Will this new guide help how we view animal interactions in tourism? Picture: Pexels.

Captive wildlife attractions and interactions remain a complex, contentious and emotionally charged issue. There is an increasing movement, both locally and internationally, against tourism experiences that potentially harm animals. 

SATSA, which represents South Africa’s tourism private sector, hopes to change this. 

The organisation embarked on a comprehensive research initiative to develop a long-term vision for South Africa’s tourism industry with regards to animal interactions in tourism. 

The organisation also wanted to design and agree on a framework to guide attractions, operators and tourists, to develop high-level suggestions for legislative intervention and regulation and position South Africa as an ethical tourism destination.  

The research report is the result of a year of robust consultation with the wider tourism industry and relevant stakeholders. Nationwide public workshops and an examination of local, regional and international guidelines, research and best practice contributed to the development of the guide. 

The study and resultant guide and tool explore the intricacies of animal interactions, including the reason why the animals are in captivity, the source of the animals, the use of the animals while in captivity and the likely destination of the animals. This takes its ambit beyond the work usually done on captive/wildlife welfare to the full life cycle of the animal interactions industry. 

The guide was unveiled this week. It will allow tourism bodies, tour operators and tourists to assess animal interaction operations, and make informed decisions to support ethically sound and responsible operators in South Africa. 

The study conveys findings and recommendations around: 

  • Performing animals (all types of animals, including elephants, predators, primates, cetaceans, birds, reptiles etc. trained to perform in a public show or display)
  • Tactile interactions with infant wild animals (e.g. cub petting)
  • Tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans (any interaction with land predators or aquatic mammals)
  • Walking with predators or elephants
  • Riding of animals (including sitting on elephants, ostriches etc.)
  • It tackles issues of canned hunting, trade in body parts, deceptive behavior or illegal operations. Primarily, the research outlines a ‘home-grown’ solution to a complex problem, one which draws a line – moving the SA tourism industry forward in terms of responsible and sustainable practices.