Compassionate Travel – Understanding your Animal Footprint

Animals have long been considered as mere things, the property of people, with no legal status. However, there is a global movement that increasingly recognises animals as sentient beings. Beings that have the capacity to experience both positive and negative emotions, including pain and distress.

In 1997, the concept of animal sentience was written into the basic law of the European Union, but their legal status remained firmly in the category of “things” or common goods. That changed when New Zealand amended their Animal Welfare Act in 2015, recognising all animals as sentient beings, making it not only easier to prosecute people in animal cruelty cases, but also facilitate the banning of animal testing and research.

This last decade has seen a real shift in public awareness of animal sentience. People are becoming more cognisant of animal suffering. This was especially evident from the fallout of the acclaimed documentary Blackfish released in 2013, which highlights the controversies and welfare issues around performing captive orcas in facilities like SeaWorld.

This shift in attitude on the status of animals in society at large, requires the tourism industry to also adjust their position. The British Travel Association ABTA was the first to take positive action and published a series of Global Welfare Guidelines for Animals in Tourism in 2013. The aim of these guidelines is to encourage good practice in animal protection and welfare by providing businesses with knowledge and guidance.

The Dutch tour operator association (ANVR) developed these ABTA Global Welfare Guidelines further and published an extended list of unacceptable practices. Practices that are widely perceived to cause significant animal welfare concerns and, in some cases, even safety risks to visitors and staff.

Some of the unacceptable activities recognised by the ANVR over and above the ABTA guidelines include the use of wild animals as photographic props (including wild cats, great apes, reptiles, birds, spiders, scorpions and crustaceans), walking with lions and other wild cats, elephant riding and other activities that involve direct human-elephant contact, and bird of prey displays and falconry centres using tethering.

The award-winning documentary Blood Lions lifted the lid of the unethical captive lion breeding industry in South Africa, confirming the links between popular activities, such as lion cub petting, walking with lions and volunteering, and the canned hunting and lion bone industry.

Many so-called sanctuaries continue to justify their hands-on captive wildlife interactions through often plausible conservation messages. Conservation messages that are not easy to verify by the visitor, who wants to believe in the good these facilities do for their animals.

However, the popularity of hands-on wildlife interactions is also driven by a narcissistic desire to have that perfect wildlife selfie taken that can be shared on social media. The consequences of these wildlife selfies can be devastating for the animals concerned, with reports of some animals actually being killed in the process.

Many people want to be responsible, but are confused as to what kind of activities involving captive and wild animal are acceptable, what the effects of captivity are on the health and well-being of these animals, and what the commercial demand for captive wildlife means for the survival of the species in the wild.

Compassionate Travel – a guide to animal-friendly holidays, an initiative of the Born Free FoundationGlobal Federation of Animal Sanctuaries, and Wildlife SOS India, is making these choices a little easier for the traveling public and can be downloaded for FREE from Horizon Guides. The guide explains clearly the range of concerns for captive and wild animals involved in tourist attractions and puts the responsibility firmly back in the court of the travelling public.

“It is time for us all to be more compassionate.
To take joint responsibility for the welfare of our captive and wild animals.
To reduce our animal footprint.”

Join us for a global LIVE discussion on compassionate travel with Travel Massive on 28th August 2018. Panelists include Chris Draper from the Born Free Foundation, Karen Trendler from the NSPCA, Dawn Bradnick from the Incidental Tourist, Neil Jansson from the African Travel Crew, and Louise de Waal from Green Girls in Africa. Register HERE!

Lion industry under review

SOUTH Africa’s unregulated captive lion breeding industry will soon be reviewed by the portfolio committee on environmental affairs in a two day hearing open to the public.

According to the committee chairperson, Mohlopi Mapulane, the aim of the event is to facilitate a constructive debate around the future of captive lion breeding and hunting in South Africa.

A colloquium titled, “Captive Lion Breeding for Hunting in South Africa: Harming or Promoting the Conservation Image of the Country”, will take place on August 21 and 22, giving stakeholders from across the board an opportunity to present arguments for and against the captive breeding of lions.

“There is an outcry, and we must find a way to address it as soon as possible,” Mapulane said. “What is worrying is how this issue is affecting South Africa’s standing internationally. We cannot allow captive lion breeding to blemish our internationally acclaimed wildlife and conservation record.”

A report published by UK based Born Free Foundation in March backs up Mapulane’s fears over South Africa’s waning reputation as an international wildlife and conservation pioneer, illustrating how the captive breeding of lions for hunting and their bones has detracted from South Africa’s conservation status.

Mapulane said the committee would “put a spotlight on the captive breeding practice, to better understand the different views that exist”.

Following the discussions, the committee would decide whether to review and or amend legislation, or whether they would have to initiate new legislation through Parliament.

He said that the portfolio committee had specifically asked for the recent EMS Foundation and Ban Animal Trading report, “The Extinction Business South Africa’s Lion Bone Trade”, to be presented at the colloquium.

“Some people will argue that it has been compiled by researchers who are against sustainable use. But for us, as parliamentarians, it is important to get that information so we can make up our minds about this practice.”

The report examines and investigates substantial problems and loopholes in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora permitting, enforcement and oversight system, and demonstrates the failings of South Africa’s national policies and procedures. There have been pleas to formulate policies and better regulate the industry for years, but to no avail.

No national consensus can be found on the number of captive bred lions in the country at the moment. Experts conservatively estimate around 8 000, but considering the unnaturally high breeding rate to produce more cubs, for petting, it is likely that the figure is closer to 12 000 today, and possibly as high as 14 000.

On July 16, the Department of Environmental Affairs announced an increase in the lion skeleton export quota from 800 to 1 500 skeletons, citing a growing stockpile of lion bones, an increase in poaching of captive bred lions for body parts, as well as in creased pressure on breeders due to the US’s restrictions on importing captive bred trophies.

Conservationists warn that exporting lion bones from captive bred animals may be an even bigger driver for captive lion breeding in the country.

According to Ian Michler, a consultant and campaign co leader for Blood Lions: “It is possible that canned hunting will become a by product of the bone industry”.

The department’s decision to almost double the annual lion bone export quota baffled conservation authorities, who argue that there is not even enough scientific data to back an export of 800 skeletons, let alone 1 500.

There are also increasing concerns over the possible impact of captive lion breeding on South Africa’s wild lion populations. This is according to Dr Kelly Marnewick, the senior trade officer for the Endangered Wildlife Trust’s Wildlife in Trade Programme, who says “the poaching of wild lions for body parts has escalated in recent years, and we cannot rule out a link to the market created for lion bones from captive breeding institutions”.