Abta has updated its animal welfare guidelines, including revised guidance for how to treat elephants.

New advice says it is unacceptable to use elephants to rides, shows, bathing or any other form of tourism contact without a barrier.

It is also now deemed unacceptable to take selfies with sloths in the Amazon, feed orangutans or giraffes and walk with lions in southern Africa.


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Updated manuals include Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism, Animals in Captive Environments, Elephants in Captive Environments, Wildlife Viewing, Working Animals and Unacceptable Practices.

It is the second edition of Abta’s animal welfare guidelines, the first of which was launched in 2013 – and follows a stakeholder consultation and review including industry experts, scientists, zoologist organisations, associations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

Abta says the revised guidelines should be simpler and easier to understand for members.

Updates in the guidelines replace previous categorisations with revised unacceptable practices that include tourist contact or feeding of great apes, bears, crocodiles or alligators, elephants without a barrier, orca, sloths as well as contact, feeding and walking with wild cats.

New guidance sections on food and animal welfare, management of stray animals and developing an animal welfare approach have also been added.

The Dolphins in Captive Environments manual is under review and there will be further consultation taking into account ongoing research.

Abta’s latest Holiday Habits research found that two-thirds (66%) of people said they have concerns about the wider impacts of tourism and how animals are treated.

It shows viewing or interacting with animals is popular with holidaymakers and important for local communities but need to be managed to safeguard the welfare of animals.

Abta encourages travel companies to either not offer, or move away from, unacceptable practices but says it is “very aware that no longer selling an attraction doesn’t mean animal welfare issues go away” and that “working with suppliers to transition away from unacceptable practices can take time”.

Clare Jenkinson, Abta’s senior destinations and sustainability manager, said: “Abta members have led the way on animal welfare by implementing Abta’s guidelines for a number of years, and others in the industry from around the world use Abta’s guidelines as the basis for their animal welfare policies.

“Naturally, with the emergence of new evidence, thinking evolves on what constitutes a basic requirement or an unacceptable practice. Thanks to the valued input from many expert stakeholders, the revised guidelines will mean that travel companies can implement animal welfare approaches that reflect the latest evidence, working in partnership with suppliers to raise standards.”

Julie Middelkoop, campaign lead for World Animal Protection, said: “Updated animal welfare guidelines reflect the latest evidence with more harmful animal related tourist activities now labelled unacceptable. 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. We are equally thrilled to see that other harmful tourist experiences such as selfies with sloths in the Amazon, feeding orangutans or giraffes 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.”

Abta is hosting a seminar on animal welfare in tourism on March 12, 2020, in central London.

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