Animal welfare groups laud step by travel giant but concerns remain that it is not going far enough to counter cruel practices and exploitation by tourism businesses
Its an experience that has become one of those must do before you die moments: to swim with a large marine mammal. You reach out and stroke. So does everyone else. Then someone tries to hitch a ride.
Now internet giant TripAdvisor is launching a no touching of wild animals policy, whereby it will no longer sell tickets to attractions where travellers come into physical contact with captive, wild or endangered animals. As well as swimming with dolphins, the policy also covers petting tigers and elephant rides, a tourism experience that animal welfare charities have long campaigned against. Its a move that many animal welfare and conservation charities have welcomed. Stephanie Shaw from PETA says: We applaud TripAdvisor taking this stance, helping to raise awareness. Elephant training, for example, is brutal and cruel.
Human and wild animal interaction has never been so available, nor so fraught with possible conflicts. Around the world, especially where government management is either inadequate or absent, wild animals are vulnerable to operators eager to push the boundaries. Often there are no controls. At the bottom of the market, you can find tigers doped to allow tourists to get close for a cuddle, or elephants thoroughly traumatised by violent training.
Richard Rees, director of the Maldives Whale Shark Research Programme, is clear about what goes on during whale shark trips: In some places, its a free-for-all. We see touching, riding, flash photography, obstruction all sorts of bad practices.