Towards Ethical Animal Interactions in SA


A new practical guide aimed at evaluating captive wildlife attractions and activities and encouraging ethical animal interactions was unveiled on Friday.

The interactive tool is an easy-to-use ‘decision tree’ which allows tourism bodies, tour operators and tourists to assess animal interaction operations, and make informed decisions to support ethically sound and responsible operators in South Africa.

The research report is the result of a year of robust consultation with the wider tourism industry and relevant stakeholders.

Nationwide public workshops and an examination of local, regional and international guidelines, research and best practice contributed to the development of the guide.

Elephant on safari


Captive wildlife attractions and interactions remain a complex, contentious and emotionally charged issue.

There is an increasing movement, both locally and internationally, against tourism experiences that potentially harm animals.

In response, SATSA embarked on a comprehensive research initiative to develop a long-term vision for South Africa’s tourism industry with regards to animal interactions in tourism.

The initiative sought to:

  • design and agree on a framework to guide attractions, operators and tourists;
  • to develop high-level suggestions for legislative intervention and regulation; and
  • Ultimately to position South Africa as an ethical tourism destination.
Dolphin doing tricks Image by <a href="">ncb80</a> from <a href="">Pixabay</a>
Dolphin doing tricks Image by ncb80 from Pixabay


The study and resultant guide and tool explore the intricacies of animal interactions, including the reason why the animals are in captivity in the first place; the source of the animals; the use of the animals while in captivity; and the likely destination of the animals.

This takes its ambit beyond the work usually done on captive/wildlife welfare to the full lifecycle of the animal interactions industry.

Lion paw Image by pau__angel3 from Pixabay
Lion paw Image by pau__angel3 from Pixabay


The study conveys findings and recommendations around:

  • Performing animals (all types of animals, including elephants, predators, primates, cetaceans, birds, reptiles etc. trained to perform in a public show or display)
  • Tactile interactions with infant wild animals (e.g. cub petting)
  • Tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans (any interaction with land predators or aquatic mammals)
  • Walking with predators or elephants
  • Riding of animals (including sitting on elephants, ostriches etc.)

It tackles issues of canned hunting, trade in body parts, deceptive behavior or illegal operations.

Primarily, the research outlines a ‘home-grown’ solution to a complex problem, one which draws a line – moving the SA tourism industry forward in terms of responsible and sustainable practices.

Meerkat in the zoo Image by Amy Hunter from Pixabay
Meerkat in the zoo Image by Amy Hunter from Pixabay

Way Forward

Leveraging the findings of the robust research study, SATSA will now collaborate with its members and the broader tourism industry to ensure the research findings are translated into broadly accepted and practically applicable animal interaction guidelines.


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