SATSA breaks down five ‘unacceptable’ wildlife activities

Training a wild animal to tolerate a human sitting on it often involves harsh training methods, resulting in injury that is further exacerbated the more the animal is used. Image: iStock

The non-profit association hopes that the guidelines will assist in moving the country’s tourism industry forward in a sustainable, ethical and relevant way.

Non-profit association Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA) has outlined five wildlife activities that they have classified as unacceptable, after a year of research and consulting with stakeholders. 

The draft of the animal interaction guide suggests which animal interactions are and are not ethically sound and responsible, and aims to have it be used by tourism bodies, tour operators and tourists, SATSA explains. 

The five wildlife activities that should be discouraged, according to the guide, are: performing animals, tactile interactions with infant wild animals, walking with predators or elephants, tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans, and riding wild animals. 

These activities earned their classification due to the fact that they all involve captive wildlife, a toxic ethical conundrum that SATSA says should not be supported by tourists or the tourism trade, as doing so would be putting the long-term survival of species at risk. 

The guideline embodies what SATSA explains as an ‘integrative approach’, developed by University of Johannesburg professor David Bilchitz. 

The issue of captive wildlife and tourism in Southern Africa is a contentious and often heated topic, mainly due to conflicting philosophies, vague laws and money-driven enterprises. 

SATSA has emphasised that embodying Ubuntu means “encapsulating an intimate relationship between humans and nature”, something greatly contradicted in captive wildlife tourism, which is an Anthropocentric model adopted by the western world, where the exploitation of nature is done to benefit human interests. 

Ubuntu serves as a ‘home-grown’ guide to understanding the integrative approach, which focuses on respecting individual animals and species to increase their chances of survival. 

“Only when the individual animal is respected and afforded protection for its interests is any use of that animal sustainable,” Professor Bilchitz explains. 

Below is a summary of the five unethical wildlife practices:

  1. Performing animals

Photos: Stefan de Villiers/Lowvelder

Animals that perform as entertainment for humans have inevitably experienced some degree of cruelty, as they would have had to be trained in order to perform tricks. This greatly contradicts an animal’s natural behaviour and gives them no choice but to endure an unnatural life as long as it is deemed useful, and is therefore not in its best interest. 

The guideline also emphasises that there is no educational or conservational value in forcing animals to perform for audiences. 

  1. Tactile interactions with infant animals

Cub petting is unethical and has no conservation or educational value. Image: iStock

Any relationship between an infant wild animal and a human being can be considered unnatural behaviour, not only because a baby will not naturally stray from its mother, and also because the infant would have to be separated from its mother prematurely to be exposed to tourists for touching, petting and photos. 

This puts the baby animal’s life at risk and also has no conservational or educational value. 

  1. Walking with elephants or predators

Walking with elephants or predators should be discouraged. Image: iStock

Training is also involved in allowing tourists to walk with elephants or predators, and this behaviour is contradictory to a wild animal’s natural instinct not to interact with humans. 

In addition, no conservational or educational value can be found to justify this tourism practice. 

  1. Tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans (aquatic mammals) 

Physically interacting with a wild animal means they have to live in captivity. Image: iStock

A wild animal not having a choice but to be touched by a human, who it would instinctively eat rather than be petted by, is just one reason why tactile interactions are unethical. 

Interacting with wild animals in close proximity is stressful to the animal, and in order for predators and cetaceans to tolerate being touched, they would also have had to endure some form of training, which often involves negative reinforcement. 

This would also mean that the animal would be forced to live in captivity, something they neither prescribed to, and this doesn’t have any conservational or educational value.  

  1. Riding wild animals

Elephants being ridden by tourists are often injured or punished. Image: iStock

Training a wild animal to tolerate a human sitting on it often involves harsh training methods, resulting in injury that is further exacerbated the more the animal is used. 

Animals being ridden do not provide any conservational or educational value and is in stark contradiction to their natural behaviour. It is therefore not in the animal’s best interest to be forced to have humans ride them for money.

SATSA hopes that the guidelines will assist in moving the country’s tourism industry forward in a sustainable, ethical, and relevant way.

And as the region relies so heavily on wildlife tourism, it is integral that Southern Africa leads the way in respecting nature, both to boost the industry’s moral fibre and ensure that wildlife species survive and thrive. 

It is also an important research model to break down archaic stereotypical thinking when wildlife and human beings interact, and to educate future generations about how to respect animals.

For more information on how SATSA’s guide works, click to download the PDF here

(Compiled by Nica Schreuder)

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