On attending the Elephant Wellbeing and Thai Community event, hosted by the Tourism Authority of Thailand (TAT) at WTM London (November), it occurred to me how important it is to consider an issue from its cultural perspective. Noting that perceived cultural divides between traditional practices, ‘foreign’ opposing views and industry standards can been a significant obstacle when seeking meaningful change.
Take elephants in tourism as an example. This is a hotly debated issue with a range of impassioned views on how elephants should be involved in tourism. Many are based on emotive sentiment, animal welfare science or sustainability ideals, none of which I condemn, but I do feel that more could be achieved, and opportunities realised if thought was given to the local culture, livelihoods and economic relevance. Listening to the owners of the Asian elephant attractions attending the TAT event, it was evident that they feel threatened and confused by the various standards imposed on them by foreign entities. I can understand that point of view, particularly when those ideals rarely consider the status quo or consult such attractions.
As I have come to realise as a Director for ANIMONDIAL, it is of vital importance to engage all stakeholders, understand the many points of view and if you can, see the activity and resulting implications for yourself. Only then can a complete picture be formed, and if required, viable solutions be identified. At ANIMONDIAL, this approach gives us the ability to provide our clients with complete and accurate information that aids their informed decision-making.
By example, during my recent investigations into the trade in dog and cat meat in SE Asia, it has been important to engage with the local communities to understand their motivations for the trade. This has helped to formulate an awareness-raising campaign as a viable option, both regionally and internationally, by focusing on the associated animal cruelty and public health concerns. Incorporating constructive engagement with the authorities, animal rescue and alternative livelihood options. This will likely be the approach taken by our clients, Four Paws International, during their awareness-raising campaign in 2020.
Perceived cultural divides between nations and geographical regions should never been considered an obstacle or a challenge but instead a need to engage, understand and find common ground. From experience, taking this time is likely to deliver opportunity. Particularly, when the realisation is that there are often common goals between stakeholders that then help to deliver tangible solutions to those recurring challenges.
The TAT’s Elephant Wellbeing & Thai Community discussion concluded that there is a need for a collaborative approach, whereby stakeholders need to work together, and be willing to compromise their position, in order to deliver meaningful change. In my humble opinion, this approach should be tried and tested in all eventualities where cultural divides are perceived. Otherwise the recurring challenges for the travel industry in relation to animal involvement in tourism (as well as with other issues) are unlikely to be resolved.
If you would like to find out more about ANIMONDIAL’s collaborative work to improve the welfare of captive Asian elephants or address the associated risks of the dog and cat meat trade, please contact us or, if you haven’t already, sign up to our monthly newsletter.
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.
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.
Known for their complex social societies, far-ranging travel and remarkable cognitive skills, cetaceans have long been admired. It is therefore not surprising to learn that cetaceans attract tens of millions of tourists a year: this includes visits to captive facilities to watch cetaceans perform daily shows and interactions, to reportedly increasing numbers of tourists choosing to view these animals in the wild.
Much like captive elephants in tourism, the subject of my previous blog, captive cetaceans continue to generate debate in the travel industry. Species experts claim that cetacean welfare is compromised in current captive facilities*, whilst established marine parks insist that they provide practical-based learning that inspires people into action (AMMPA). Whatever your opinion or alliances, it is important to acknowledge: the decline in acceptability in keeping cetaceans in captivity for entertainment purposes; the fact that many travel businesses have decided to no longer offer these activities; and the increasing interest in responsible and sustainable alternatives.
So, what does the future hold for cetaceans in tourism?
Recognising that once popular animal attractions are now falling out of favour, which can place the lives of the animals involved in jeopardy, finding solutions that protect the animals is a journey worth taking. Although complex and fraught with challenges, this is a task that ANIMONDIAL has taken on to support and guide efforts to improve animal protection and minimise negative impacts in global destinations. In my previous Blog, I considered the future for the thousands of Asian elephants involved in tourist interactions, and the necessary collaborative work of stakeholders to modify activities, safeguard livelihoods and improve elephant welfare. A similar approach is needed to safeguard cetaceans in tourism.
When considering the future for cetaceans in captivity, evidenced bad practice needs to end, activities to improve cetacean welfare should be applied, and long-term solutions to current problems need to be enacted. Dolphins First, a strategic perspective being formulated by a group of cetacean experts, endorses an approach that would deliver short-term and incremental improvements to dolphin welfare while longer-term solutions are developed:
- Provide animals with ongoing environmental enrichment, involving a variety of different enrichment objects and activities that encourages species-specific behaviours, to curb behavioural abnormalities;
- Permit animals to access both the holding tanks and the larger display pools during rest time;
- Permit animals unrestricted social contact with each other, unless there are medical issues or social incompatibilities;
- Manage and redirect captive breeding under a conservation and welfare-based regime, controlled by an independent scientific commission in compliance with laws and regulations of international authorities and agreements;
- End the wild capture of cetaceans, unless required for rescue and rehabilitation for release;
- End any public contact and theatrical shows, requiring a focus on educational output: natural attributes and species conservation;
- Invest in the creation of coastal sanctuaries to rehome displaced animals from closing commercial facilities;
- Phase out in-land concrete tanks for coastal facilities by 2040 or as the latter become available.
Cetaceans are also viewed in the wild, and with the growing popularity of whale/dolphin-watching, animals can be subjected to large numbers of vessels carrying tourists. Unless these activities are controlled, the welfare of wild cetaceans can also be under threat. Tourist boats have been reported to chase cetaceans or encroach on their space for close-up experiences, whilst the feeding of, or direct contact with wild cetaceans can cause injury and unnatural behavioural change.
Establishing international standardisation, such as the World Cetacean Alliance’s (WCA) ‘Global Best Practice Guidance for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching’, would improve viewing practices and safeguard wild cetaceans. Whilst initiatives such as WCA’s Whale Heritage Sites recognise destinations making a concerted effort to end captive exploitation and protect wild populations of cetaceans. ANIMONDIAL is supporting the work of WCA to realise these viable solutions.
Working with stakeholders that includes destination partners and suppliers, higher standards in animal welfare can be achieved, ending bad practice and identifying more sustainable and ethical cetacean experiences. For decades the tourism industry has been the primary driver proliferating the numbers of captive cetacean facilities and captive cetaceans; it would be irresponsible for them to now walk away from the problems and instead should do all they can to influence and deliver meaningful change.
If you would like to work together with ANIMONDIAL to phase-out bad practice, improve the protection of cetaceans and define responsible alternative experiences, please get in touch.
ANIMONDIAL is proud to work with Dolphins First, the World Cetacean Alliance and the Aegean Marine Life Sanctuary to bring compassion to cetacean tourism.
* Key captivity concerns:
- Keeping cetaceans in small, featureless tanks has a negative impact on physiological, mental and social needs (Waples & Gales, 2002);
- Denied adequate space, wide-ranging carnivores, like cetaceans, develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour (termed stereotypies) and aggression (Clubb & Mason, 2003);
- Limited social environment and unnatural group dynamics lead to aggression and injuries;
- Sedatives are administered to suppress anxiety and aggression (& encourage eating) (Knight 2013);
- Loud music and the regular, repetitive noise of pumps and filters cause significant stress and damage (Couquiaud, 2005; Wright et al, 2007);
- Mothers and calves are routinely, prematurely separated to stock other dolphinariums;
- Performances include conditioned, unnatural behaviours, such as “tail-walking”, the balancing of balls, spinning of hoops, and trainers being pushed and pulled through the water;
- Captive facilities are not self-sustaining (Van Lint et al., 2006);
Captive orcas live shorter lives compared to wild orcas (Jett & Ventre, 2015);
- Captive beluga whales live about half as long as wild beluga whales (Stewart et al., 2006);
- Cetaceans are still captured from the wild to stock dolphinariums (e.g. Cuba, Japan, Russia).
Driven by the ban on timber extraction in Thailand and a devised programme to monetise the thousands of displaced elephants, tourist facilities sprung up across the country in the late 1990s. These offered elephant riding, performances and hands-on interactions, and tourism demand rocketed, attracting private business to the highly lucrative industry. Today, reports indicate that there are over 4000 captive Asian elephants in Thailand, many kept in substandard conditions, housed in hundreds of ‘elephant camps’, and visited by tens of millions of tourists each year. This includes quite a diversity of different models: from the traditional elephant camp, to the so-called ‘hook-free’ and ‘chain-free’ elephant ‘sanctuary’, to observation-only experiences.
This March, I visited 10 elephant camps in Thailand as part of my new role at ANIMONDIAL, the animal welfare in tourism specialist consultancy. The small, but representative selection included traditional camps, offering elephant riding and performance, as well as facilities that are heavily marketed as an ‘elephant sanctuary’. These so-called sanctuary camps appear to have been recently established in response to the elephant-ride boycott and, whilst riding is not offered, tourists can engage in other interactions like elephant bathing, unsupervised contact and uncontrolled feeding.
Whilst my specific findings relating to animal welfare have already been relayed to our client for follow-up, I did want to raise concerns about some of the activities offered by these facilities:
- Importantly a true animal sanctuary should operate a non-breeding and not-for-profit approach. Therefore, a facility that is proactively breeding, commercially trading in elephants, or encourages direct contact interactions, should not be considered a sanctuary or rescue centre.
- A large, wild animal, an elephant can be unpredictable and potentially dangerous. Therefore, any activity where tourists are in close proximity to, or in direct contact with elephants, there must be constant supervision by a competent mahout. Pregnant or infant elephants should not be involved with tourist activity.
- Elephants require sufficient space to move about freely and comfortably, and to exercise choice, to maintain a healthy condition (Asian elephants can walk between 25km to 200km a day in the wild). Whilst the chaining of captive elephants overnight is commonplace in Thailand, longer chains (up to 20 meters) will permit elephants to interact with their environment.
- Elephant diets should be high fibre and low nutrients and provided in sufficient quantities to permit 16 hours of feeding a day. Food for captive elephants should ideally comprise of 70% browse (freshly-cut branches, grasses, hay) and 30% high-fibre animal pellets. Whilst high calorific foods, like bananas and sugar cane, vegetables and bread, should be kept to a minimum, as large quantities are likely to lead to obesity and related health problems.
These are important factors for travel businesses to consider if selecting captive elephant experiences for your itineraries.
Boycotts may have had good intentions, but they can often result in wider issues of concern that require a greater effort to tackle. The good news is that efforts are underway to standardise the captive Asian elephant industry, improve elephant welfare and safeguard the safety of the tourist. It is an initiative devised by the travel industry, for the travel industry.
For decades tourism has been the primary driver proliferating the numbers of elephant camps and captive Asian elephants, it would be irresponsible to now walk away from the problem and should do all it can to influence and deliver meaningful change.
ANIMONDIAL is collaborating with Travelife for Tour Operators and other key stakeholders to bring compassion to elephant tourism.