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A Flickr image of a seal taken at Scotland’s Forvie nature reserve. Verino77 via Flickr, CC BY-NC-SA

Watching animals in their natural habitat may seem harmless, but it can have serious consequences for the conservation status of wildlife. More than 1,400 species listed as Endangered and Critically Endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature are threatened by tourism. This can be a consequence of habitat destruction caused by tourism development or disturbance caused by tourists.

Consequently, we need to find ways to manage these activities so that the targeted wildlife can continue to thrive and the businesses that depend on it can remain economically viable. This is not an easy task.

The first obstacle on the path to managing nature tourism sustainably can be overcome by harnessing the power of the internet and social media. We can use this data to identify areas where wildlife is under strong pressure from recreational activities and intervene, perhaps preventing any significant impacts on the wildlife. We can also investigate whether nature recreation is helping countries to achieve biodiversity and sustainability targets, such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. For example, we can look for associations between nature tourism growth and progress towards biodiversity and sustainability goals in different countries.

Read the full article here.

By Francesca Mancini of The Conversation.

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tiger, wilderness, sustainable travel, protect wildlife, wildlife protection, conservation, animal welfare

Credit: Shutterstock

Wildlife encounters are one of the most exciting and memorable experiences you can have, but your safety and the animal’s welfare should be your highest priority.

Here are some tips on how to have an exhilarating and responsible wildlife experience:

  • If you can, visit animals in the wild or in sanctuaries where they are kept in the most natural conditions possible. If you’re looking for a more affordable option such as a zoo, do some research on the establishment’s stance on animal welfare before you purchase a ticket.

 

  • Don’t use animals as photo props. Critters such as the slow loris are adorable, but they get distressed when held; therefore, no matter how cute or seemingly harmless, avoid the urge to treat wild animals as cuddly toys.

 

  • Check if your tour operator has taken adequate measures to ensure safety for you and the wildlife. You can reduce uncertainty by booking tours through tour operators that have special accreditations, that show they follow sustainable tourism practices, such as PATA members Khiri and Buffalo Tours.

 

  • Appreciate animals just as they are and respect them. Some attractions may have your favourite creatures behaving in a way they normally wouldn’t in the wild. It’s best to avoid supporting such activities, as it is difficult to access whether the training methods used to tame the animals are responsible or not.

 

 

Spend sustainably because your refusal to engage in potentially dubious activities will bring down the business that profits at the expense of wildlife.

For more background information on the role of elephants in Asia and animal welfare, visit the links below:

If you’d like a more thorough understanding of animal welfare in tourism, check out ABTA’s Animal Welfare Guidelines.

 

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Captive Elephant Welfare Initiative

Elephants in captivity are an ethical concern in the tourism industry. The rapid growth in tourism’s demand for interaction with elephants across Asia coupled with inadequate government regulations has resulted of poor treatment of these animals in many of the elephant facilities. Other facilities however are working in compliance with the best achievable practices in close partnership with elephant experts and universities. Up to date no international accepted standard and related assessment system was existing. The so-called Elephant Camp Animal Welfare Standard and Assessment initiative aims to recognise the better camps and to motivate those not yet complying towards better animal welfare.

Elephants in Asia

With over 3000 years of captive elephant history and given that there are over ten thousand captive elephants in Asia it is important to establish scientific facts, respect local culture and lay down solid foundations that ensure the welfare of captive elephants as well as their traditional mahouts.

Despite calls for action from various animal rights groups, their approach is often not based on scientific facts, does not engage mahouts and elephant (family) business, does not present achievable solutions nor looks at long term sustainability and the survival of the species as such.

We believe responsible tourism encouraging elephant experiences of the highest standard is the most immediate, viable solution. We believe by engaging stakeholders to seek holistic improvements and setting standards across the industry, more can be done to protect elephants than by staging boycotts or signing pledges. Hard work and hard choices based on scientific facts, balancing the interest of individual Elephants, the mahouts, and the conservation of the Asian Elephant, are required by all involved.

Leading Asian tour operators with support of Travelife for Tour Operators, the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) and PATA have therefore initiated a process to establish a widely supported set of standards and criteria as a guideline and reference for elephant camps. The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare Initiative will provide tour operators as well as their clients the ability to make an informed, ethical choice

Information meeting for Thai Elephant camp owners and managers (August 2017)

The standard

The standard is based upon international animal welfare and sustainability principles including the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) principles for captive elephants. The standards have also been subject to consultation from individual elephant experts from various disciplines (e.g. elephant veterinarians, mahouts, behavioural experts, biologist, animal learning experts, researchers). Based on a careful process a final draft of the standard was reached in 2017. The standard includes more than 160 criteria divided over 7 themes and 24 subthemes and provides detailed guidelines for the camps as well as the external assessor covering not only the elephants but also the staff, mahouts, sustainable business practices and the relation with the local communities. Elephant camps that comply with the highest of standards treat their elephants in the best possible manner and are committed towards a process of permanent improvement. The scientific based guidelines cover, for example cruelty free learning science based training techniques, closely monitored and regulated working hours, rest periods throughout the day – ideally in a forested area to socialize, bathe and relax and more. Responsible camps have veterinarians on staff, and/or provide regular health checks. Elephants are not tied up with chains of lengths less than 2 metres for prolonged periods of time. Good camps work with local communities providing jobs, marketing local handicrafts and purchasing local supplies to ensure everyone benefits. Camps promoting best practices also actively support and engage in research and conservation projects protecting animals in the wild.

Any interactions between elephants and tourists are based on scientific standards and do not compromise the welfare of the elephants or endanger humans. Most importantly, all good camps register their elephants with the relevant government department, complete with DNA testing to ensure no wild stocks are being captured and added to the captive population. The assessment is designed to ensure standards set by leading experts are being met and improved.

Currently more than 30 elephant facilities from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia have enrolled in the program and are under assessment. They are committed to improvements to comply with the standard.

Supporting tour operators
The initiative is supported by a growing number of Asian tour operators including:.

When you travel with the tour operators supporting this initiative you can be assured that any elephant experience suggested is being held to the highest of international standards and practices. In this way we believe we are effectively contributing to the protection and preservation of elephants in Asia.

The destination management companies (DMCs) and tour operators involved in this initiative will also no longer work with any elephant camp that refuses to be audited or assessed as complete transparency is needed in all aspects of the operations to gauge and ensure responsible practices are indeed in place. Thus financial gains are directed to those working on improving and ensuring the long term welfare of their captive elephants and staff and not to those operating unethically or purely for profit or under false (animal welfare) pretences.

So yes, elephants in captivity is an ethical concern under current circumstances but by working together and using tourism as a powerful tool in the right way, we can ensure the long-term quality if life of thousands of captive elephants throughout Asia and provide clients with an inspiring experience, whilst improving the lives of all involved and preserving local culture and heritage.

Animal welfare auditor and advisor training (Chiang Mai, August 2017)

For more information please contact:

PATA Sustainability: ssr@PATA.org
Travelife for Tour Operators: info@travelife.info
Asian Captive Elephant Working Group: http://acewg.org

Resources

http://sustain.pata.org/interview-dr-andrew-mclean-human-elephant-learning-program/

Statement

http://sustain.pata.org/captive-elephant-welfare-initiative/

http://acewg.org/news/

www.travelife.info/index_new.php?menu=projects&lang=en

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#PataSustain interviewed Dr. Andrew McLean, co-founder of the Human Elephant Learning Programs (H-ELP) foundation, an Australian organisation aiming to improve the welfare of working elephants in Asia. Since its foundation in 2010, H-ELP has grown significantly as Andrew’s systematic approach to elephant training is recognised as a viable and safe alternative to traditional submission-based methods. The following interview has been edited for clarity, flow, and length.

Dr. Andrew McLean – Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: Thank you for your time today. To let the reader get familiar with who you are and what you do, can you tell us a little bit about your background and the road to H-ELP Foundation?  

A: How it all began for me was that I have been a horse trainer pretty much all my life as well as an academic and, in my PhD, I designed a more ethical way of training horses. I was working in Finland and a woman in Finland by the name Helena Telkanranta had been working on a WWF project in Nepal and inquired with various people to help her improve the foundation of elephant training. Eventually, she came to me when I was doing a clinic in Helsinki and it all started from there. She asked me if I’d like to come along and I said I’d love to be involved in elephant training, but I don’t know much about elephants. And it just happened that one of my wife’s pupils in dressage, Laurie Pond, was the elephant handler and trainer at the Melbourne Zoo so he said to me, come down, I’ll give you some hands-on experience – I did that and then I set off in 2007 for my first work in Nepal. There was also Tuire Kaimio involved in the project who was a very good positive reinforcement trainer and we combined forces.

The Department of Conservation in Nepal awarded us a forestry camp called Bardia in the southwest of Nepal as a pilot study. We asked for a pilot elephant and they ended up giving us a whole camp which had five young elephants to train. It was meant to be a five-year plan where we would demonstrate what we could do. By year four, they (the Department of Conservation) were so happy with it, that they decided to give us the go-ahead to roll it out in Nepal. We were still young and didn’t have enough in our group and didn’t have enough funding and India was asking for me as well, so I started the project off in India and I couldn’t really manage Nepal and India at the same time. Helena then formed her own group to manage the Nepalese side and I continued in the north and the south of India. From there, we had workshops for trainers and from many different neighbouring states in the north and south which allowed us to cover most of India.

These trainers implemented these programs after the workshops and were all monitored by the Wildlife Trust of India and so far as it’s been very successful. Of course, a few things slide because we’re not there all the time to help them but I ended up writing a book, like a manual, about elephant training and I think that’s been a bit of a deal breaker because people could then read the book and continue on and that book has been published in six different languages. So, we’ve also moved into Thailand, at the National Elephant Institute, and then Myanmar, with the Myanmar Timber Enterprises, because they are the biggest private owners of elephants in the world, they have over 3000, and then this year Laos. So, that’s how it all started.

  

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: Your background is in horse training, what are the similarities between horse and elephant training?

A: They’re very similar because when you train horses, or I should say elephants, you use operant conditioning which is a very ancient form of animal learning that doesn’t require great cognitive skills. Reinforcement can happen even subconsciously, so the similarities between the two species are enormous. All I really did when I went to Nepal for the first time was using the academic blueprint I’ve developed for horse training was to cross out the word horse and write elephant. Of course, there are different places on the elephant’s body where you stimulate the animal, but these signals are still tactile signals like they are with horses. The main difference is, of course, elephants have a trunk and so they can pick things up and use it effectively in so many ways and on top of that, elephants are more able to reason then horses. They show some high mental abilities. Although that doesn’t affect the operant conditioning very much, it does affect their reactions to many things. So, for example, what surprised me was, one time I was asking an elephant to sit, because we had already taught him to sit, but he wasn’t in a very comfortable place and just walked off and sat some distance away. So that’s what’s interesting about elephants, they have more insight into their behaviours than horses. I think it is because of the trunk. When you have a trunk, you need to be able to plan ahead and think back and have more retrieval mechanisms to memory than animals with no dexterity.

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: In your opinion, what are the common misconceptions about activities with elephants in tourism?

A: I think some activities with elephants are highly questionable and deceptive such as elephant painting. It is presented as if the elephants are painting these masterpieces, you know, painting trees, flowers and even other elephants, I mean, you can train an elephant to hold a paintbrush and tap it onto paper through reward, but they’re not the ones doing the painting, it’s the mahouts directing their trunks by holding the elephant‘s ears or skin.  What they do with the elephants is train them to hold the paintbrush in their trunk. They hold the paint brush out stiffly and the mahout moves their head and gives them little pressures up, down, left and right. So it’s really the mahout who does the painting. You never see an elephant just standing there painting a tree all by itself. With elephants holding flowers and things like that, my suspicion, and I have seen elephants do that in training, is that it’s quite coercively trained, and I can’t imagine that it is all done only with positive reinforcement. I was told by somebody quite reputable in Chiang Mai a few years ago that they sometimes use nails and other painful objects to make sure the elephant really moves his head in the correct way in order to make a painting. I would not buy such paintings.

Q: If you were to say something to those animal activists wanting to ban elephant riding, what would it be?

A: Elephant riding is certainly not any great benchmark of welfare because you can train an elephant to be ridden in the most ethical way. I see no problem with that, and that’s what our program does we improve training methods. Most of our work in India is focused on training forestry elephants that catch poachers in national parks and it has been enormously successful for the parks, in apprehending poachers and also making poachers very wary about going poaching. There’s a huge benefit in using elephants in that way. They are quiet in the forest, they go everywhere, they’re a great vehicle and you can even teach elephants to sniff out poachers because they’ve got the most amazing sense of smell. 

 

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

My feeling about the riding is that if elephants were given limited hours and a limited payload, maybe only two people, limited numbers of days a week and weeks in a year, etc. and they are managed well and looked after the best way possible, including improving their saddlery (our H-ELP project is also investing in that) , I see no problem with riding elephants and I say it’s no different riding horses. Certainly, we can train the elephants to be ridden, in some parts of Asia we work with elephants in the middle of the jungle and they’re not restrained by ropes or chains, and yet the elephants are there voluntarily, and they will come back for each session over the course of our workshops. They don’t have a problem with a human on their back directing them, provided it is done ethically. When we’re having a break a for a cup of tea, they hang around or move off into the forest, and then they come back. It’s certainly not a horrible experience for them, but a violent foundation training as we still see in many parts of Asia, where the elephants are very coercively restrained and hurt until they don’t react anymore, that has got to stop. And if it doesn’t stop then elephant riding ought to be banned.

But if we are serious about welfare, I think we should be much more intelligent, in the way we look at elephant camps that are proud to say we don’t ride elephants and yet in many cases, the elephants have very bad diets and suffer internally because of that. Animals like elephants should be eating a lot of roughage, so feeding sugar cane and bananas to excess is very bad for their digestive system. If elephants don’t get enough exercise – they need between seven and 13 kilometres a day – that’s also bad for welfare. If they don’t have the ability to socialize with other elephants that’s bad for welfare too. We have done studies on this with horses where we’ve actually isolated all the elements of human interactions with horses and what we’ve shown is that it is the same thing. A well trained ridden animal with all the other things attended to, such as the proper diet, not overfeeding sugar, plenty of exercise and plenty of ability to socialize is a much better, happier animal.

Q: Earlier this year, jungle tour operators in Nepal demanded that the government come up with regulations with minimum conditions to be fulfilled for using elephants for tourism and wildlife conservation. From your scientific perspective, what are the minimum things that should be included in such?

A: There are basically four points – some of these are very minimal things for all animals. The absolute minimum things for welfare are the ability to move according to the species’ needs, foraging according to the species’ needs (and not just limited to sugar) and socialization. Being a social animal, being able to touch and handle other animals with their trunk is vital. The fourth one is the training that needs to be ethical and controllable from the animal’s point of view. We only use voice commands, positive reinforcement and very light touch signals and no punishment and that produces much happier elephants. It produces elephants that really want to be with you too. They are the benchmarks for welfare, those four things.

Q: Do you use any kind of tools in your training that mahouts would need to use later as well? Is it possible to train an elephant without using a hook, knife or any other sharp tools like nails?

A: Absolutely. There is no need for the hook. They should be put on walls like swords are now echoes of the past. I use a stick, because my arms are not long enough, and a stick gives you an extra meter. You can just tap the elephant on the bottom of the foot and say the word ‘back’ in whatever language and very quickly it learns that the word ‘back’ comes when it gets taped and then it learns to go back from the word back. We teach them the mobility from that and then we use positive reinforcement to reward the movements. So, when the elephant goes back, the chain of events we use in our training are – that we say the word and then we tap the part of the body. When their part of the body, e.g. the leg, moves, we immediately stop tapping and then we immediately also say ‘good boy’ in whatever language we’re using and then we deliver food after that. It follows this simple process and we will also give him some tactile reinforcement in between because I’m sure that it is as important for elephants as it is for horses. So there is absolutely no need for hooks, however you can’t simply take away mahouts hooks and not replace it with some form of training, we have seen that doing that simply introduces smaller concealed “hooks” like nails and sharp objects that get used in the same way.

  

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: In your opinion, what are the major challenges for elephant camps in Asia?

A: The major challenges are caused by the world’s reaction of people who don’t know enough of what they’re talking about, but they just love animals. They are saying we should not have any captive elephants and they should all be in the wild. Or they say they shouldn’t be ridden but its ok to feed them bad diets with little exercise and no socialization. What we need to do is, recognize that the Asian elephant now exists largely in captivity (unlike its African counterpart) and so we need to take care of these captive elephants better whilst protecting the ones left in the wild as their habitats have been decimated – they’re highly endangered in the wild. Their habitat is shrinking so rapidly because of human expansion and where they do exist in the wild, there is growing conflict with humans to say nothing of the increasing scourge of poaching. Also the profile of the wild population is unnatural. For example, we see unnatural numbers for various age cohorts and the male elephant is gradually disappearing altogether. In Myanmar, for example, which has a large number of elephants in the wild – there used to be 10,000, but now that is estimated to be less than 1800. These 1800 elephants only occupy the edge of their potential habitat because they are too afraid to go to the deep jungle because that’s when they get poached. The elephants move to the edges of the forest where there are human populations because they are a little bit safer there. It is a myth to think that we can just put all the captive elephants back into the forest. If we do that, we’re essentially exterminating them. We should look after the Asian elephants, recognize that many of them will remain in captivity, and we need to do the captivity as best as we possibly can.

Q: What can the tourism industry, in particular, do to help the Asian elephants?

A: The tourism industry needs to be really well audited and it should be accountable and sponsor audit programs because they make money out of elephants. If the elephant numbers are shrinking and people are still against elephants altogether, having bad welfare through feeding programs that are all wrong, is not in anyone’s interest. A proper audit would shake up the industry throughout Asia and that would be a great hope. The tourists’ dollars are important for the economy of many of these countries. It’s easy for the Westerners to say, just boycott it all, but that’s not fair in those countries. So, support the good industry and positive stamping elephant welfare.

Credit: Ben Fulton-Gillon

Q: Is there anything else you would like us to know, about yourself or the H-ELP Foundation?

A:  If anyone is interested in learning more, they should visit our website h-elp.org. In Australia, we have Deductible Gift Recipient Status that means that people can claim tax deductions if they donate to us. We are purely a not for profit charity, so all donations allow us to help more elephants in Asia. One other thing is, that, in Laos, we recently went to the Elephant Conservation Center. There, Michael Vogler and Prasop Tipprasert had a great motivation to do things right and I think that will be a future key centre for this type of approach. The elephants walk to where they get bathed which is seven kilometres away, which is good welfare. They are very careful about diet and now even more careful about how much tourist can feed these animals. They’re building a giant enclosure to house the elephants at night, so they’ll all be with each and properly socialize without being on chains. They are doing their absolute best to implement the training we gave them. It’s one of the few places we have seen that are striving to truly tick all boxes.

 

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PATA acknowledges that elephants in Asia are indeed working animals, and that owning an elephant is an investment. Recognising that there is a growing rift between stakeholders regarding animal welfare, The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standard and Assessment Initiative has been developed.

The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that activities and experiences at elephant camps are conducted in a responsible way, understanding the increasing concerns from both informed travellers and animal rights groups.

 

The challenge:

  • Growing concern of tourism industry stakeholders (Western travellers and operators) regarding animal welfare
  • Elephant camps in Asia lack set standards and an accompanying evaluation system
  • Some tour operators are evaluating camps based on self-developed checklists, an inefficient use of resources and a source of confusion on acceptable and responsible management practices amongst camps

 

Until now, there has been no widely accepted set of criteria for evaluation systems present for elephant camps in Asia.

 

The solution

Recognising the above issues, the PATA Tour Operator Sustainability Working Group, under the Chairmanship of Travelife for Tour Operators, developed a first draft of the standard on the basis of the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidance. Stakeholders and experts were given the opportunity to comment the standard. The draft has been revised several times following testing at elephant camps in Phuket and Northern Thailand. A final draft of the standard was ratified in February 2017. The standard includes in total, 166 criteria divided over 7 themes and 24 subthemes (see table). Specific implementation and auditor guidance and tools are presently being developed for the relevant criteria, with an auditors training to be conducted later this summer.

 

The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standard and Assessment Initiative is an answer to the growing concern of tourism industry stakeholders regarding animal welfare.

 

Who is involved

The Elephant Camp Welfare and Sustainability Standard is an initiative of Travelife for Tour Operators and the PATA Sustainable Tour Operators Working Group (TOWG), a subdivision of the PATA Sustainability & Social Responsibility Committee, the aim of the TOWG is to develop common standards and tools in order to jointly evaluate suppliers (e.g. accommodations, transport, excursions and attractions).

Present key members of the working group include: EXO Travel, Khiri Travel, Buffalo Tours, Go Vacation, Destination Services, Diethelm Travel, Destination Asia. The initiative is endorsed by PATA, World Animal Protection (WAP), ABTA and the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG), an informal network of elephant welfare experts and veterinarians, who are working to improving welfare standards of elephants in captivity on the basis of a scientific consensus.

 

Get involved

The key objective of the standard and evaluation system will be to support in- and outbound tour operators in their objectives to better select camps and to motivate camps towards improved animal welfare and sustainability standards. The initiative is open for other in- and outbound tour operators in Asia and its source markets that are PATA members in good standing.

Participating TOs will have the following benefits:

  • Receive annual updates on the performance of their camps
  • Opportunity to propose camps for an onsite audit
  • Receive information on camps not yet in your portfolio
  • Ability to share and access information between in- and outbound partners
  • Ability to provide clients a specific choice in compliance with their expectations

 

Be a part of the solution

For more information or to participate, please contact PATA Sustainability & Social Responsibility Specialist, Chi Lo: chi@pata.org or Travelife for Tour Operators General Manager, Naut Kusters: n.kusters@travelife.info.

Elephant Camp Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standard

 

Note: PATA aims to support, endorse, and provide education about this issue; however, we are not responsible for enforcing how elephant camps and tour operators perform.

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TripAdvisor Halts Ticket Sales to Cruel Wildlife Attractions

Categories: Recommended Reading, Uncategorized, Wildlife, Wildlife
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The travel website, which came under pressure earlier this year for promoting and profiting from inhumane tourism activities, also plans to educate users on animal welfare.

TripAdvisor 01-trip-advisor-dolphins-swimming-adapt-590-1

TripAdvisor’s booking company, Viator, will no longer sell tickets to certain activities, including swim-with-the-dolphin experiences, that pose animal welfare and conservation issues.

TripAdvisor, the popular travel review website, and its ticket sales company, Viator, said Tuesday they no longer will sell tickets to hundreds of tourist attractions that are widely accepted as cruel to wild animals, reversing a policy under which the companies had resisted considering the welfare of animals when promoting trips. By Read more for the original article on National Geographic.

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Animal Selfies: The Problem with Putting Ego Over Responsibility

Categories: Recommended Reading
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Image source: Green Global Travel

Image source: Green Global Travel

The selfie culture has become a worldwide phenomenon over the last decade, fueled by a narcissistic need for people to share every second of their life on social media. Coupled with a sense of self-entitlement and a complete lack of awareness, this has led to increasingly irresponsible travel behavior in the form of animal selfies, which contribute to wildlife exploitation and animal abuse on a global scale. By Brett Love & Mary Gabbett. Read more.

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