Updated travel industry guidelines mark change for animals

Posted on 17/12/2019 by Katheryn Wise

Change is coming for elephants and other animals exploited in the tourism industry.

Today ABTA, the UK’s largest travel association, launch their updated Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism. You may remember that we shared what this will mean for elephants a little while ago.

We’re thrilled that the clear advice included now is that any tourist contact with elephants without a barrier – including riding and bathing – is unacceptable. And it isn’t just elephants that benefit from stronger guidelines.

Last year we called for an update to ABTA’s animal welfare guidelines following a study we commissioned from the University of Surrey, which looked into travel trade associations and their guidelines around the use of animals in tourism. Although ABTA is still one of the very few trade associations in the world providing guidance to its members on animal welfare, researchers found that the language used in their guidelines was considered vague and inconsistent.

Since then we have been working with other animal welfare organisations, providing ABTA with strong evidence to show ways that animals suffer around the world through the tourism industry and helping to strengthen their guidelines.

What does this mean for animals?

The following list contains just some of the practices which, following our efforts and evidence, will now be classified as ‘unacceptable’ for tourists through tour operators and travel agents who adopt ABTA’s new animal welfare guidelines:

  • Contact or feeding of elephants without a barrier
  • Contact or feeding of crocodiles or alligators
  • Contact or feeding of great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, bonobos)
  • Contact or feeding of bears
  • Contact or feeding of sloths
  • Contact or feeding of orca
  • Contact, feeding of and “walking with” wild cats
  • Elephant shows or performances for tourists

The guidelines no longer use the ‘discouraged’ classification, which was one of the reasons why the previous guidelines were considered vague. A practice is now either acceptable, ‘if taking into account basic welfare requirements’ or unacceptable.

ABTA has also revised their basic welfare requirements, now building on the Five Domains of Animal Welfare. This would mean that travel companies following the guidelines should only work with suppliers if they provide their animals with conditions that favour positive experiences over negative ones within an environment that encourages making choices and enables the expression of the widest possible range of natural behaviours.

While ABTA’s guidelines remain voluntary and further improvement can still be made, the fact that they are widely referenced and influential across the world, will have an effect on many animals within the tourism industry.

Work to be done for dolphins in captivity

There is one specific manual that’s still under review and which will be updated next year. We therefore will continue to provide ABTA with our expertise and the latest evidence to ensure the guidelines will not just set higher welfare requirements for those dolphins and other cetaceans already in captivity but which will also help ensure that this is the last generation of dolphins that has to live miserable lives in the name of tourism entertainment.

We will continue working alongside World Cetacean Alliance, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Humane Society International and Born Free Foundation to ensure that ABTA’s guidelines around captive whales and dolphins are updated to reflect the latest science, ethics and public attitudes.

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