Understanding your animal footprint
At the Good Tourism Institute we believe that animals belong in the wild, in their own natural habitat. However, animals in captivity remain a popular tourism experience. Still too many tour operators actively promote and offer animal activities where animal welfare guidelines are not adhered.
The use of animals in tourism experience is in demand by a large group of travellers. Riding elephants, cuddling with tiger cubs or posing with a monkey. It’s all seen as the greatest tourism experience. But are you aware of the poor living conditions and treatments of these animals? The process before a traveller can take a picture with a wild animal is long and not natural at all.
In order to become a better tour operator, it’s essential to understand your animal footprint and how your tours affect wildlife. Understanding these consequences is the first step to create a better future for animals, and at the same time offer great experiences too!
“Wild animals belong in the wild: help keep them there”. – World Animal Protection
Negative effects of animals in tourism
Often the negative impact on the animals is invisible, but this doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Actually, tourism often leads to disruption of wildlife’s normal daily activities. Using animals in tourism puts pressure on animal welfare and conservation. Threats facing the animals vary from:
- Egg collection
- Human wildlife conflict
- Habitat loss
- Being locked up and used as pet
Animals in captivity are facing poor welfare conditions. They are captured, taken from their own habitats or bred in captivity. Often separated from their mothers at a very young age, hand-raised and kept in small enclosures. Suffer a lifetime of abuse and cruelty. Are trained, their behaviour domesticated and exhausted for the entertainment of travellers. Imagine the process before tourists can ride elephants, walk with lions, stroke tigers or swim with dolphins.
However, not only in captivity, but also in the wild animals are disturbed. Whales, seals and dolphins are cornered when there are too many boats at the same time, just to take better pictures. The same situation occurs when safari vehicles want to get a better look at lions and elephants. Leatherback turtles are disturbed on beaches when laying eggs. The natural behavior of all these animals is disturbed by tourism and forces them to change their routine. Wildlife is endangered by actions of tour operators and travellers.
Positive effects of animals in tourism
Luckily, besides the negative effects, tourism also has a positive impact on animals. Tour operators and travellers are both in the position to contribute to their conservation and habitats. To conserve endangered species and to maintain their homes. Good wildlife tourism is encouraging people to enjoy and protect animals in the wild instead of destroying their natural environment.
Making animals more valuable alive than dead, serves as a powerful incentive to support conservation. Park fees are used for maintenance of national parks and protected areas. Furthermore, local communities are also financially supported. To stop them from poaching, they need to understand wildlife brings more income when they are alive.
Thereby, wildlife tourism also increases awareness around flora and fauna species. Wildlife tours connect travellers to nature and make them understand and value the ecological importance of wildlife.
The opportunities for travellers to spot wildlife in their natural environment are endless. By combining the activity with conservation research, the use of tourism is even more powerful. For example, whales can be tracked with a boat full of enthusiastic travellers eager to help. Part of the tour fee then goes to the local conservation research. Similar experiences can also conserve animals like:
- Polar bears
- Sea turtles
- And many more wildlife
Exception to the rule
Wildlife sanctuaries and rescue centers are the exception to the rule when it comes to captive animals in tourism. These centers simply exist to care for captive animals rescued from zoos and performance centers. They also exist to protect animals from extinction and to care for animal orphans due to poaching. These sanctuaries do not encourage touching or riding the animals and only keep them in captivity because they can’t be released in the wild (yet).
Putting it into practice
In order to become a better tour operator and to protect animal rights, it’s essential you put it into practice. To provide clarity, we have listed our own guidelines.
Good Tourism Institute animals in tourism guidelines
- Activities that allow travellers to interact with captive wildlife such as riding, walking, (bottle)feeding and cuddling
- Organisations or places that do not follow animal welfare guidelines
- Wildlife centers with a breeding, trade or hunting program
- Parks with animal shows or performances for travellers
- Experiences where travellers can view wildlife in their own habitat
- Wildlife activities that comply with animal welfare guidelines
- Tourism activities that combine conservation research
- Wildlife sanctuaries and rescue centers that are exceptions to the rule
Managing customer demands
Even though there are still travellers demanding unfriendly animal activities, part of being a successful tour operator also includes taking responsibility for animal welfare. In this case, animal welfare takes precedence over customer satisfaction. Refuse to book unfriendly animal activities to your travellers.
“Being a successful tour operator also means taking responsibility for animal welfare”.
Education is key in upholding customer satisfaction. It will help travellers understand your decision and value you for it. By explaining the negative effects of tourism, and to show the positive effects of your animal friendly experience, you will help them make the right decisions (also in the future) that won’t harm wildlife.
The best place to behold animals is always in the wild, and from a distance. Always ensure local communities are also benefitting from wildlife tourism and support conservation projects. Offer your customers experiences where they can see wildlife in their own environment, involve them in conservation and make sure they have a great time.