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Be an animal-friendly traveller – the hidden cruelty of animal tourism


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.

lioncub“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.  

lion and lioneessIt 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.

AnimalIn 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?

tigers“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

For details on WASP see:

SPCA votes to create new national organisation


272710 Milan

SPCA delegates have voted to form one national organisation from its current 45 independent centres.

The delegates voted at the RNZSPCA Annual General Meeting on June 17 and the move will create a unified and future-focused national entity.

RNZSPCA Chief Executive (Acting) Andrea Midgen said today’s decision enables the creation of one SPCA in New Zealand, working together to help prevent cruelty to animals. 

“The decision to move to a unified SPCA was made after two years of discussions and consultation. Ultimately the SPCA centres knew that our previous structure was not sustainable or fit-for-purpose. As one SPCA we can achieve more for our country’s most vulnerable animals than we could as a fragmented organisation.

“Now we can do more to prevent cruelty to animals in New Zealand. We will be able to create a stronger SPCA Inspectorate and we will have one strategy and one voice. As one organisation we will be able to access centralised funding opportunities and benefit from economies of scale – enabling us to have the resources to do more for the animals.

“Most importantly, with consistency and collaboration across the country we can ensure every animal will get the best care possible, no matter where they are in New Zealand.”

Ms Midgen said the move to one SPCA is not about creating a centrally-controlled organisation, or closing any SPCA centres. It is a genuine effort to bring a national organisation together to work as a team and get the right outcome for every animal in New Zealand.

“The focus of every SPCA across the country won’t change: we want to help animals in need and support our communities. Local support for the animals is as important as ever and we urge New Zealanders to continue to get behind the great work of their local SPCA,” she said. 

The Centres joining One SPCA are

  • North Taranaki
  • Wellington
  • Dannevirke
  • Central Hawkes Bay
  • South Taranaki
  • Gisborne
  • Hastings & Districts
  • Manuwatu
  • Horowhenua
  • Feilding & Districts
  • Wanganui
  • Hawkes Bay
  • Central King Country
  • Wairarapa
  • Rotorua
  • Bay of Islands
  • Kaitaia
  • Auckland
  • Whangarei
  • Taupo
  • Opotiki
  • Whakatane
  • Te Kuiti
  • Waikato
  • Tauranga
  • Waihi
  • South Waikato
  • Thames
  • Kawerau
  • Southland
  • Greymouth
  • Buller
  • Nelson
  • North Otago
  • Otago
  • Hokitika
  • Marlborough
  • Canterbury
  • Motueka

Community detention after 4-month-old puppy beaten and neglected

Flynn before and after11/05/2017 

A Hamilton man who savagely beat a four-month-old puppy and neglected his injuries was sentenced yesterday.

Ezekiel Wilson, 28, was convicted in the Hamilton District Court on three charges: one charge of failing to ensure that an ill or injured animal received treatment that alleviated any unreasonable or unnecessary pain or distress being suffered by the animal, and two charges of ill-treatment of an animal causing the animal to suffer unreasonable and unnecessary pain or distress.

He was sentenced to four months’ community detention, 200 hours community work, disqualified from owning animals for 4 years and ordered to pay reparations of $566.74 and a contribution towards legal costs of $600.

The case began at about 9am on 16 June 2016 when two people saw the defendant beating his four-month-old bulldog cross puppy Floyd in the back of a Subaru Impreza station wagon in the Westfield Chartwell car park.

The witnesses say they saw the defendant shaking and choking Floyd, hurling him against the side of the vehicle, and punching him with a closed fist at full force at least 10 times in the abdomen. Both witnesses confronted the defendant and one of them telephoned the police. The defendant complained that Floyd had defecated in his car and drove off before the police arrived.

At about 1pm on the same day, police received a call from a member of the public reporting that the defendant was mistreating a puppy at a house in Hamilton East. The witness said the defendant had held Floyd in the air by his hind leg before dragging it by the leg into the house. He had been yelling and swearing at Floyd, and Floyd had been screaming and yelping.

When police attended the defendant’s property at approximately 1.15pm, they found Floyd in the foot well of the passenger side of a vehicle parked in the driveway. He cowered and shivered with a fearful demeanor, and when the defendant was asked to bring Floyd out and let him stand, he had trouble standing on his rear legs and looked weak and distressed with his head hung low.

When questioned, the defendant claimed that he had been washing Floyd as he had defecated in his car, but admitted he had grabbed Floyd by one front leg. He explained that Floyd had an injured leg from about two weeks previously, when someone had accidentally stood on him.

The police took Floyd into their possession and transported him directly to SPCA Waikato and into the custody of an SPCA Inspector who arranged for him to be assessed by a veterinarian.

Veterinary examination and x-rays revealed that Floyd was lame on its left hind leg, with obvious swelling of the left stifle (knee) joint. X-rays showed a distal femoral fracture with lots of joint effusion, indicating that the injury had occurred at least three to four weeks earlier. X-rays taken of the thorax area revealed three fractured ribs on the right side.

The veterinarian concluded that the fractured left hind leg was caused by a trauma of considerable force, and that the leg would have been significantly more swollen at the time of injury. Along with the lameness, this should have been apparent to the owner, and veterinary treatment should have been sought immediately to alleviate considerable pain.

The fractured ribs were consistent with considerable blunt trauma to the thorax, and would have caused a significant degree of pain and distress.

When interviewed the defendant admitted he had been aware of the Floyd’s injured leg but lacked the money to take him to the vet. He downplayed the beating in the Westfield car park, claiming that he merely “gave the puppy a bit of a slap”.

“This is a horrifying case of unrestrained violence being inflicted by a grown man on a defenceless, innocent puppy,” says Andrea Midgen, SPCA New Zealand CEO (Acting).

“The one bright point in this awful story is the willingness of members of the public to front up to the offender and call the police. They saw something wrong and by their brave actions saved an innocent puppy from a miserable life of cruelty and abuse. The SPCA would like to thank them all hugely.

“Our Inspectors are on call and on the road every day of the year but we can’t be everywhere and see everything. So we urge Kiwis to keep their eyes peeled for instances of animal abuse and neglect.

“If you see anyone abusing or neglecting animals, or suspect animal abuse is taking place, please call your local SPCA or the NZ Police for help.”

The good news is that Floyd (now named Flynn) has since recovered well, and he has now been adopted to a new loving family.


Happy adoptions from Waikato SPCA 


Dodge and Mustang arrived at Waikato SPCA earlier this year as young kittens, where they were nicknamed the 'two amigos'.

They immediately became troublesome little rascals - jumping, sprinting, and bounding around constantly. But that only made SPCA staff love them even more.

Dodge loved his toys, and his brother Mustang just as much. Too much that sometimes they would play fight a little too hard, so it became clear to the team at the SPCA that they needed a very active household. 

Mustang was very energetic, but was also a huge softie at heart, and with a large purr to match! His favourite toy was his mouse with a dangly tail, and he would not give up until he had caught it from your hands.

When these two finally had enough of playing, they would perch up high on their throne and clean eachother for hours. They were bestfriends, we needed to find a family who would take them both.

We watched them grow up to become not-so-small kittens anymore, yet they still hadn't found their forever family. It was such an exciting day when they were finally whisked off their feet and taken to an extremely loving home.

Their new family had just lost their elderly cat, so they were looking to repair the hole in their hearts that she had left behind. Dodge and Mustang were perfect.

These two brothers settled in perfectly, described by their 12-year-old sister as 'so hyper and cute'. Their family says they sleep together, clean eachother and they are so happy to have both of them in their lives. 


Just like Dodge and Mustang, the story of Fern is also a very happy one. Her story starts when she was dumped in a cage outside Waikato SPCA.

Fern was a very shy, two-year-old girl, who loved nothing more than to snooze on her sheep skin blanket on her favourite chair. If you gave her cheek scratches, or back rubs, she would dribble and make chirpy noises from happiness. 

With Fern, you needed to earn her trust first. But once you did she would jump off her chair, and walk up to you for leg rubs and attention.

A few days before her new family adopted her, Fern was in a particularly good mood. It was almost like she knew she was about to get the life she deserved, with a family who will love her unconditionally.

When her new family saw her photo on Facebook, they immediately fell in love with her. "We are smitten!" they say, explaining that while she is still very shy, she gives them lots of snuggles when the baby is asleep. 

Fern is a very happy girl, she is completely at home in her new family's backyard, and loves to snooze in the grass all day. 

waikato happy

Mouse's new dream life


Mouse was just six months old when an SPCA Inspector found her tied up next to some rubbish bins. She was all alone, with no food, and no shelter.

She was incredibly underweight with painfully overgrown claws and open wounds behind her ears. Mouse was absolutely terrified. The SPCA Inspectors launched an investigation to find who neglected and abandoned her, but unfortunately they could never find the person responsible.

At the SPCA it took weeks and weeks for Mouse to physically recover. Slowly she gained weight and her painful sores healed. But while her bones no longer protruded and her skin was no long painful and itchy, Mouse’s mental trauma was harder to resolve. She was shut down, spooked and unsure of everything around her.

The canine team spent months with Mouse, slowly introducing her to new people, noises, and environments. While her exact history is unknown, it was obvious that Mouse had suffered trauma as a puppy. She needed a lot of patience while she learnt to trust again.

The next challenge for the SPCA team was finding a family for Mouse who would understand her rough start to life, and give her everything she needed to grow in confidence.

And then just before Christmas, the perfect family walked through the doors of the SPCA. They were looking for a companion for their rescue dog Poppy, who was around the same age as Mouse. Most importantly, they had so much love to give Mouse and were willing to do anything it took to help her feel comfortable in the world.

Poppy and Mouse settled into each other’s company easily and are now the best of friends. The two dogs live a dream life, right next to the rugged west coast beaches where they can run, play and swim together. Poppy’s helped Mouse feel right at home and even introduced her to some of the things she’d never experienced before – like sleeping on the deck in the sun, and lying on the couch.

mouse 2