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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!