Do your research before booking animal related activities on holiday: Pete the Vet Podcast on Newstalk’s Pat Kenny Show

This week’s podcast – which you can listen to below – features a global tourism and animal welfare symposium at London South Bank University that I attended last week. This was organized by the Royal Veterinary College and CABI  (Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International) which is a world wide animal welfare oriented body. A wide range of different organizations attended, including vets, tourism bodies, university academics, environmental biologists, and conservation researchers.

How do tourists interact with animals?

There is a strong link between tourism and animals, whether in zoos, marine parks or on safari. One in four tourists experience an animal related activity as part of their holiday, and over 70% said they’d rather buy a holiday from a company that cares for animals. Yet often animals suffer because tourists aren’t well enough informed.
Tourists encounter animals in many different situations, including photo opportunities, animal rides, swimming with dolphins, whale watching, street performances, and specialized so-called “sanctuaries” such as elephant homes and tiger temples. While it is true that tourism may benefit wildlife by funding wild animal conservation and by providing income for impoverished local communities, the use of animals as entertainment can be a cruel and degrading experience for intelligent sentient creatures.
Other activities include rainforest walks, bird watching, scuba/snorkeling, turtle nest sights, walking with gorillas or gibbons, and even hunting/ fishing.

What are travel organisations doing to improve animal welfare?

The Travel Association (ABTA) has been working on animal welfare for a decade & has just produced global animal welfare guidelines after talking with stakeholders on both sides – the welfare charities on one side, and the travel businesses that are involved with animals. These guides are available for Irish tourists via the ABTA website .

What can tourists do to improve animal welfare?

Basic rules of thumb include not doing anything that involves getting close up to wild animals (eg selfies), (and including elephants), and ensuring that their living conditions are optimal.

An Oxford University team audited wildlife tourist attractions for their conservation and welfare status, then comparing those scores with tourist feedback on Trip Advisor. Not surprisingly, tourists were largely unaware of the serious negative impacts of the attractions they had visited. Over 80% of tourists thought the welfare was good, with only 6 – 17% of tourists rating animal activities as poor for welfare, while over 70% were rated as poor by the auditing process. They then did a trial with tourists about animal activity choices, before and after being briefed about the welfare implications of various activities.
The results showed that if people make sure they are informed about what to avoid in animal related activities, they are much less likely to accidentally support bad practice.

What other projects are underway to help animal welfare in tourist destinations?

World Animal Protection have been looking into elephant related activities: they found that 93% of facilities had inadequate or severely inadequate welfare for the elephants. They have been intervening, transforming poor welfare venues (close contact with animals, elephant rides and selfies, elephant breeding) into high welfare places (no direct contact between elephants and public, social groups of elephants, no breeding, good living conditions), by negotiating with the venues, educating and encouraging change.

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