4 things to consider when animals are part of your holiday itinerary


Snake charming still exists in some countries, but many animal welfare organisations say this is not an acceptable tourism activity. — Photos: Pexels

The lure of travel destinations is often tied to a desire to have the most authentic experiences possible, including with local fauna. This has effects – both positive and deplorable.

In the best-case scenario, animal tourism activities – apart from the fun factor – can help educate people about species conservation and environmental protection in the holiday destination.

“Good (leisure) offers ensure that the welfare of the animals is guaranteed. And visitors to the destination become more environmentally aware,” says Yvonne Würz from the animal rights organisation Peta.

But often, the animals get a raw deal, and travellers may unknowingly contribute to this themselves. Here are some aspects to consider for those who care about of animal welfare on their holiday.

1. Avoid photo shoots with wild animals

Time and again you see photos of travellers posing with cute baby monkeys on their shoulders in front of temples in Asia, or swimming with turtles in the sea.

“The rise in popularity of the ‘selfie’ has led to tourists seeking increased proximity to animals in some wild and captive contexts,” Britain’s ABTA Travel Association writes in its animal welfare guidelines for tourism. These guidelines are also recommended by equivalent associations in other countries like Germany.

Camels are used for transporting tourists in destinations like Egypt and Jordan, but this practice may soon end. — PixabayCamels are used for transporting tourists in destinations like Egypt and Jordan, but this practice may soon end. — Pixabay

Würz advises holidaymakers to inform themselves about facilities with animals via independent websites, rating forums, and on social media before visiting them. This will give you an indication of how professionally and ethically they are run.

“Genuine sanctuaries prevent offspring from being bred because the limited space available is required for animals in need,” says the graduate biologist, giving an example.

They should also not make the animals in their care available for photo shoots, shows or trekking tours.

2. Are animal rides on the way out?

Some tourist hotspots already started to rethink animal welfare. In Palma de Mallorca, the capital of the popular Spanish holiday island, horse-drawn carriages are to be banned from 2024. This followed an incident in August 2022, when a tourist filmed a coachman roughly attempting to pick up a horse that had collapsed from heat exhaustion on the road. The video went viral and caused outrage.

Camels and horses that transport tourists in Egypt, for example at the pyramids, could also soon be replaced – at least according to statements made to Peta by the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism. Electric carts as an alternative means of transport are to be introduced as soon as possible.

For donkeys and mules on the Greek holiday island of Santorini, the government already pledged to ban rides for people weighing more than 100kg in 2018, according to the organisation.

The problem is that there are hardly any controls. The animals continue to suffer from heavy weights they have to carry up the steep mountains of the island, and generally from poor care.

Greek authorities in Santorini have pledged to ban donkey rides for people who weigh more than 100kg. Greek authorities in Santorini have pledged to ban donkey rides for people who weigh more than 100kg.

However, there is an animal-free alternative on Santorini – the cable car between the harbour and the famous old town of Firá with its postcard panorama. Travellers here, as in Palma or at Egypt’s pyramids and elsewhere, can at least actively opt not to contribute to possible animal suffering when exploring.

3. Know what is unacceptable

ABTA is clear about activities that tourists should avoid, for example: feeding of most species, including crocodiles and alligators, great apes, bears, sloths, and feeding of and “walking with” wild cats; ostrich riding (either observing or participating); snake charming; elephant shows or performances for tourists.

Its manual for cetaceans – aquatic mammals like whales, dolphins, porpoises – is still under review, but tourist contact or feeding of orca, and unsupervised tourist feeding of cetaceans are deemed unacceptable.

As a rule of thumb, avoid any performances or tourist interactions involving wild animals where training involves punishment or food deprivation, causes the animal fear, injury or distress, or the tasks are not based on normal behaviour.

Also, shun the trade and sale of endangered wildlife products.

4. Be proactive when something is wrong

But what if, during your holiday, you see that an animal in human control is obviously suffering or injured?

“First of all, always try to talk to those responsible,” advises Robert Kless of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW).

“For example, in the case of an animal park, draw the attention of the management directly to the grievances.”

In the case of possible violations of animal protection laws, which can vary from country to country, the police are also responsible.

Encounters with sea turtles or other marine animals while diving are acceptable, but touching, provoking or feeding them is not. Encounters with sea turtles or other marine animals while diving are acceptable, but touching, provoking or feeding them is not.

In many popular destinations for tourists of a specific nationality, it’s possible to find local veterinarians who know their language. There are also animal welfare organisations locatable online that may be able to help in such cases.

In the case of package tours that include dubious animal activities, travellers should definitely contact the tour operator and make them aware of this, says Kless.

Finally, avoid any trophy hunting of rare wild animals and visits to bloody spectacles such as bullfights or cockfights, or any ritual animal slaughter as part of the tourism experience – regardless of any “tradition” that may be cited as justification. – dpa

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