The Tourist Trap: Five Myths Promoting Wild Animal Exploitation Exposed

tourism conservation animal rights animal welfare
Thursday, 5 September, 2013 - 09:47

In this article, the author focuses animals and the hardships they go through, especially when they are kept in a small space for the ‘sake of making profit’ as opposed to caring about their welfare, in honour of the World Tourism Month 

Often due to lack of awareness, many unsuspecting tourists and locals fall into the trap of believing a holiday around sunny South Africa to ‘take in the big five’ and other wildlife romps causes no harm. And in some cases, they believe that they may even be supporting conservation or improving the welfare of wild animals.
 
Forget carbon footprint: the trail of destruction caused by the exploitation of wild animals should equally be cause for alarm.
 
“Every living creature has intrinsic value but that value should not be measured in terms of financial gain,” says executive director, Marcelle Meredith, of the National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA). “Animals are sentient beings, and we have a moral obligation not to cause them harm in the name of our entertainment.”
 
Meredith firmly believes that by creating awareness and providing education to the public, the
NSPCA can help eliminate the suffering animals endure.
 
“We firmly believe that many people do not know the truth, and that if they did, they would use this newfound knowledge to make sound choices,” says Meredith. “Ignorance is certainly not bliss.”
 
Lionesses are not good mothers
 
Although lion breeders and captive lion facilities may mislead the public into believing they have stepped in to protect the welfare of the cubs, as they are abandoned by their mothers in captivity this is rarely the case. In actual fact, lionesses by nature are very good parents and are fiercely protective of their offspring.
 
According to Ainsley Hay, manager of the Wildlife Protection Unit at the NSPCA, forcibly removing the cubs from their mother is very traumatic to both the lionesses and her cubs, and usually done purely for financial gain.
 
Avoid the Trap: It is unlikely that a facility will always have several baby cubs on hand for ‘petting’ due to parental abandonment. It is more likely that this is a result of the growing captive bred lion industry seeking the financial rewards and incentives from the unsuspecting public.
 
Captive breeding of predators promotes conservation
 
Facilities that continuously breed wild animals for the purpose of removing their offspring to enable human interactions for profit only fulfils a recreation role; there is no educational or conservation message.
 
“People only learn that this is a cute wild animal that can be controlled for human entertainment,” says Hay.
 
Now, these once ‘wild’ animals are bred specifically for unnatural colour mutations and morphs. These animals are often genetically compromised and can suffer from a variety of ailments and illnesses.
 
Once these animals are no longer considered cute and cuddly, or begin to exhibit their natural wild traits, they become fodder for trophy or canned hunting, or the lion bone wine industry.
 
“This is not conservation,” states Hay. “It’s farming.”
 
Avoid the Trap: The NSPCA cautions against supporting facilities that keep wild animals in captivity, and rather support facilities that allow wild animals to remain in the wild. Or bona fide sanctuaries that provide safe havens and refuges to the victims of the captive wildlife industry. Supporting facilities that promote interactions with wild animals inadvertently compromises their welfare.
 
Porcupine quills and ostrich feathers are laying around
 
Yes, porcupines lose their quills and birds of a feather do moult, however they are not lost in large enough quantities to sustain this growing trend. Porcupines do not shed enough quills to feed the booming curio industry; these animals are poached, farmed or shot to supply the demand.
 
The feather industry, once a by-product of farming, has become increasingly brutal. Although traditionally feathers were collected after a bird has been humanely killed for the meat industry, it has been discovered that birds are being de-feathered live, before being killed, an excruciatingly painful process for the animal. Farmers complained that the feathers became covered in blood if plucked after the bird had been slaughtered. However, beyond the pain, plucking a live bird leaves bloody follicles and causes skin damage to the birds.
 
Avoid the Trap: Any souvenirs made from animals: tusks, ivory, porcupine quills, or fur indicates an animal is being harmed, and likely poached or farmed, to keep up with the demand.
 
The faux-pas about fake fur
 
Fur trim is often perceived to be fake but may well be cat or dog fur as they are cheaper to use. Fox fur, for example, has become so cheap that it has replaced the artificial article. Dyeing fur bright colours also disguises the fact that the fur is real, and manufacturers in China have been known to stitch in labels onto cat or dog fur products to disguise the true identity of these items and make them more marketable.
 
In a test, the NSPCA purchased a ‘furry’ cat figurine and sent it to the Onderstepoort Veterinary Institute for forensic testing. The results came back stating that although it was not possible to determine exactly what kind of animal fur it was because of the tanning method that had been used, there was no doubt that it had been made from real fur.
 
Avoid the Trap: Fur-clad figurines, often sold at flea markets and gift shops, are suspected of being covered with genuine mammalian fur. The power is the hands of the consumers: refuse to buy products containing or including real or fake fur, and inform the owner that will only support their goods once they stop stocking animal-based novelties.
 
Animals that are bred in captivity are happy in captivity
 
Wild animals are not suited for tanks or enclosures – even those which are born into captivity. These animals have inherent natural behaviours that are not lost by captive breeding. Even the simple fact of confinement and lack of escape is extremely unnatural and stressful for a wild animal, even if bred in captivity. These complex animals have a barrage of inherent skills needed to deal with the difficult situations they find in the wild. Wild animals need more than food, shelter, and water in captivity; they need space, specific environments, and the appropriate social company with others of their own kind.
 
“Putting wild animals in cages or enclosures robs them of their most natural behaviours and daily stimulation that they need to live an enriched life,” says Hay.
 
Wild animals in captivity and prisoners are the only documented cases of stereotypic behaviour, which is an unnatural repetitive behaviour that develops as a way to cope with continued stressful situations.
 
“That tiger pacing up and down, or that elephant swaying its head is not a normal behaviour,” explains Hay. ”We don’t have to learn about the deep oceans or the stars by seeing them up close, so why do we feel that we need to learn about wild animals by seeing them locked in cages?”
 
Avoid the Trap: The public is encouraged to support facilities that truly encourage wildlife to remain in the wild, such as game reserves or animal sanctuaries, rather than facilities that cage and tame the animals.
 
Humans have been uniquely endowed with a sense of moral values. For this reason, the NSPCA believes that humans must be responsible for the welfare of those animals upon whose natural environment humans encroach.
 
- Claire Winson, National Council of SPCAs (NSPCA). For more about the NSPCA, refer to www.nspca.co.za

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