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.
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)