Wildlife tourist attractions: Ethically steering the sightseers

Moorhouse, T., D'Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2016). Unethical use of wildlife in tourism: what's the problem, who is responsible, and what can be done?. Journal of Sustainable Tourism, 1-12.

Many wildlife tourist attractions have poor ethical standards, yet they still attract visitors. This paper reviews some of the reasons why this happens, and provides a solution to help empower tourists to make ethically sound decisions.

Wildlife tourist attractions (WTAs) around the world vary considerably with regard to their welfare and conservation vigilance. With no global legislation to consistently regulate standards, the authors of this paper contend that it is tourist revenue that ultimately determines which WTAs are ethically acceptable.

Tourists are not adequate judges of animal welfare

By outlining a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic reasons, such as cultural differences, lack of knowledge, self-deception, ‘holiday-mode’ mentality, and the influence of salesmanship and the patronage/reviews of peers, the authors demonstrate that tourists are not adequate assessors of animal welfare or conservation ethics at WTAs. Regardless of these limitations, the authors show how subjective, positive feedback from online review sites such as TripAdvisor can influence other tourists’ attitudes and decisions about which WTAs to visit, despite many of them having few, if any, positive impacts for wildlife.

In light of the evidence provided in this paper, the authors conclude that tourists visiting online review sites should have access to prominent, objective assessments of WTAs from a knowledgeable, reputable source. The provision of clear, informed reviews and an official ‘TripAdvisor Green Credential’ score, for example, would promote the WTAs with genuine, beneficial regard for animal welfare and conservation. This would increase tourist revenue at ethically sound WTAs, thereby propagating the beneficial effects. WTAs with objectively poor ethical practices would have a reduced market share and would therefore need to improve their standards or face closure.

World Animal Protection’s view

The exploitation of wild animals for the sake of entertainment is a global issue, which negatively impacts the welfare of hundreds of thousands wild animals each year. At World Animal Protection, we recognise the importance of educating the public about the cruelty and suffering of animals that occurs in many Wildlife Tourism Attractions (WTAs). The provision of welfare information on individual WTAs should increase visitor awareness of these issues and decrease their likelihood of visiting such places. Reducing the consumers' demand for attractions where animals are exploited will help us achieve our goal of keeping wild animals in the wild, where they belong.