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

Animals in tourism: the importance of choosing appropriate product

This August, as millions of tourists enjoy the excursions offered during their seasonal holiday, travel companies deliberate over their 2020 product offerings. Selecting the right excursions or attractions is essential, not only to ensure vendors meet brand expectations, but further that safeguards are in place to protect against risk. This includes the selection of animal-based experiences, whereby making the wrong choice, as highlighted in my previous Blog, could heighten risk and damage reputation. With increasing talk about animal welfare in tourism, and it is an important topic to consider for product procurement managers.

I have been working with the travel industry since 2004, when I helped create the first guidance for travel businesses on animal welfare in tourist attractions. Since then, animal welfare has risen through the priority rankings and is now included in the sustainable tourism shortlist.

Director of Corporate Social Responsibility at Collette Travel, John Sutherland, makes the case:

“Our guests trust us to make the best decisions about who we work with and what types of products and services we purchase. Animal welfare is important to us, and our product offerings need to relate to these values. We strive to hold ourselves to a higher standard when it comes to how we interacted with animals.”

As a Director of ANIMONDIAL, which works with travel companies to better manage tourism’s impact on animals, it is clear to me that these businesses want to do all they can to protect animals. However, this becomes a problem when considering the complex needs of the different animal species involved, the board spectrum of activities on offer, knowing where to start with hundreds of products, or what information source to use. It can be difficult to know who to trust.

ANIMONDIAL is a good place to start. We take an impartial approach, adapted to your needs and brand identify, and coupled with decades of knowledge and experience in the applied animal welfare science, ANIMONDIAL is the animal welfare in tourism specialist.

“It was important to us to work with experts who could review all of our offerings, give us thorough research, and help us determine whether our vendors met our expectations,” explains John Sutherland. “That’s why we chose to work with ANIMONDIAL because we were confident that we will be empowered to make the right decisions.”

Making the right choices, establishing and promoting policy to protect animal welfare, and positively engaging your vendors, or suppliers, to encourage good practice, is the way to go. Taking these steps is likely to enhance brand, increase ticket sales and influence wider, permanent industry change that you can shout about.

Emma Snipp, Head of Safety and Responsible Tourism at STA Travel, recalls:

“Daniel has provided us with invaluable guidance on our product portfolio. With Daniel’s support we have improved the welfare of animals in tourism throughout the STA Travel supplier chain and raised awareness of STA Travel’s stance on animal welfare with consumers and the wider travel industry”

ANIMONDIAL can indeed help travel businesses embed animal welfare safeguards throughout the functions of the business. Together with the UK travel company, Rickshaw Travel, ANIMONDIAL has produced the Animal Welfare in Tourism Starter Kit. Specifically aimed at small and medium-sized travel companies, the step-by-step guide provides impartial advice and practical guidance on how to get started and understand animal welfare in the context of tourism.

ANIMONDIAL’s insight and clear expertise on animal welfare in tourism, has significantly improved our understanding of the issues at stake. Their guidance in reviewing our animal experiences and helping us develop our animal welfare policies has been invaluable.” – Jim Millwood, Audley Travel.

Furthermore, the ANIMONDIAL partnership with the Preverisk Group provides a range of additional invaluable services for the travel industry, combining Health & Safety knowledge with animal welfare expertise to create a resourced of auditing excellence. Whether that be excursions to view orangutans in Borneo, a visit to a captive animal facility, a donkey ride to a historic site, or a whale-watching experience, our all-in-one services provide for all animal welfare protection needs.

John Sutherland concludes:

“We hope that other tour operators and the travel industry at large will join Collette in ensuring that we are all traveling in harmony with nature.”


ANIMONDIAL’s Starter Kit consists of a guidance manual for business-wide use, and a film specifically produced to aid product management and sales teams. This comes with an offer of a FREE initial consultation to find out how we can best support the individual needs of your business. Reserve your copy here.

Get in touch now to learn more about ANIMONDIAL’s services.
Daniel Turner, Director ANIMONDIAL