OCT 24, 2016 8:16 AM PDT

TripAdvisor bans sales for wild animal attractions

Just over a week ago TripAdvisor, and its booking service Viator, announced that it will no longer be selling tickets to tourism experiences that allow petting or touching of wild animals. This includes all attractions where travelers can come into physical contact with captive, wild animals or endangered species, such as elephant rides, petting tigers, and swim-with-dolphin attractions, the website said in a statement.

Many tourists are animal lovers who don't realize that wildlife attractions can cause harm to the animals they are so excited to see up close. A study released last year by World Animal Protection (WAP) and WildCRU found that tourists aren’t very good at determining whether a wildlife attraction is humane or not. Researchers found that even attractions that experts judged as clearly inhumane often got good reviews on TripAdvisor. For example, reviewers overwhelmingly rated tiger attractions, which the study’s authors ranked as among the most inhumane, as “excellent” or “very good.”
Elephant safari in Phuket, Thailand. Investigations by UK charity World Animal Protection alleged that elephants used in rides go through a training called

Richard Rees, director of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, notes what happens on whale shark trips: “In some places, it’s a free-for-all. We see touching, riding, flash photography, obstruction – all sorts of bad practices.” Elephants used for elephant rides often go through a training process called “crush” in which they are frequently starved, beaten and isolated, according to WAP. Similarly,  a recent investigation by WAP found that tigers at tourist entertainment venues are typically kept in extremely poor conditions, held in small enclosures, with limited access to fresh water and often starved and punished using pain and fear. TripAdvisor’s new policy comes after more than a year of campaigning by animal welfare groups, which claim that the internet giant has been profiting from selling tickets to attractions that involve wildlife abuse and cruelty.

“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” Stephen Kaufer, president and CEO of TripAdvisor, said in a statement.

Following Mongabay News, in addition to the booking ban, TripAdvisor also plans to develop and launch an education portal in partnership with several animal protection groups such as Oxford University’s WildCRU, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), Global Wildlife Conservation (GWC) and WAP. The portal will be linked to every animal attraction listing on the website via a “PAW” icon, and will provide links and information on animal welfare practices involved at the various attractions.

Some exemptions to their booking policy include animal attractions that involve domestic animals, such as as horseback riding or children’s petting zoos with animals like rabbits; certain aquarium touch pools used for education purposes, and some voluntourism programs for endangered species preservation at zoos, aquariums or sanctuaries.
Often tourists are animal lovers who just want to be close to animals, but do not realize the harm that it might cause them. Photograph: Alamy Stock Photo
“We commend TripAdvisor for taking steps to improve the standards for interactions with wild and captive species in tourism,” Wes Sechrest, Chief Scientist and CEO of Global Wildlife Conservation said in the statement. “This will encourage people to visit destinations that promote the safe viewing of wildlife in the wild, such as national parks, as well as legitimate rescue centers and zoological facilities that support on-the-ground wildlife conservation efforts. We want people to connect with wildlife and feel inspired by wild places, and this will help provide a guide for how to do so without further endangering our planet’s biodiversity.”

But The Guardian questions the implications of TripAdvisor’s policy and how it will affect different sectors of the world for animal tourism. “Elephant riding in northern Thailand, for example, is a big money-spinner in a relatively poor area. And while the elephant camps of Chiang Mai might suffer, other attractions, such as SeaWorld, notorious for its continued ownership of 29 orcas, will be unaffected. Danny Groves of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society points out that captivity is not being tackled. ‘This is a positive step, but it does not address the issue of promoting trips to see whales and dolphins that are held captive. It would be great to see TripAdvisor take action in this regard.’”

Steve McIvor of WAP added, “We hope it will only be a matter of time before TripAdvisor will also come to realise that it has to end sales to all cruel wildlife attractions, such as SeaWorld, where the animals endure a lifetime of abuse and highly stressful training to perform. Until then we will provide the best education we can on TripAdvisor’s website to steer people away from cruel venues like these.”

Bookings for some wildlife tourism venues through TripAdvisor will be stopped immediately, the website said, while the ticket sales for others will be ceased by early 2017, along with the launch of the education portal.

Sources: Mongabay News, The Guardian, National Geographic

About the Author
Bachelor's (BA/BS/Other)
Kathryn is a curious world-traveller interested in the intersection between nature, culture, history, and people. She has worked for environmental education non-profits and is a Spanish/English interpreter.
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