Auditing animal welfare, conservation and tourists’ attitudes of wildlife tourism attractions

Moorhouse, T. P., Dahlsjö, C. A. L., Baker, S. E., D’Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). The Customer Isn’t Always Right-Conservation and Animal Welfare Implications of the Increasing Demand for Wildlife Tourism. PloS One, 10(10)

This study discusses the impacts that Wildlife Tourist Attractions (WTAs) have on the animals. Twenty-four WTAs were assessed on both welfare and conservation topics and given an overall ‘impact score’. Additionally, TripAdvisor reviews were analysed to check if visitors’ ratings related to the impact scores. 

This study is an audit of various WTAs worldwide; with animal welfare, conservation and visitor satisfaction values reviewed and quantified.  The researchers began by grouping WTAs into categories, so that each attraction could be audited accordingly. For example, ‘Sanctuaries’, ‘Famed Wildlife’, ‘Street Performance’ and ‘Wild’ attractions were grouped together and compared. The attractions were then ranked using a seven-point scale (scored on conservation and animal welfare), and also accounted for tourist dissatisfaction, the number of annual visitors, and number of animals at each attraction. Positive welfare scores were awarded when an attraction supported the five freedoms principle, in which animals were free from hunger/thirst, pain, discomfort, injury and stress. On the other hand, negative conservation scores were awarded if an attraction had previously experienced negative impacts on species at risk, such as disease or death of an endangered species. By using the five-point scale on TripAdvisor, researchers were also able to measure feedback from tourists on each of the WTAs in question to see if they correlated with their own welfare and conservation results.

Ratings, scales & trusting your advisor 

Out of the 24 different WTA types used in this study, there were 406 individual WTAs, up to 6 million tourists and 561,000 animals in total. It was found that only 5 WTAs scored positively on both welfare and conservation impacts, and 14 scored negatively on both, with 80% of all TripAdvisor reviews including dissatisfaction scores. However, tourists generally didn’t take poor animal welfare into account when rating WTAs. This suggests that tourists are unaware of less obvious animal welfare breaches and that more education is required for tourists. By doing this, the chances of valid and reliable reviews being produced by tourists on WTAs will be increased.  

World Animal Protection’s view

It is very important that we keep the welfare of animals in mind when visiting tourist attractions. There are many animal-friendly options for tourists who want to visit wild animals responsibly and at World Animal Protection we encourage people to choose humane attractions that place wild animal welfare and conservation at the very forefront of their operations.