Why is animal welfare important to the travel industry?
Animal attractions and experiences are now a common part of many holidays, but while these are undoubtedly popular, customers want to be assured of good animal welfare standards. A 2017 ComRes survey found that 71% of respondents would be more likely to buy from a travel company that cares for animals*.
*ComRes poll, commissioned by Born Free Foundation, April 2017
What is the ABTA Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism?
ABTA has produced the first Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, supported by six manuals covering specific topics. These are practical guides for travel businesses as well as suppliers of animal experiences. The aim is to encourage good practice in animal protection and welfare.
The manuals set out unacceptable and discouraged practices, minimum requirements for animal welfare and best practice. They bring together existing guidance and are intended for travel providers to issue to their suppliers, for tourist boards and relevant destination authorities as well as animal attractions.
Developed in consultation with the Born Free Foundation as well as over 200 stakeholders including animal welfare experts, the manuals ensure that everyone working in the travel industry can be informed and up to date with the latest guidance and good practice in animal welfare.
How were ABTA’s Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism developed?
The Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, along with its six supporting guidance manuals, were developed in 2013 in partnership with the Born Free Foundation and over 200 expert stakeholders from a range of backgrounds including the tourism industry, animal welfare experts, non-governmental organisations and attractions.
These guidelines are intended for travel providers, tourist boards and destination governments and ultimately – and most importantly – animal attraction and experience suppliers.
What practices are considered unacceptable?
ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidance lists unacceptable practices as well as those that are discouraged.
Unacceptable practices involving animals in captive attractions
- Animals on display in restaurants, and entertainment venues involving bad practice
- Animal breeding or commercial trade in sanctuaries and orphanages
- Animals used as photographic props involving bad practice (animals should not be abused, mutilated or made to perform unnatural behaviours)
- Animal performances based on non-natural behaviours and shows where training methods compromise welfare
- Canned hunting (hunting animals in a confined area)
- Elephant polo
- Ostrich riding
- Unlicensed zoos
- Surgery or physical modification of the skin, tissues, teeth or bones of an animal, other than for the purposes of genuine medical treatment
- Euthanasia practices which do not comply with best practice guidance. (For best practice advice, please go to UK Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice).
Unacceptable practices involving animals in cultural events and activities
- Animals used for begging (e.g. dancing bears, snake charming, primates)
- Bear baiting
- Bear bile farms
- Bear pits
- Bullfighting and bull running
- Reptile farms involving bad practice
- Crocodile wrestling
- Tiger farms
- Surgery or physical modification of the skin, tissues, teeth or bones of an animal, other than for the purposes of genuine medical treatment.
Unacceptable practices involving free-roaming wild animals
- Unregulated animal and plant collection from the wild
- Direct contact with and feeding of free-roaming animals
- Human-initiated physical interaction with wild whales and dolphins
- Trade and sale of endangered wildlife products
- Trophy hunting.
What practices are considered discouraged?
The following activities are classified as ‘discouraged’. Travel providers working with the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidance will only consider promoting these activities where they are satisfied that the risks to animal welfare and the health and safety of customers are managed appropriately.
- Animal contact and feeding with Category 1, Greatest Risk animals*
- The feeding of animals with live vertebrate prey
- Birds of prey displays and falconry centres using tethering
- Ritual animal slaughter
- Acquisition of animals from the wild.
*In the UK, the government categorises commonly kept animal species based on potential risk (UK Secretary of State’s Standards on Modern Zoo Practice, Defra 2004). For example, animal species in Category ‘1’ – Greatest Risk are likely to cause serious injury or be a serious threat to life (from injury, toxin or disease). Contact between the public and these animals is only permitted after a thorough risk assessment has been undertaken, demonstrating the risks to animal welfare and public health and safety are appropriately managed. Constant supervision of all interaction is also necessary. Examples of category 1 animals include camels, crocodiles, elephants, lions, sea lions and tigers. To see the full listing, please see the UK Secretary of State’s Standards of Modern Zoo Practice.
Here are 11 things to keep in mind about animal welfare when on holiday:
- It sounds like common sense but don’t interact in any way with dangerous wild animals. They are unpredictable and if you’re not careful, you could be seriously injured or worse.
- Never feed, touch, tease or provoke wild animals.
- Don’t use captive wild animals as props for your photos, such as a lion cub or monkey. They may look cute but many of these animals could be drugged and are at risk of being killed once they become too large to handle.
- Don’t buy souvenirs that are made from wildlife products or other threatened natural materials including turtle shells, feathers and ivory. Many of these products support unsustainable practices such as poaching, and are illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Learn more about the work of CITES here.
- When viewing animals in the wild, ensure your guide leaves sufficient distance so that your presence doesn’t disturb them or interfere with their natural behaviour.
- Don’t encourage guides to pursue wildlife that are showing avoidance tactics e.g. displaying threatening or alarmed behavior or if they are moving away.
- Speak quietly and don’t make any sudden movements when close to wildlife so as not to alarm them.
- Never ride donkeys, horses, mules or camels that are too young, too old, pregnant or nursing. For advice on how to spot the signs of whether an animal is suitable to ride, check the Happy Horse Code, which has been developed by the animal welfare charity Brooke.
- Don’t approach or interfere with breeding sites (nests, burrows, dens, etc.) as this can disturb and affect the animals, sometimes resulting in parents abandoning their young.
- For marine wildlife, when contact with animals is permitted and controlled (e.g. when swimming with dolphins), don’t approach the animals but let them approach you when they choose to.
- If you can, we encourage you to put something back into the area and wildlife you’ve visited by making a personal contribution to support conservation in the area.
How can I tell if an animal sanctuary is actually a sanctuary?
When visiting a sanctuary, ask detailed questions about where the animals have come from and whether they really have been rescued. In our view, genuine animal sanctuaries should not be indulging in breeding programmes and should not be involved in buying or selling animals.
This is a key point: it’s important to consider how a sanctuary is financed. If it’s not clear how, then this should ring some alarm bells. If a sanctuary has a healthy spread of income streams – including charitable donations, conservation organisations and other credible endorsements – then this is usually a good indicator that they are not reliant just on visitor receipts and therefore are not under pressure to increase the number of animals in their care if space and facilities don’t allow it.
What do I do if I see an animal mistreated on holiday?
If you see animals in poor conditions or being treated badly, report it to your travel provider as well as a trusted animal welfare charity such as Born Free Foundation’s Report Captive Animal Suffering alert. Provide as much detail as possible and your report could make a real difference to an animal in need.