South Africa is a wildlife adventurer's paradise, with the Big Five enthralling locals and international visitors alike.
The issue of canned lion hunting, lion bone trade and the rife poaching of our rhino population have been contentious issues over the years, prompting movements to improve animal interactions and responsible tourism practices.
One such driving force has been the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA), who has developed a comprehensive tool to assist the international travel industry, visitors and volunteers to make ethical and morally informed decisions around which types of tourism facilities they should or should not support in Southern Africa.
However, recent media reports suggesting that SATSA plans to implement a blanket ban on animal interactions as of July 2020 are erroneous, according to SATSA.
"These animal interaction guidelines, released by SATSA in October 2019, continue to remain voluntary until such time as the association’s members vote differently."
The animal interaction guidelines were released last year to provide the tourism industry and its customers with ethical guidelines for all animal interactions in tourism.
SEE: SATSA's Animal Interaction Guidelines draw a clear line in the sand
At the outset, there are five Tourism Activities involving captive wildlife that are classified as unacceptable:
1. Performing animals
2. Tactile interactions with all wild animals
3. Walking with predators or elephants
4. Tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans
5. Riding of wild animals, this includes riding or sitting on elephants, ostriches, crocodiles
SATSA explains that its toolkit and guidelines provide a clear outline of what is unacceptable. "Everything else is up to the decision of the person who is answering the questions that are included in SATSA's decision tree.
Ultimately, it is up to you as an individual to answer the questions that the tool poses and decide whether the experience fits ethically with your values. By sharing these guidelines with the tourism sector locally and internationally and independent travellers, SATSA says it equips them to make informed decisions on ethical interactions with animals by answering a series of open-ended questions.
"Ensuring that the guidelines are inclusive, SATSA’s charter supported by industry, states that those establishments which fall into the ‘unclear’ zone based on the Guide, but show concrete steps and a willingness to advance towards the ‘acceptable’ zone on the right side of the Line in the Sand, will be looked upon favourably and, where commercially viable, considered for business."
The guidelines were the result of a year-long research study aimed at developing:
- A long-term vision of where the South African tourism industry would like to be with regard to animal interactions in tourism (in 10, 20 … 50 years’ time)
- An ethical framework, which will form the basis for all discussions and guidelines in order to move the industry forward
- An interactive tool that can be used by the industry and tourists alike in order to identify which captive animal activities/facilities to support – and which to avoid
- High-level suggestions of key areas for legislative intervention and regulation
It is important to note that this study did not examine the welfare of wild animals outside of captive wildlife attractions and activities and that it only extended to captive wildlife attractions and activities that have a tourism aspect to these, states SATSA.
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The following captive wildlife attractions and activities were included in the study:
- Free-roaming wild animals in and around nature reserves, game reserves, game farms and other protected areas
- Marine animal attractions where the animals are not in a captive environment, e.g. shark cage diving, boat-based whale watching, snorkelling with seals.
- Free-roaming wild and domesticated animals naturally occurring in and around tourist establishments
- Domesticated animals such as cats, dogs, horses, donkeys and farm animal located in or near tourism establishments
- Hunting of free-roaming wild animals
Blood Lions issued a statement in response to the reports, commending SATSA on their thorough and comprehensive study of wildlife interactive tourism in South Africa.
"They have drawn a very clear ‘line in the sand’ as to what is not acceptable in terms of human activities with wildlife. What also stands out in their guidelines is that our current understanding of animal sentience and knowledge of animal behaviour has advanced significantly over time. This has enabled a greater understanding of how the misuse of animals is detrimental to the animals’ welfare, and damages the respect that humans have for these animals.
"We appreciate that SATSA does not have the directive to regulate or legislate this industry, but they have now ‘set the stage’ to position Brand South Africa positively, and clearly expect the authorities (such as SA Tourism, TBCSA and NDT as well as environmental and agricultural departments) to rise to the challenge and stand united in taking these guidelines forward.”
Over 60 leading SATSA tour operators and tourism establishments have since committed their support for this organic set of guidelines that takes into account ethical behaviour in terms of animal interactions, tourism growth, Brand South Africa’s reputation and employment.
SATSA member Travel Smart Crew says they are "absolutely supportive of the initiative", saying they understood the guideline and tool as entirely voluntarily.
"They are purely guidelines to help industry to make informed decisions on which experiences they provide to their clients, in ensuring that those suppliers with purest intent benefit from our business, and that the funds collected go back into support and development of responsible causes."
"It also empowers every person to assist animal interaction facilities to move forward in the evolving and increasingly important behaviour of responsible business.
"Developing these guidelines is testament to the fact that majority of South Africans are aware and do care deeply despite the recent reports and documentaries exposing bad practice in the sphere of animal activities."
SATSA says ultimately, the aim of the study, and resultant guide, is to raise awareness and encourage introspection, examination and dialogue that would lead to ethical choices and transformation in the sector, to improve the lives of individual animals, ensure the long-term conservation of South Africa’s wildlife, and position South Africa as an ethical tourism destination.