Lizaene and I were asked to be on a panel discussion at this year’s World Travel Market in Cape Town, and the topic we were asked to cover was the impact tourism and the tourism stakeholders have on the topic of animal welfare and the wildlife industry. We were excited to share our visions and below you can read our appeal to the public.
When it comes to interaction with wildlife, people often debate and focus on the physical deed itself and not the whole cycle. The questions asked are: Why is it wrong to interact with a tame wildlife? Is it ethical or not?
When interaction is offered to tourists and volunteers the first crucial and immediate aspect is safety – both for human and animal. Tame wild animals are still wild animals with instincts and the only way for them to say “NO” or “ENOUGH” is to attack. This can lead to humans being injured or even killed as we have seen many more incidences over the last past years, and it leaves the animal with a very unsecure and uncertain future. It also triggers one of the biggest animal welfare questions: Is it in the best interest of the animal to be interacted with?
Secondly it is the cycle that the animal is put through in order for it to be tame to be interacted with. The cubs are taken away from their mothers only a couple of days old, which is a huge health risk for the cubs and tremendously stressful and traumatizing for the cubs and the mother. This action forces the mother into her next breeding cycle way to soon and this is totally unnatural for her. Females in the wild have litters every two to three years on average, but in captivity they breed them up to three times a year with severe health implications and only to have more cubs for interaction.
Thirdly it is what happens to the animal when it is too big, old or dangerous to interact with. Some end up back into the same cycle as the parents, one of excessive breeding which often includes bad animal welfare practises. Others end up in wildlife trading, sold to non-ideal captive projects, killed for their body parts, or end up as a trophy selfie on Facebook on a wall somewhere. At point or another along this cycle the animal is negatively impacted and harmed either emotionally, physically or mentally and that we cannot be blind too. The interaction cycle also influences and impacts human/animal equality as when the animals are excessively bred, cubs taken away from their mothers, hand reared for interact with, sold, killed or hunted we put ourselves above the animal and make the choice for them. We enforce our will onto them. This becomes a situation of no respect, no consideration and no love for another being. It is then a clear exploitation, money and ego driven deed/industry.
The problem is that all of these unethical practises – pre and post interaction – are hidden from volunteers and tourists, many times deliberately by a range of tourism service providers. When the tourists and volunteers discover the truth, it is a huge shock follow by disgust and sadness. I know all about this feeling of shock, disgust and sadness because I have been through it myself. (Lizaene ends)
Indirectly, tourism stakeholders actually have the biggest impact on animal welfare – meaning that tour operators, marketing agencies, volunteer agencies, everyone who has promoted or sold a petting/interaction experience, walking with a big cat, volunteer package to one, ten or even thousands of tourists, have all one way or another unknowingly contributed to the upkeep of the industry Lizaene has just described.
It hurts to hear it and actually know that you have been a part of this canning industry. I sure know that feeling as a I was a previous volunteer, fooled by the marketing propaganda of a volunteer agency and the nice sounding words of “breeding to release”, paying large amounts to be with lions that the majority now are killed for the bone trade. The truth sticks deeps and that is what thousands of people feel after having found out what they actually have been a part of. The tourism industry has kept this dreadful industry alive for decades – and I believe its time to take the stand and roar the truth with the power of a lion! The big cat industry has been kept alive by “us”, so it can also change with the help of “us”.
The biggest challenges facing this captive big cat industry are the lack of awareness, and that there is great confusion about the grey zones, lacking a united stand from the responsible captive wildlife projects. Many tourism stakeholders from all over the world are making contact with the leading tourism organisations asking them “Where do we go? Which are the right places to send our clients to?” They are terrified to make the wrong choices as they know the damage this will make for their business and the brand of South Africa. I strongly believe that in order to make a significant shift in the direction of ethical practises, and really direct the power of tourism towards a sustainable and animal welfare based industry, we need to make it extremely simple and clear for the general public, volunteers and all the other stakeholder to fully understand.
We, Panthera Africa, live by the three simple guidelines, which everyone can follow in order to be 100% sure that you are supporting the “right” big cat projects regardless of species – No breeding, no trading and no public interaction of any sort. There is no room for grey-zones at the moment – even though there always are. But how the situation is right now, I am afraid people don’t understand the difference.
What I believe we all can agree on is that we want our clients and all tourists to have a fantastic feel-good experience here in South Africa, and of course also for them to return! People are becoming more conscious and wanting to make the right choices, and in order for that to happen people need to be educated! And this is where all tourism stakeholders come in – you and me – we have a responsibility to make it clear, easy and also care for all of South Africa – both nature, animals and people. Imagine a tourism industry, world wide, where we all are ambassadors for a sustainable future and through our different businesses we strive forward towards a brighter tomorrow for everyone involved – the animals included.
I want to finish off with one of my favourite sayings by Margaret Mead: “Never believe that a few caring people can’t change the world. For, indeed, that’s all who ever have”. (Cathrine ends)
Share our vision and message, and let us create a brighter tomorrow for everyone in the tourism industry – both people, nature and our beloved animals!
Cathrine S. Nyquist – April 2018