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.
- Defra (2012) Hazardous animal categorisation. Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice. UK Government
- ABTA (2019) Animal Welfare Guidelines. Available at: https://www.abta.com/industry-zone/abta-shop/abta-animal-welfare-guidelines (Accessed 26/02/2020)
- World Health Organisation, Zoonotic Diseases. Available at: http://www.emro.who.int/fr/about-who/rc61/zoonotic-diseases.html (Accessed 26/02/2020)
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.