Captive wildlife attractions and interactions remain a complex, contentious and emotionally charged issue. There is an increasing movement, both locally and internationally, against tourism experiences that potentially harm animals.
In response, Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) embarked on a comprehensive research initiative to develop a long-term vision for South Africa’s tourism industry with regards to animal interactions in tourism; to design and agree on a framework to guide attractions, operators and tourists; to develop high-level suggestions for legislative intervention and regulation; and ultimately to position South Africa as an ethical tourism destination.
Providing the tourism industry with a useful tool by which to evaluate and select animal interaction activities in the tourism space, has moved yet another step closer with the launch of SATSA’s draft Animal Interaction guide.
While the guide is comprehensive in its assessment of animal interactions in the tourism industry, and is the first to pin its approach on a locally-born ethical framework, its utility peaks in an interactive tool – an easy-to-use ‘decision tree’ which will allow tourism bodies, tour operators and tourists to assess animal interaction operations, and make informed decisions to support ethically sound and responsible operators in South Africa.
This is the result of a year of research and robust consultation with the wider tourism industry and relevant stakeholders. Nationwide public workshops and an examination of local, regional and international guidelines, research and best practice contributed to the development of the guide.
The study and resultant guide and tool explore the intricacies of animal interactions, including the reason why the animals are in captivity in the first place; the source of the animals; the use of the animals while in captivity; and the likely destination of the animals. This takes its ambit beyond the work usually done on captive/wildlife welfare to the full lifecycle of the animal interactions industry.
The study conveys findings and recommendations around:
- Performing animals (all types of animals, including elephants, predators, primates, cetaceans, birds, reptiles etc. trained to perform in a public show or display)
- Tactile interactions with infant wild animals (e.g. cub petting)
- Tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans (any interaction with land predators or aquatic mammals)
- Walking with predators or elephants
- Riding of animals (including sitting on elephants, ostriches etc.)
Primarily, the research outlines a ‘home-grown’ approach to a complex problem, one which draws a line – moving the SA tourism industry forward in terms of responsible and sustainable practices.
Leveraging the findings of the robust research study, SATSA will now collaborate with its members and the broader tourism industry to translate the research findings into practice.