Advice for travellers on activities involving animals

In many tourism destinations around the world, opportunities to view or interact with animals are commonly offered and very popular with many holidaymakers.

These experiences can be enjoyable, educational and support conservation. However, where experiences are not carefully managed they can jeopardise animal welfare and your holiday experience. 

Animal welfare is a complex area and ABTA provides guidelines for the tourism industry on basic welfare requirements and unacceptable practices. More information about this work can be found here, along with a copy of the overview manual and examples of what ABTA Members are doing on animal welfare.  

Whilst the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines were developed for the industry, they cover a number of situations, and we have covered some of the main points below that are relevant for members of the public.

Things to keep in mind about animal welfare when on holiday

More and more UK tour operators now have an animal welfare policy which you may find helpful when considering animal attractions.  

Interacting with animals 

It sounds like common sense but interacting with dangerous wild animals, including touching, riding or feeding, poses significant risks. They are unpredictable and you could be seriously injured. 

Be wary about having a photo taken with a captive wild animal. The animal may find being handled stressful, could be drugged or be at risk of being killed once it becomes too large to handle. 

Holding a lion cub, or riding or bathing elephants, are examples of unacceptable practices in the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidelines.

Captive animals

Animals have many welfare needs in captivity that should be met. In our guidelines, we set out basic welfare requirements including food, housing and health. If you see anything that concerns you, raise it with the attraction or your travel company.   

Visiting a genuine animal sanctuary can have a positive impact, but not all are official sanctuaries and some don’t necessarily operate as they should. There are also things you shouldn’t see or do in a sanctuary, for example sanctuaries should not breed animals and you shouldn’t be allowed to touch them. 

Viewing animals in the wild

When viewing animals in the wild ensure your guide leaves sufficient distance so that your presence doesn’t disturb them or interfere with their natural behaviour. 

Don’t encourage guides to pursue wildlife that are showing avoidance tactics e.g. displaying threatening or alarmed behaviour or if they are moving away. 

Speak quietly and don’t make any sudden movements when close to wildlife so as not to alarm them. Never feed, touch, tease or provoke wild animals. For marine wildlife, when contact with animals is permitted and controlled (e.g. when swimming with dolphins), don’t approach the animals but let them approach you when they choose to. Don’t approach or interfere with breeding sites (nests, burrows, dens, etc.) as this can disturb and affect the animals, sometimes resulting in parents abandoning their young. 

Working animals

With working animals, such as camels, donkeys or horses, look out for how the animals are looked after, whether they are fit enough and if the work is appropriate. For example, never ride donkeys, horses, mules or camels that are too young, too old, pregnant or nursing. For advice on how to spot the signs of whether an animal is suitable to ride, check the Happy Horse Code, which has been developed by the animal welfare charity Brooke.

Other tips

Ask questions and raise any concerns you may have. You can flag concerns through The Born Free Foundation’s ‘Raise the Red Flag’ alert system and report your concerns to them.

Additionally, if your tour operator doesn’t sell an experience because of their animal welfare policy, then you may find it helpful to ask why not to help better understand the situation.   

Don’t buy souvenirs that are made from wildlife products or other threatened natural materials including turtle shells, feathers and ivory. Many of these products support unsustainable practices such as poaching, and are illegal under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). Learn more about the work of CITES here.

You may also want to put something back into the area and wildlife you’ve visited by making a personal contribution to support conservation in the area.