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Travelers are more conscious than ever of the impact they have on wildlife, especially animals in captivity. But it's still hard to know the right things to do.
That's what Fair Trade Tourism (FTT), Africa’s leading nonprofit organization focused on best-practice responsible tourism, hopes to change with its Good Practice Guidelines for Captive Wildlife.
“From afar, interaction with wild animals in Africa is a compelling proposition, especially if visitors believe they are aiding wildlife conservation in the process,” said Jane Edge, managing director of FTT. “But with captive wildlife, often the opposite is the reality.”
This situation has been aggravated by two growing concerns in Africa. First is the rising popularity of safaris and other wildlife experiences. Second is the competition for space between wild areas and a projected continental population of approximately 1.8 billion people by 2030. The pressure to conserve land as habitats for animals in the wild will be intense, in tandem with people's desire to see animals.
Accordingly, the captive wildlife sector is presumably going to grow, as is the likelihood that not all captive animals will be treated well.
Already today, as many as 4 million tourists a year visit Africa — and thereby support wildlife attractions that neglect animals and ignore good practices and standards of wildlife conservation. And 80 percent of these people aren't even aware of their negative impact. In fact, according to research by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit, only one in 90 captive animals is in a facility demonstrating genuine welfare or conservation concerns.
With that in mind, FTT set out to unpack the complex issues surrounding captive wildlife in a “simple and easily understandable way, helping to direct … decisions around wildlife experiences that are responsible, while avoiding exploitative experiences that do not help wildlife conservation," Edge said.
The result is FTT's newly published Good Practice Guidelines for Captive Wildlife in South Africa, a tool that can help the travel industry make discerning choices with education and guidance from a well-informed source on the ground in Africa.
Developed after consulting with nearly 200 organizations and 40 publications, the guidelines focus on five pillars: legal compliance, wildlife conservation, animal welfare, visitor safety and transparency. And they address issues around a broad mix of wildlife species in captivity, including elephants, lions, cheetah, wild dog, dolphins and whales, ostriches, crocodiles, primates and birds being held in sanctuaries, orphanages, rehabilitation centers, zoos and aquariums.
Importantly, they provide clear questions for travel agents and travelers to ask when assessing the behavior of captive wildlife facilities.
Given the newness of the guidelines, missing from the formula is a comprehensive list of wildlife facilities that should be supported or avoided. However, even without such a list, “agents can use the guidelines by subscribing to the basic principles contained in them,” according to Edge.
“This includes, for instance, not supporting captive lion breeding facilities, not supporting facilities which allow any interaction with predators, elephants, rhinos, buffalo, giraffe, hippo, crocodiles or venomous snakes, not supporting facilities where baby wild animals are petted, not supporting dolphin shows, not donating to facilities that trade with wildlife, etc.,” she said.
It may come across as a dauntingly long list of things not to do, but it is a valuable step in clarifying what to do: "encourage [visits to] sanctuaries that provide a genuine home for animals for life that cannot be released into the wild for various reasons," Edge said.
FTT’s guidelines are available free of charge to FTT certified businesses, members and approved tour operators. Any other business can purchase them for a subsidized fee by contacting [email protected]
The DetailsFair Trade Tourismwww.fairtrade.travel