Tourism

UK’s biggest travel association deems elephant rides ‘unacceptable’ in new guidelines

Christian Fleetwood

Christian Fleetwood

Britain’s largest travel association has revised its animal welfare practices to include touching and feeding elephants.

With the advice of several non-government organisations, including World Animal Protection, the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) has formed a new set of animal welfare guidelines encouraging travel companies to move away from experiences that allow travellers to feed or touch animals.

Offering tourists experiences that allow them to touch or feed great apes, bears, crocodiles or alligators, and elephants without a barrier are now unacceptable for members of the ABTA.

“Whether taken from the wild or bred in captivity, all elephants used for shows or unprotected close tourist contact will have undergone a traumatic training method known as ‘the crush’. This involves separating a young elephant calf from its mother, keeping it in isolation, depriving it of food and water, and in many cases beating it repeatedly until it can be controlled by fear,” World Animal Protection said.

The move forms part of a new set of standards, which ABTA unveiled in its second edition of the Animal Welfare Guidelines on Monday, following an extensive stakeholder review.

Alongside calls for travel companies to move away from feeding, touching and bathing elephants, ABTA is also advising travel professionals not to offer experiences allowing travellers to touch orca or sloths, or feed and walk with wild cats.

In ABTA’s latest ‘Holiday Habits’ research two-thirds (66 per cent) of people said that they have concerns about the wider impacts of tourism and how animals are treated.

“Viewing or interacting with animals is popular with holidaymakers as well as an important attraction for local communities,” ABTA said in a statement. “These need to be managed in the right way to safeguard the welfare of animals.”

ABTA joins ANVR, the Dutch travel trade association, in adopting guidelines to prohibit direct tourist contact with elephants, walking with lions and many other activities.

Moreover, in October 2019, the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) also adopted animal interaction guidelines that define activities such as elephant riding and walking with lions as unacceptable.

Julie Middelkoop, World Animal Protection ‘Wildlife Not Entertainers’ global campaigner, said that although still voluntary, this and the improved clarity of the guidelines will ensure greater uptake by travel companies.

“The clear advice that it is unacceptable to use elephants for rides, shows, bathing or any other form of tourist contact without a barrier is a real breakthrough,” Middelkoop said.

“We are equally thrilled to see that other harmful tourist experiences such as selfies with sloths in the Amazon, feeding orangutans and walking with lions in southern Africa have the same listing.

“World Animal Protection, World Cetacean Alliance, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, Humane Society International and Born Free Foundation are committed to continue working with ABTA to ensure that their guidelines around captive whales and dolphins are updated to reflect the latest science, ethics and public attitudes around their captivity,” she said.

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