Whoever dumped Skip that day didn't want him to be found. When Skip was just six weeks old, he was thrown away like an unwanted t-shirt, or a worn-out pair of pants.
He was dumped in a clothing bin, and left for dead. Can you imagine how terrifying that would have been for him?
All Skip had to keep him company were the damp and dusty clothes he was trapped in. We don't know how long he was in that bin for - but one day, a truck picked it up to transport it to another city.
Skip travelled a long and lonely way, tangled in towels and full of fear. When the truck finally stopped, Skip used every bit of strength left in his dehydrated body, to let out some anxious cries.
He was shivering from head to toe, his ribs were protruding out from underneath his itchy skin. Skip desperately needed the SPCA's help.
Skip was immediately rushed to the SPCA where he received the love and care he needed. But Skip's traumatic past left him unsure and anxious. Simple things like loud footsteps sent him running and hiding in fear.
Thankfully, today Skip is a happy, bounding, healthy six-month-old pup who spends his days with his family who protect and love him. But I wish I could tell you that Skip’s story is unusual.
The sad reality is that he’s just one of many animals who are so cruelly abandoned every year. They're crying out for your help.
When the temperature drops during these cold winter months, it can be life or death for an animal out on the streets. They can very quickly become dehydrated, pick up a deadly disease, or succumb to the harsh elements.
We desperately need your help to be there for these animals when they need us most.
The SPCA is almost entirely funded by generous people like you. As the days get colder will you help give warmth, love and safety to abandoned animals by making a generous donation.
Over winter, the bills at our SPCA centre pile up. It’s overwhelming.
It costs a lot to save lives, and there’s no sign of things slowing down. Just last week, another abandoned puppy was rescued by our SPCA Inspectors. And just like Skip, she was hungry, cold, unwell and frightened.
This puppy is only four weeks old and should still be with her mum. But her heartless owner dumped her in a freezing, frosty park to fend for herself. She had nothing but a cardboard box to keep warm.
You’re a crucial part of our team. Without you, it simply wouldn't be possible. We desperately need your help to be there for these animals when they need us most.
Will you donate today and help save lives?
Thank you for spreading the warmth this winter.
If you've adopted a pet, it's important that you understand the different types of vaccinations available to them, and how these protect your pet's health and wellbeing.
Vaccinations for dogs
The core vaccinations for dogs in New Zealand protect them against canine parvovirus, leptospirosis, canine distemper and hepatitis.
Canine parvovirus is a highly infectious and usually fatal viral infection that is seen far too often in SPCA Centres and animal shelters around the country. This disease mainly affects puppies, but can also affect older dogs which are unvaccinated or have not had regular boosters. Sadly, parvovirus causes great pain and suffering to dogs and can result in death if untreated.
Parvovirus can be transmitted by any person, animal or object that comes in contact with an infected dog’s faeces. The hardy virus can live in the environment for years, so just taking your dog for a walk down the street or to the park can put them at risk of contracting the disease if they are not fully vaccinated.
It is essential that dog owners protect their pets by making sure their dogs are up to date on vaccinations, and ensure their puppy does not go outside until they have been fully vaccinated. A series of shots are required that start when the puppy is just six weeks old.
Symptoms of parvovirus includes lethargy, severe vomiting, and bloody diarrhoea that results in life-threatening dehydration. There’s no specific treatment, however an infected dog may be put on a drip, giving antibiotics to prevent any secondary infections, and given medication to try to prevent vomiting.
Dogs of all ages (most serious in puppies or older dogs) can be affected by canine distemper, which is most commonly spread by direct contact with an infected dog. However, the virus is persistent in the environment, therefore strengthening the requirements for vaccinations. Symptoms vary from fever and depression, to coughing, vomiting and diarrhoea, discharge from eyes and mouth and coughing.
Sadly dogs with very severe symptoms often don’t survive this disease. Mildly affected dogs can recover, but some will go on to have neurological problems in later life where they can suffer from muscle tics, difficulty walking or walking in circles and seizures. Other long term symptoms are eye problems and thickening of the skin on the nose and pads.
Thankfully thanks to widespread vaccination, canine distemper is now uncommon in New Zealand.
Leptospirosis is a serious disease that affects the liver and kidneys in dogs and in severe cases can be fatal. Less severely affected dogs can recover from this disease, but will carry the bacteria for months afterwards, and their urine is an infection risk to other animals.
The main source of infection is via another animal’s urine. It may be spread by rodents and less frequently also other animals. If your dog frequents places inhabited by rats - the bush, creeks and streams, farms, parks - or if you know there are rats around your home, your dog should be vaccinated, especially if it is of a breed such as a terrier that enjoys hunting rodents.
Leptospirosis is generally seen north of Taupo in New Zealand, but has been seen as far south as Palmerston North. Leptospirosis can also infect people, of which infection is usually from direct contact with animals.
Infectious Canine Hepatitis
This is a serious and often fatal disease for dogs. It causes fever, signs of liver disease, inflammation, gastrointestinal, ocular and neurological problems. The virus can be spread by infected body secretions, saliva, faeces and urine. The disease is now relatively uncommon due to good vaccination practices, however cases do appear due to lapses in vaccinations.
The ‘Kennel Cough’ vaccine
Your vet may ask if you wish to give your dog an ‘optional’ vaccine for Kennel Cough. The name "Kennel Cough" refers to a group of diseases causing an infectious cough transmitted from dogs to other dogs. While the vaccination against Kennel Cough is not 100% preventative, vaccinated dogs can still catch kennel cough but are less likely to, and if they do the disease is not likely to be as severe and they are likely to recover quicker.
This vaccination is often a requirement for dogs going into boarding kennels, doggy daycares and may also be beneficial for dogs visiting areas where they mix closely with many different dogs on a regular basis. In older dogs, or those with medical conditions, it may be beneficial to ensure they are given the kennel cough vaccine as well – check with your vet.
Vaccinations for cats
Also known as Feline Enteritis, this is a viral disease causing severe vomiting and diarrhoea especially in young kittens. It is spread by the faeces and urine of infected cats and pregnant cats can transmit the disease to their kittens in the womb. However, the disease is easily prevented by routine vaccinations.
In late pregnancy the kittens survive, but the virus can damage the part of the brain which controls co-ordination. This results in a condition called cerebellar hypoplasia, also known as ‘wobbly kitten syndrome’. Kittens with cerebellar hypoplasia suffer from tremors and poor coordination and may also be born blind. This damage is permanent, but they may go on to have otherwise healthy lives.
Panleukopenia is highly contagious and attacks the cat's immune system, leaving it unable to fight infection. There is no specific treatment other than fluids and medication to control vomiting and antibiotics to prevent secondary infections. Older cats are more likely to survive Panleukopenia than young kittens.
Feline calicivirus (cat flu) can by spread by direct contact with affected cats, or by air-borne spread, or contamination of the environment. Cats that recover can occasionally become lifelong carriers, and able to transmit the infection to other cats, and signs of the virus may recur when the cat is under stress of any kind.
Symptoms of feline calcivirus include fever, inappetance, discharge from the nose and eyes and sneezing. It can also cause drooling and severe mouth ulcers. More severe strains can lead to pneumonia. Stress or illness can cause flare-ups of the virus. Cats of all ages may be affected, but the disease is most common in kittens.
It’s important to note that vaccination prevents infection with some strains of feline calicivirus but not all. However, cats that do become infected generally have much milder symptoms than those that are unvaccinated.
Vaccinations for rabbits
There have been reports of rabbits dying across the country from Rabbit Haemorrhagic Disease Virus (RHDV). This calcivirus causes a highly fatal haemorrhagic disease in rabbits with a mortality rate of up to 100%.
Animals of all ages are susceptible to infection but rabbits older than 5-7 weeks of age are most often affected by serious disease resulting in death. Most infected animals show no signs of disease but just suddenly die within 12-36 hours of the onset of infection. Occasionally rabbits may show signs such as anorexia, depression, congestion of mucous membranes, and neurological abnormalities such as incoordination or convulsions.
If a rabbit survives the initial infection, death from liver failure can occur over days to several weeks. A small number of rabbits may develop a chronic form of the disease, they may have mild symptoms, and may become carriers of the disease.
Infected rabbits shed the virus in their urine, faeces and respiratory secretions. It can be transmitted to other rabbits through direct contact with these secretions or on contaminated objects (such as through a cage, bowls or people’s hands). The virus can survive in the environment for a month and flies and other insects are thought to transmit the virus mechanically (by moving infected secretions from place to place).
Vaccination is the best way to ensure that your pet rabbits will remain safe from the disease. Baby rabbit (called kittens!) should be vaccinated between ten and twelve weeks of age and then every year. If the chance of exposure to the virus is high, rabbits can be vaccinated before this but they will require another vaccination at ten and twelve weeks of age. Rabbits need to be in good health to be vaccinated.
Rabbit owners should also take the following extra precautions:
• Prevent direct and indirect contact between domestic and wild rabbits, and avoid cutting grass and feeding it to your rabbits if there is the risk of contamination from wild rabbits.
• Remove their uneaten food on a daily basis.
• Wash hands, with warm soapy water between handling rabbits.
• Good insect control is also important and will help reduce the risks of introduction of both RHDV and myxomatosis. Insect control could include insect proofing the hutch or keeping your rabbits indoors.
• All cages and equipment should be thoroughly cleaned and disinfected.
A new strain of RHDV has recently been released in Australia in an attempt to control wild rabbits. There is always some risk that this virus may reach New Zealand. Therefore, rabbit owners should keep in contact with their veterinarian for up to date advice about the best way to protect their rabbits as vaccination and other recommendations may differ.
For more information and advice, please contact your local veterinarian.
Vaccines aren’t required for pet birds, fish and guinea pigs.
In general, most companion chickens or backyard flocks are not vaccinated in New Zealand. The best thing to do would be to ask a local veterinarian what they recommend. But do remember your chooks and roosters will need regular worming and red mite control.
Where there are large number of pigs, vaccinations should be used routinely. Common vaccines include Leptospirosis, Parvovirus, Erysipelas and Mycoplasma . Contact your local vet regarding their recommendations for your area, you can also ask regarding worming for your pigs as well. If the pig is considered at risk the recommendation is for a vaccination for piglets at one week old and booster 2 weeks later and pregnant sows 2-6 weeks before farrowing and re-vaccination 2 weeks prior to farrowing.
Older animals tend to find the cold weather over winter a bit of a challenge, especially those with arthritis. Arthirits is inflammation of the joints and can have many underlying causes including prior injury, degenerative disease and developmental disorders. Remember that, although arthiritis is more common in older animals, it can affect even young and middle aged animals also so the tips in this article can help them too!
There are many varied signs of arthritis and these can often be quite subtle; this means that arthritis might not be noticed until the animal has been suffering for quite some time and the disease has progressed significantly. You may notice that your pet is slow to rise from the floor or a seated position, especially first thing in the morning; they may be a little cautious going up or down the stairs; or may have a subtle but persistent lameness.
Cats are particularly subtle in their signs of arthritis, you may notice nothing more than reluctance to jump onto higher surfaces such as a table or bed where previously they would have jumped up easily.
Radiographic studies have shown that the majority of cats over ten do have some arthritis, so when in doubt assume that your older cat probably does have some joint soreness. Animals with arthritis don’t tend to cry out in pain, more often they just seem to be ‘slowing down’. But in reality many animals that just seem to be ‘slowing down’ have arthritis, which is a medical problem that you can help them with and improve their quality of life.
If you suspect arthritis you should take your pet for a check-up with your veterinarian. If you have an older animal, even if you do not suspect arthritis, you should ask your veterinarian to check for and discuss arthritis at their regular check up. There are many treatment and management options for arthritis that can help your pet feel more comfortable and be more active well into old age. The sooner arthirtis is picked up and managed the happier and healthier your pet will be.
Here are some of the many treament options available for pets with arthritis:
1. Special diets and dietary supplements: There are some veterinary prescription diets that are formulated specifically to help support joint function and help reduce inflammation. There are also supplements that you can add to an animal’s food that can help to fulfill the same purpose. However, often the diets are more successful as they have been specially formulated to have the correct components and ratios to give the best effect. Special diets and dietary supplements are unlikely to be adequate as the sole treatment in more severe or advanced cases of arthritis. However, they can be an excellent addition to other treatments and may even help to slow down the degenerative process in inflamed joints, so the earlier in the process they are started the better. This management option is safe to be used in conjunction with most other treatments.
2. Pentosan polysulfate sodium injections (or other similar products): This product protects and helps cartilage repair and also has anti-inflammatory properties. This treatment consists of a course of injections that your veterinarian can give to your pet. It is safe to be used in conjunction with most other treatments.
3. Acupuncture: Most animals tolerate acupuncture very well and it has been shown to reduce pain and increase endorphin release in arthritic pets. Acupuncture may help to reduce or eliminate the need to use prescription medications to treat arthritis; this can be very important in animals that have medical conditions that make the prescription medications use to treat arthritis unsafe for them. Acupuncture can be performed in combination with other treatments.
4. Weight control: The pain and inflammation of arthritis are made worse if your pet is carrying extra weight. Low-impact exercise such as walking or swimming (for those animals that are happy to swim!) combined with an appropriate diet is extremely beneficial to arthritic pets. Helping an overweight arthritic animal to reach an ideal weight can make a big difference to how they cope with their arthritis.
5. Prescription medications: It is most common for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) to be used for arthritis treatment, though other options are available. These are very effective medications but remember that, like any medication, NSAIDs are not without side effects. Animals with liver or kidney problems are particularly at risk and your veterinarian will want to check your pet’s liver and kidney status prior to starting treatment and monitor this regularly for as long as your animal is on the medication. This will likely involve blood and urine tests as well as regular check ups. Never give your pet any over-the-counter human medications! Many of those that are safe for humans are very dangerous for our pets. Talk to your veterinarian about the best options for your pet but always try to use other methods to minimise the need for prescription medications if you can.
6. Make sure that your pet is kept warm and dry, especially when it is cold: Coats and jackets are available to keep your animal warm and there are cosy and even special heated pet beds available. Ask your veterinarian for recommendations as not all products are safe and you don’t want to unintentionally cause burns to your pet.
7. Soft and padded resting areas: Arthritic animals will be more comfortable if they have a bed (or more than one!) that has plenty of padding for sore joints and that will also keep them warm. This should be away from any draughts and off the floor (but not so high that it is difficult to get to).
8. Take care with exercising your pet: Arthritic and elderly animals may have more difficulty walking on slippery surfaces such as wet ground, snow or ice. They may be more prone to slipping and falling. So take care when walking your pet, go slowly and avoid slippery areas.
9. Make getting around easy: Most arthritic and elderly animals will have difficulty getting up to and down from higher places (for example, the car and onto the bed) and up or down stairs. Therefore, it can be very helpful to provide your animal with a ramp or some other way to more easily and safely get to those places that they find difficult to reach.
There are many approaches to managing arthritis and usually the most success is achieved by combining more than one of the above management suggestions.
The good news is that, with your veterinarian’s help, there is a lot you can do to improve your arthritic pet’s quality of life!
Dr Sarah Zito, BVetMed, MANZCVS PhD
Q: My dog Monty always gets sick in the car. What can I do to help him?
There are two main reasons why a dog gets carsick: motion sickness or anxiety related to some aspect of the car travel. Many dogs’ carsickness is actually due to a combination of both of these factors. Imagine that your experience of going in cars always ends with you feeling sick and vomiting, it is pretty likely that you would start feeling anxious about going in the car which can in turn make you feel sick! It is a vicious cycle.
It is important to try and desensitise Monty to the car so that he is no longer anxious or afraid of the car and going in it. This will involve slowly getting him used to being in the car while making sure that nothing bad or scary happens. First of all just sit in the car with Monty talking gently and giving him cuddles and praise. Do this for a few days (or even longer depending on how anxious he is) until Monty seems comfortable just being in the car. Then try just starting the car and letting it run for a few minutes while you sit with him in the car and make the time in the car a happy and positive experience. Then just turn off the car and get out with him. Do this for a few days until Monty starts to show enthusiasm for going to the car. Take things really slowly, the next step is to just drive up and down the driveway once then stop and exit the car. After a few days of doing this you can move onto a trip just up and down your street. Then start taking Monty on short car trips of just a few minutes, ideally somewhere nice that he enjoys going.
Once Monty is alright with that you can slowly increase the time spent in the car. If he gets sick at any stage you will need to go back a couple of steps to a step where he does not get sick and then start your progress again, even more slowly. It is best not to feed Monty for at least a few hours before taking him in the car.
If he vomits when the car is moving despite seeming calm and relaxed then he may need some medication to help with the motion sickness - your vet can help you with this. As he gets better going in the car he may no longer need the medication if the nausea and vomiting is anxiety related. Some dogs who just get motion sick despite feeling comfortable and relaxed with car travel will continue to need medication to stop the motion sickness. That is alright! The most important thing is to effectively control Monty’s motion sickness with the right medication so that the experience of going in the car is not always a horrible one and to make sure that Monty is not anxious and afraid of the car.
Every dog is different and if he continues to get motion sickness despite being relaxed about car travel then you just need to be prepared and make sure he has medication before going in the car.
Q: At what age can I get my kitten desexed?
It is of vital importance that cats are desexed for many reasons including preventing unwanted litters of kittens and the many health benefits that are associated with being desexed. This is a great question because second only to the importance of getting kittens and cats desexed is the age at which this should be done. Believe it or not, cats can reach puberty and get pregnant as early as 16-20 weeks of age, when they are really still just kittens! Therefore, it is incredibly important that cats are desexed BEFORE they reach puberty and can get pregnant. This prevents unwanted litters but also makes the procedure easier and safer than desexing a cat in season or pregnant which is a risk if cats are desexed after puberty.
Most veterinary practices will be happy to desex owned cats at around 14-16 weeks of age (sometimes earlier) so if you ring some of the veterinarians in your local area you should be able to find someone to help you with this.
The ‘traditional’ age of desexing for cats has long been 6 months of age but this age was not based on any scientific evidence. All the evidence that we have now shows no negative developmental or behavioural consequences to desexing cats earlier than six months and as early as seven weeks) The main reason that veterinarians were previously reluctant to desex cats earlier was due to a perceived increased risk of surgery/anaesthesia in young patients. However, improved techniques and anaesthetic agents now mean that we can safely perform surgery/anaesthesia in young patients. It is routine procedure for animal shelters to desex kittens at approximately eight weeks of age (and over one kilogram in body weight) and many thousands of cats are safely desexed at this age across New Zealand every year There are many benefits from pre-pubertal desexing for the individual cat as well as benefits in terms helping to reduce the number of unwanted kittens. So please have your kitten desexed at or before 16 weeks of age and encourage other people to do the same.
Q: Is it OK for me to feed wild birds?
The feeding of wild birds is a controversial topic; many people love feeding birds and feel that they are helping them but there are also many people who believe that people should not be feeding wild birds at all. The potential negatives of feeding wild birds include the possibility of spreading disease, malnutrition (if the wrong foods are given), contributing to an imbalance in the bird species (with more dominant birds proliferating excessively), possibly exposing the birds to a higher risk of predation (as birds may congregate around sources of supplementary food attracting predators such as cats and dogs), and making the birds dependent on human-provided food and less able to survive without human assistance. Potential positives include enjoyment for the people feeding the birds, improving the survival of the birds (especially over winter), potentially assisting threatened bird populations (if the right foods are provided and other birds are excluded) and possibly enhancing environmental awareness and love of nature in the human population.
Overall the experts tend to agree that it is better not to feed wild birds for the reasons mentioned above. However, many people do want to feed wild birds and so it is important that they provide the birds with food that is appropriate and in a way that has the least risk of causing harm. Here are some ideas on how to do this:
Type of food: Different kinds of birds eat different foods so you will need to tailor the food depending on the species you want to encourage to feed. Nectar and fruit are the best foods to offer if you want to attract native species such as silvereye, bellbird and tui (and also kaka and hihi if they live in your area). However, fruit can also attract introduced species such as blackbird and starling. Sugar-water can be used as a substitute for nectar. To make a sugar solution add one part brown or raw sugar to four or five parts water (e.g. 150–200 g of sugar in a 1 litre container). You can feed fresh fruit (such as apple or pear) or dried fruit (such as raisins or sultanas) but dried fruit should be soaked in water overnight before being offered to birds. Seed generally attracts introduced species such as house sparrow, greenfinch, chaffinch, goldfinch and dunnock. If you are planning to feed wild birds seed it is best to use a “Wild bird seed” or “Wild bird mix” as this contains a mixture of different types of seeds and is likely to attract a wider range of bird species than if you just feed single seed types. Fat attracts silvereye and starling and ‘fat cakes’ (a mixture of feed and fat that is formed into a cake) can be made or bought.
Avoid feeding bread: Although bread is the food most frequently offered to birds in New Zealand it is harmful to them. Bread can cause serious malnutrition as it fills birds up without providing them with the protein, fat and nutrients that they need and is also high in carbohydrate and salt which can be detrimental. Bread also tends to attract introduced species rather than native birds. It is best to avoid feeding bread to birds, feed them one of the other more natural and nutritious options available instead.
Placement of food: All foods are best placed somewhere where birds feeding will be safe from cats, dogs and other predators. You can make a platform or feeding table where you place the food or use a bird feeder. You can buy a bird feeder or even make your own.
Hygiene: To avoid the spread of disease between feeding birds and to prevent the growth of mould, which can be harmful to birds, you should keep bird feeding tables or feeders very clean, clear them of any old food daily and wash them every few days with very hot water.
Provide a birdbath: A birdbath can valuable source of drinking water for birds as well as a place for bird to bathe. The birdbath should be placed at least 1.5 m off the ground and out in the open so that predators cannot sneak up on the birds in the bath. It is also important to change the water daily and keep the bath clean by washing it regularly.
More Kiwis are going overseas for winter holidays than ever before and we are heading for more exotic locations.
However, before you book to escape the winter gloom, it’s important to take a hard look at the travel itinerary you are considering – to make sure the attractions and entertainment on offer doesn’t involve abuse of animals. Some of the more common travelling ‘experiences’ that are cruel to animals include ‘walking’ with lions or tigers, cub petting, elephant rides, or venues with captive cetaceans like dolphins or orcas.
Ironically, many tourists who love animals unwittingly contribute to this because they are unaware of hidden animal abuses at the ‘attractions’ they visit.
SPCA scientific officer Sarah Zito, who has travelled extensively, particularly in Africa, pursuing her passion for wildlife photography, says travellers should avoid any attraction offering close interaction with wild animals. This applies even if it is marketed as a sanctuary or charity, and claims to provide rides or interactions to fund rescue and conservation work.
The World Animal Protection organisation warns many of the animals involved will have been cruelly trained, be physically restrained by chains or ropes, be living a life of unnatural isolation and not have basic shelter. They may have been removed from their mothers too early and raised by hand; harshly trained, de-clawed or have had their teeth filed or removed to control their natural behaviour. The public sees none of this.
“No genuine conservation organisation would allow close general public interaction with wild animals,” said Sarah. “The only exception to this would be people undertaking veterinary treatment or research – those who are paying to take part in a genuine conservation operation such as darting a wild animal for veterinary treatment or research or people volunteering with a reputable organisation providing veterinary care to injured or sick wild animals before they are released,” she explains.
“In public interactions with lions or tigers, it is often young animals, and once they get older and more difficult to handle they are often passed on to the ‘canned hunting’ industry, put into a fenced bush area and shot by paying trophy hunters. “
The canned hunting industry was exposed in the Blood Lions documentary but it continues to happen, says Sarah. “It is not just wild animals that can suffer as a result of being used for tourist entertainment; camels, horses, donkeys and other animals offered for tourist rides may be overworked, suffer inadequate care and live and work in poor conditions.”
In 2015, the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) from the UK’s elite Oxford University, carried out the first ever detailed review of the wildlife tourism industry internationally. Researchers analysed 48 different types of wildlife tourist attractions across the world, representing thousands of organisations.
These ranged from snake charming, bear dancing and macaque shows to large established attractions like dolphin and tiger interactions, which have tens of thousands of visitors every year. WildCRU audited 24 of these types in detail, collectively visited by 3.6 to 6 million tourists annually.
The resulting report, The Customer Isn’t Always Right – Conservation and Animal Welfare Implications of the Increasing Demand for Wildlife Tourism, studies, identified that up to four million tourists who visit non-zoo attractions involving wildlife are likely to be contributing to large-scale animal welfare abuses and declines in species’ conservation status.
Eighteen types of attraction, including tiger interactions, lion encounters, dolphinaria, civet coffee farms and elephant parks, negatively affected the welfare of, collectively, 230,000-550,000 individual animals. Fourteen types, involving 120,000-340,000 animals, lowered the conservation status of the wild populations due to the way they were sourced.
It also found that these tourists are typically unaware of their impacts. The report concluded that, through patronage of such ‘attractions’, two to four million tourists per year are financially supporting practices which have negative impacts on animal welfare or conservation. At least 80 per cent of tourists left positive feedback for attractions they had visited on TripAdvisor – even for those with the poorest welfare standards.
Sarah Zito says most New Zealanders would be shocked and distressed to realise the reality of animal abuses behind the places they may be supporting as visitors.
“Most people don’t put two and two together but once you know the kind of things that happen behind the scenes – and once your eyes are opened to what is really happening to these animals, then it’s impossible to close them again. I have learned to look at things very differently.”
It is perfectly possible, with some research and careful planning of your holiday, for tourists to enjoy wildlife-related trips which do not involve exploitation of animals. World Animal Sanctuary Protection (WASP) International is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing accurate information on ethical animal sanctuaries worldwide – including those which provide volunteer/work experience programmes.
World Animal Protection has also produced Your Guide to Being Animal Friendly on Holiday to help tourists plan for an animal-friendly overseas trip. It includes a checklist for before you book, including researching the venues you intend to visit, checking if animal encounters are offered, and asking questions of your tour operator or travel agent, including whether they have an animal welfare policy.
The organisation is urging all tourists and tour operators worldwide to not take part in any rides or performances involving wild animals, including elephants, and not to pose for photos with wild animals. Intrepid Travel banned elephant rides on all its trips in 2014 and does not permit any activities that allow passengers to pet or walk with wild animals, such as lion walks. In March this year, on World Wildlife Day, House of Travel became New Zealand’s largest travel agency to commit not to sell, offer or promote venues or activities involving elephant rides or shows.
In 2016, following the WildCRU report, TripAdvisor and its Viator brand also announced that it would discontinue selling tickets for specific tourism experiences where travellers come into contact with wild animals or endangered species. It has also partnered with WildCRU and is developing an education portal linked to every animal attraction listing on TripAdvisor. The aim is to provide links and information on the animal welfare and conservation implications of wildlife tourism.
As well as being aware of what attractions you visit, it’s also important to think about what souvenirs you buy. The World Wildlife Fund cites ‘wildlife trade’ as the second biggest threat to species after habitat destruction, noting that every year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild, including for tourist curiosity – much of it illegal.
“Before I travel I do my research,” says Sarah. “For instance, some African countries permit hunting but others don’t. Those with strong ethical objections to trophy hunting should avoid places that are directly involved with trophy hunting.”
However, she says, supporting those places that are purely for photographic or conservation tourism, and supporting conservation in countries or areas where trophy hunting is allowed, can help a gradual switch to non-hunting tourism overtime. “Sadly, wild areas and wildlife are generally expected or needed to “pay for themselves”, therefore, if we want this to be through photographic/conservation tourism, we have to sup[port this and demonstrate that wild areas and wildlife can ‘pay their way’ without the need for hunting," Sarah says.
“Ask your travel agent questions and look into the visits offered. There are some really good organisations doing genuine conservation work and contributing significantly to local communities. Do they allow animal interactions? Do they employ local people? Where does the money go to that they make from visitors?
“Sometimes you do need to pay more for a holiday that aligns with your values. I now always go to a travel agent who specialises in Africa and knows my values,” she adds. "Equally, even in good places, you need to behave responsibly and ethically. Don’t grab a baby dolphin from the sea for a selfie, don’t drive too fast or too close to wild animals to get a better photo – I have seen that happen,” Sarah says.
“Importantly, share this message with people. If friends are going away and planning on riding elephants or walking with lions, then I do alert them to the reality of what that means for animals. The only way to prevent animal tourism abuses from happening, is to reduce demand for them.”
For more details on Your Guide to Being Animal Friendly on Holiday see www.worldanimalprotection.org
For details on WASP see: www.waspinternational.com