Thomas Cook is to stop selling tickets to some wildlife attractions to protect hundreds of dolphins, elephants and other animals from appearing as cruel entertainment for tourists.
An independent report commissioned by the company found dolphins with badly damaged skin, heavily chained elephants showing signs of distress and other elephants forced to spin hoops, stand on small platforms and take part in a ‘tug-of- war’.
The audit of 25 attractions by assessment company Global Spirit found that 16 did not meet the minimum standards for welfare set out by Abta.
Cook instructed its staff to stop selling tickets to those attractions, The Sunday Times reported.
The 25 inspections were carried out by Global Spirit last year and are the start of a plan to audit all of the 90 captive animal attractions Thomas Cook sells.
The move is likely to be costly for the business, which makes commission on tickets sold as excursions to holidaymakers in its hotels.
Thomas Cook declined to specify the welfare infringements found at individual attractions, but confirmed that those to be dropped include Ocean World in the Dominican Republic and Sealanya in Turkey, which offer dolphin swimming experiences and shows, and elephant rides provided by Baan Chang tours on Koh Samui, Thailand.
Of the 16 attractions affected, 11 involved dolphins and five involved elephants. Others in India and Cuba will also no longer be sold by the company.
Five named attractions dropped by Thomas Cook were asked for comment by the newspaper but did not respond.
Group chief executive Peter Fankhauser said: “Our industry has not changed fast enough. By taking these attractions off sale, we are sending a message that we won’t accept anything less than full compliance with the welfare standards our customers would expect.”
The move is being seen as a breakthrough by animal welfare groups, which have long campaigned against captive animal tourism.
“We are delighted Thomas Cook appears to be taking this issue seriously,” said the charity Whale and Dolphin Conservation. “Many other travel companies are not, and many facilities continue to flout the Abta animal welfare guidelines.”
An inspection of Ocean World in 2009 by the World Society for the Protection of Animals – now known as World Animal Protection – found dolphins held alone in a shallow tank for 30 minutes, surrounded by 20 people, forced to “hug” and “shake hands” with each tourist in turn. The report alleged that 39% of the attraction’s dolphins were captured from the wild.
Virgin Holidays recently announced it would no longer sell or promote new shows or experiences featuring whales or dolphins.
The Thai embassy in London said: “It is illegal in Thailand to maltreat elephants and legal charges may be brought against those involved.
“Elephant camps are one means through which elephants can be properly cared for. Without work in tourism, coupled with the banning of logging in protected forest areas in Thailand, elephant owners will have no means to care for their animals, and will resort to street begging.”
Meanwhile, Responsible Travel will no longer promote trips that include visits to zoos on its website.
The online travel company responsible has removed six trips from its site.
Chief executive, Justin Francis, said: “We believe tourism plays a role in funding conservation, and crucially, in ensuring local people and governments benefit sufficiently to make conservation viable.
“Zoos are not appropriate in 2017. They are relics of the past, and the arguments to justify keeping animals in captivity no longer stand up.
“The sad reality is that the animals are held captive primarily for our entertainment not for reasons of conservation and it is time that this stopped.”