Reporting on the global scale of wildlife cruelty in the tourism industry for the first time

22 October 2015

Today Oxford University have published a study concluding that at least 4 million tourists who visit tourist attractions involving wildlife are likely to be contributing to large-scale animal welfare abuses.

The study, conducted by Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) and co-written by our Head of Wildlife Research and Policy Neil D’Cruze, is the first to conduct an in-depth review of the impacts of the wildlife tourism industry globally. The study also found that despite being typically unaware of their impacts on individual animals, millions of tourists across the world are also contributing to the decline in species’ conservation status.

Hundreds of thousands of animals suffering

WildCRU researcher Tom Moorhouse led the study which examined 24 types of wildlife tourist attractions around the world in detail – including elephant parks, tiger interactions, lion encounters, dolphinaria, civet coffee farms and turtle farms.

They found that between 230,000 and 550,000 animals are being held in attractions that negatively affect their welfare.

By comparison, only six types of attraction, involving 1,500 - 13,000 animals, were judged likely to have net positive effects on welfare and conservation – and all of these were wildlife sanctuaries.

The customer isn’t always right

You might expect that visits to these attractions left tourists with a bitter aftertaste. The team examined feedback for wildlife tourist attractions left on TripAdvisor and found that attractions with worse welfare received more negative feedback than ones with better welfare. However even for the attractions that scored lowest on welfare, typically 80% of the feedback was positive.

David Macdonald, WildCRU’s Director, said, “How sad it is that tourists, often no doubt lured in as a result of a well-intentioned interest in animals, thereby support attractions that not only keep wild animals in bad conditions, but also damage their conservation”. He added, “That double whammy could be rectified by tougher regulation, better enforcement and by following our rule of thumb: avoid any wildlife attraction that scores under 80% on TripAdvisor.”

Neil D’Cruze, Head of Research at World Animal Protection, added, “Some of the most concerning types of wildlife attractions, such as elephant rides, received overwhelmingly positive reviews from tourists. There is a great opportunity for TripAdvisor to improve its service to the visiting public by including in its evaluations a score for animal welfare and conservation.”

Take action to protect elephants

We work with responsible travel companies around the world to protect wildlife from the cruel tourist entertainment industry. So far we have helped more than 80 travel companies end their support of elephant rides and shows.

We are currently talking with Thomas Cook Group, one of the world’s largest travel companies, to help them join this movement. Sign our petition to make sure they do.  

“How sad it is that tourists, often no doubt lured in as a result of a well-intentioned interest in animals, thereby support attractions that not only keep wild animals in bad conditions, but also damage their conservation”

Tell the world: