). ANIMONDIAL and the Preverisk Group joint services can provide tour operators and travel agencies with all they need to review current activities, mitigate risk and include ‘animal-friendly’ alternatives.

For more information about the ANIMONDIAL-Preverisk partnership and its animal welfare auditing and post-audit services, please contact us or Jonathan Ralph at Preverisk.


Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL

The power of collaboration between businesses and charities to change the world

Brown bear

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?

  1. Consider what big issues you would like to focus upon solving.
  2. Consider what social impact you are able and driven to make to solve these issues.
  3. Consider a strategic NGO partnership with a perfect project to help you solve this issue and help you make dramatic impact on the ground.
  4. 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.

Helen Usher, Director ANIMONDIAL

Sustainable vs Responsible Tourism – that is the question?

(Photo: Jo-Anne McArthur / We Animals)

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.
Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL