Elephant rides, dolphin shows and walking with lions are just some examples of animals as tourist attractions. But holidaymakers are often unaware of the animal welfare problems involved, says animal rights group Deutscher Tierschutzbund.

Tour operators are now increasingly avoiding certain activities and demanding minimum standards for the treatment of animals from their contractual partners, the association says.

A recent example is travel company Der Touristik, which is planning to gradually remove all offers involving direct contact with wild animals from its tours by the end of 2020.

That means no more elephant rides, bull fights or bear shows – and providers of other activities involving animals will be checked to make sure they comply with animal welfare requirements.

Many European travel companies follow the guidelines of British travel association ABTA, which state that animals must not suffer from hunger or thirst, and have to be held in suitable conditions. They must also not suffer from pain, illness or injury, and should exhibit normal behaviour.

But the ABTA guidelines don’t go far enough for the Deutscher Tierschutzbund, for example when it comes to dolphins. In general, the recommendations are not legally binding, the German association says. “In this regard, it’s up to the providers themselves how far they want to go.”

Animal

A zoo worker with two elephants in Karachi, Pakistan. ABTA guidelines state that animals must not suffer from hunger or thirst, and have to be held in suitable conditions. They must also not suffer from pain, illness or injury, and should exhibit normal behaviour.

Elephant rides and shows have been dropped by Tui and Thomas Cook. But animal attractions remain popular with holidaymakers – at least according to a market analysis commissioned by Tui.

According to the data, around 70% of holidaymakers want the option of trips to dolphin and whale shows. Of these, 60% said they would only consider these attractions if they fulfilled global animal welfare standards.

But some animal rights groups say dolphins should never be kept in captivity. “In the wild, they cover distances of up to 100km per day and dive up to 200m deep. Their need to move around cannot be satisfied in dolphinariums,” says James Brueckner from the Deutscher Tierschutzbund.

Operators say it doesn’t make sense to end animal attractions completely, arguing that in developing countries in particular, this would remove people’s livelihoods.

But for tourists, it’s not always easy to tell where animal welfare problems begin. For example, even taking a photograph with an animal could cause distress. “Being constantly touched by unfamiliar humans stresses the animals enormously. Many were caught as young animals and their mothers killed,” says the Deutscher Tierschutzbund. – dpa/Friederike Marx