5 Questions to Ask: Make Your Next Trip Animal-Friendly
By Dana Santucci, EF Education First, and Ben Williamson, World Animal Protection
Travelers increasingly seek unique experiences that they couldn’t get anywhere else. However, many tourists, whether they’re with a group or adventuring on their own, choose activities that put animals and wildlife at risk, even if they don’t do so intentionally. Younger generations tend to be more conscientious of animal welfare when making travel decisions, but there’s room for improvement among travelers of all ages.
Travelers and travel providers alike have a responsibility to leave destinations just the way – or better than – they found them. In the context of animal tourism, this means understanding that there’s more power in proactively protecting, promoting and facilitating animal welfare than there is in holding, petting or otherwise exploiting an animal.
In 2018, EF Education First (EF), became the first international education company to launch a global collaboration with World Animal Protection, a leading international nonprofit dedicated to animal welfare. We’ve worked together to remove activities from our travel experiences that don’t meet these animal welfare standards, including shows that involve animals and excursions that involve activities such as riding, petting, holding, feeding or swimming. We’ve also committed to educating our staff, Tour Directors and travelers about the importance of animal welfare, common misconceptions and how to recognize violations.
There are plenty of ways to see the world while contributing to its resiliency. For example, you can visit responsible elephant sanctuaries in Thailand and meet with “mahouts,” or elephant caretakers, to learn about their role in Thai culture; protect sea turtle habitats and vulnerable eggs in Costa Rica; or learn about overfishing and track endangered dolphins in the Amazon River.
Whether you’re participating in an operator-led tour or are venturing out on your own, here are the top five things we at EF ask ourselves to make sure our trips are animal-friendly, and that you can use to make sure yours are, too:
- What is the venue’s intent? A good rule of thumb is that if a venue offers guests direct interaction with animals, it doesn’t have wildlife’s best interest at heart. Look for venues dedicated to conservation, rehabilitation and ending mistreatment.
- Are the animals well cared for and comfortable? Reputable venues will abide by the Five Domains of Animal Welfare, which state that animals must be given positive experiences and be free of pain and suffering. Animals have good lives under human care when they enjoy good physical and mental health; have balanced and varied nutrition; and are in an environment that allows them to express the widest possible range of natural behaviors.
- Are guests allowed to pet, ride or take selfies with animals? Prioritize venues that allow animals to exhibit natural behavior (such as grazing and wandering) and do not rely on exploitative animal entertainment such as animal shows, riding, petting or holding. People participate in these activities out of a love for animals, but don’t see the extreme mistreatment and abuse that go into them..
- Is this activity an ethical gray area? Some venues, such as aquariums and zoos, run the gamut on animal care and facility standards. If you can’t see animals in a more natural environment, compare the facility against the Five Domains of Animal Welfare and prioritize venues whose conservation and rehabilitation efforts have been thoroughly vetted.
- Have you done your research? Just because a venue says it’s a sanctuary doesn’t mean it’s an animal-friendly destination. Look beyond the venue’s website and do your own digging, such as looking for references to chains or petting activities in past customers’ reviews.
It has been an honor for our organizations to collaborate and develop these industry-leading standards, and we hope other travel organizations will adopt comprehensive animal welfare standards too. We all have a role to play in making sure our travels do not harm the animals that live in the destinations we visit. Before you book your next trip, make sure you check out additional resources, such as World Animal Protection’s guide on how to be an animal-friendly traveler and elephant-friendly tourist guide. By researching, educating ourselves and changing habits, we can make the world a better, safer place for all its inhabitants.
About EF Education First
Dana Santucci is Vice President for EF Education First and has worked for EF in a variety of capacities over more than 25 years. She has held senior positions in EF Go Ahead Tours, the organization’s adult travel division, as well as with EF Educational Tours and EF Explore America, both of which cater to educators and student travelers. Currently, she sits centrally and oversees a variety of special projects related to EF’s mission of opening the world through education. She serves on the executive board of directors for the USTOA and is the recent former Chairperson of the USTOA.
EF Education First (EF), founded in Sweden in 1965, provides culturally immersive education through language, travel, cultural exchange, and academic programs in over 100 countries around the world. EF’s mission is opening the world through education. Learn more by visiting https://ef.com.
About World Animal Protection
Ben Williamson is the U.S. Programs Director of World Animal Protection, a global animal welfare organization with offices in fourteen countries. Its mission is a world where animals live free from suffering. Ben oversees World Animal Protection’s five U.S. campaign areas (Wildlife. Not Entertainers; Exotic Pets; Pigs; Chickens; and Meat Reduction), and his areas of expertise include animals in entertainment, exotic pets, factory farming, vegetarian/vegan issues, cruelty to animals and humane education. Ben has nearly a decade of experience working for animal protection in both the U.S. and the United Kingdom.
World Animal Protection has moved the world to protect animals for more than 50 years. World Animal Protection works to give animals a better life. The organization’s activities include working with companies to ensure high standards of welfare for the animals in their care; working with governments and other stakeholders to prevent wild animals being cruelly traded, trapped or killed; and saving the lives of animals and the livelihoods of the people who depend on them in disaster situations. World Animal Protection influences decision-makers to put animal welfare on the global agenda and inspires people to change animals’ lives for the better.