Today is Earth Day. A day to celebrate the amazing place where we live, but also a time to reflect on our relationship with Planet Earth and, as ‘normality’ resumes, our reliance upon it.
This last weekend, the British public left their houses en masse. With every reason to celebrate, spend saved up money, and meet loved ones, but we must not forget why we were stuck in our homes for months… Indeed, COVID-19 still presents a significant risk, and as recorded global deaths exceed 3 million, efforts need to focus on bringing it under control, but also to ensure it never happens again.
Earlier this month, the World Health Organisation (WHO) concluded its investigation into the origins of COVID-19. It issued a call to action for global governments to suspend all markets “where live animals are held, slaughtered and dressed”, noting they “pose a particular risk for pathogen transmission to workers and customers alike”. They concluded that COVID-19 most likely originated from a species of bat, infecting humans via another, yet to be identified, animal species. Where the mixing of animal species, usually from unknown origins and of unknown health status, coupled with poor hygiene and housing conditions, provide the ideal conditions for the emergence of new pathogens that include zoonotic viruses (like COVID-19).
Live animal markets were also implicated some 17 years ago, following the SARS pandemic. Then the live animal markets were initially suspended but soon resumed, unchallenged and unchanged, despite the risk.
Whilst SARS was not as deadly as COVID-19, it is a type of coronavirus. Why no action was taken then by the international community is not understood, as on hindsight, their permanent closure could well have prevented COVID-19. Clearly international pressures must be applied today, to end these known incubators of dangerous disease.
But what does emergent disease have to do with Planet Earth?
Evidence unequivocally demonstrates that planetary health, biodiversity, climate change, and emergent disease are interconnected. Whereby the often-exploitative human activity on the natural world (i.e. animal abuse, wildlife trafficking, land conversion, habitat fragmentation, etc.) drives biodiversity-loss and climate change, and further, directly corresponds with a sharp increase in human infectious disease originating from animals (known as zoonoses). Reducing such practices, will likely aid the restoration of nature and reinstate its ability as a protective barrier against disease.
Nature should not only be regarded as the ‘silver bullet’ to lessen climate change (as concluded in ANIMONDIAL’s previous blog), but it is also considered the ‘silver bullet’, to protect us all from emergent diseases. Check out ANIMONDIAL’s 5-point plan to better protect nature.
What can the travel and tourism sector do to help?
The sector has the ability to influence change, particularly in those destinations that rely on tourism revenues. Such action will not only help to discourage animal exploitation, and encourage the better protection of animals and nature, but it also has the means to mitigate future pandemics.
By example, FOUR PAWS, the international NGO is calling on the travel and tourism sector to help bring an end to the dog and cat meat trade, which they evidence to proliferate zoonotic disease in tourism destinations. Their investigations in Cambodia, Indonesia and Vietnam have revealed that up to 30 million companion animals are killed every year for their meat in Asia and are frequently slaughtered in markets alongside other species, contributing to the threat. This is highlighted by this infographic:
Whilst few western tourists are likely to venture to intentionally eat either dog or cat, tourists are exposed to risk in marketplaces, restaurants and along trade routes frequented by tourists. Dogs and cats, along with many mammals, are implicated in the transmission of disease. Most notably the fatal diseases of rabies and cholera but, due the species mixing in the live animal markets, could well be implicated in the next emergent disease.
FOUR PAWS is seeking the support of the travel and tourism sector to raise concern with the authorities and encourage an end to the dog and cat meat trade. FOUR PAWS sets out the dangers of the trade to public and animal health and provides recommendations for future action, in the full report.
The COVID-19 pandemic magnifies numerous systemic problems, including widespread exploitation of natural resources, ineffective environmental protection, social and economic inequalities, and substandard healthcare systems. If we are to truly build back better, actions must break down the silos, exploring the synergies and convergence between climate, biodiversity, and public health.
» Support the FOUR PAWS pledge to protect local people and tourists alike from zoonotic disease
» Sign up to Build Back Better for Animals and nature
- UNWTO (2020)
- IISD (2021)
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.
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)