The guidelines for interactions with caged wildlife have been changed for the better in order to protect the well-being of these animals.
There are many places within and around South Africa where people can have close interactions with caged wildlife. Most of the time, when we visit these places, we don’t think of the cost to the wellbeing of the animals themselves and are led to believe that they’re treated humanely and well cared for. A huge part of our tourism industry is built around having the opportunity to touch an exotic animal whether that be riding an elephant or holding a lion cub. No matter how well these animals are treated, we cannot be sure that these human interactions are beneficial to them.
In a bold move towards the end of last year, the South African Tourism Services (SATSA) declared that interactions with wildlife including infant wildlife, walking with predators and elephants; interactions with predators and riding of wild animals is no longer acceptable. It is strange that the tourism industry would step into the arena especially when much of the local industry rides on this.
The association’s Animal Interactions board committee announced last year that it will no longer recommend facilities which offer these activities to international tour operators or international visitors. The National Department of Tourism has welcomed this decision which is committed to protecting our wildlife and natural resources. Although it may seem like a death knell for sectors of the tourism industry, it is in line with a more global view of conservation and ecology which aims to preserve and protect by observing and admiring ethically and without disturbance. If we are to preserve our natural heritage in SA, we can no longer exploit our resources as we have done before.
Previously there were no clear guidelines on the nature of wildlife interactions, however the new guidelines outline some strict criteria, which if not adhered to will result in immediate disqualification. These include animals used for performances, any tactile interactions with infant wildlife, predators and aquatic wildlife, walking with predators and large mammals like elephants and the riding of animals including ostriches and elephants.
In order to protect the inbound tourism industry, it is incumbent on tour operators to push this agenda and uphold the values by educating and informing their guests of why this decision has been made and what it entails.