Tag Archives: petting zoos

TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand on animal exploitation

TripAdvisor says it’s taking a stand against animal exploitation by no longer selling bookings to attractions where travelers can make physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.

The policy, six months in the making, was formed with input from tourism, animal welfare and conservation groups including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, but many of the millions of travelers who post reviews to the company’s website have been concerned about animal welfare for years, company spokesman Brian Hoyt said.

The company, based in Needham, Massachusetts, also will start providing links on its site to take users to educational research on animal welfare and conservation.

“TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” said Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president.

But the president of the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums said she was “disappointed” TripAdvisor never consulted her Virginia-based organization, whose members include branches of the SeaWorld and Six Flags theme parks and dozens of other marine life parks, aquariums and zoos internationally.

“It’s an unjust demonization of the interactive programs that are at the heart of modern zoo and aquarium programs,” president Kathleen Dezio said. “They give guests the magic, memorable experiences that make them want to care about these animals and protect them in the wild.”

The TripAdvisor policy, announced Tuesday, is in line with increasing public sentiment against the exploitation of wild animals to entertain people. SeaWorld this year announced it would stop using killer whales for theatrical performances, while Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus last year stopped using elephants.

TripAdvisor will cease booking some attractions immediately, but the policy, which may affect hundreds of businesses, takes full effect early next year.

In announcing the policy, which also applies to the affiliated Viator booking website, TripAdvisor specifically mentioned elephant rides, swim-with-the-dolphins programs and tiger petting.

Several U.S. businesses that offer such attractions did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The policy does not apply to horseback rides and children’s petting areas with domesticated animals. It also exempts attractions such as aquarium touch pools where there are educational benefits and visitors are professionally supervised.

TripAdvisor won’t bar user reviews of tourist attractions, even those it stops booking. The company has long banned reviews of businesses that use animals for blood sport, including bullfights.

A San Francisco-based travel analyst, Henry Harteveldt, said because TripAdvisor is so widely used the wildlife attractions could see a noticeable hit to their business.

However, if TripAdvisor merely stops selling the tickets but continues listing the attractions, he said, the effect won’t be long-lasting. He said those attractions may just go through other booking websites to sell tickets.

TripAdvisor said if a wildlife attraction changes its business model it would consider selling tickets again.

 

Feds issues rule on handling exotic cat cubs

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week issued guidance making clear that exhibitors violate the Animal Welfare Act by allowing members of the public to handle or feed  tiger cubs, as well as lions, cheetahs, jaguars or leopards under 4 weeks old.

The guidance is in response to a 2012 legal petition filed by The Humane Society of the United States, World Wildlife Fund, Detroit Zoological Society, International Fund for Animal Welfare, Born Free USA, Big Cat Rescue, Fund for Animals and Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

“We applaud USDA for taking this first step to put roadside zoos and the public on notice that federal law prohibits using infant cubs for photographic opportunities and interactive experiences,” Anna Frostic, senior attorney for wildlife & animal research at The Humane Society of the United States, stated in a news release issued on April 5.

The petition said dozens of facilities across the country routinely breed and acquire exotic feline species — all of which are listed under the Endangered Species Act — to produce a supply of cubs for profit.

“Both animals and people are put in harm’s way when big cats are used for public contact exhibition – young cubs are particularly susceptible to disease, especially when deprived of necessary maternal care, and cubs quickly grow into dangerous predators that can cause serious injury to adults and children,” said Jeff Flocken, North America regional director for the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

In contrast to zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, “there are thousands of big cats in private menageries in the U.S. and these facilities do not have the resources or expertise to safely and responsibly care for dangerous wild animals,” Ron Kagan, executive director and CEO of the Detroit Zoological Society, stated in the news release.  Conservation professionals agree that endangered and threatened species like tigers, lions, and apes should not be bred for commercial purposes.

“The insatiable demand for cubs and baby primates used at interactive exhibits fuels a vicious cycle of breeding and exploitation. It is standard in this horrific industry to separate babies from their mothers, and then discard them when they grow too big for handling,” Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, added in the news release.

The propagation of tigers in the United States has resulted in a captive population that is nearly twice the number of tigers that exist in the wild, according to The HSUS.

“Cubs used for petting, if they survive, typically spend many years living in substandard facilities and the few who are lucky enough to eventually end up at good sanctuaries typically arrive with medical issues caused by deficient care,” said Carole Baskin, CEO of Big Cat Rescue.

In addition to these animal welfare, public safety and conservation concerns, “the surplus of exotic animals in roadside zoos and other substandard facilities puts an enormous financial burden on the accredited sanctuaries that provide lifetime care for abandoned and seized animals,” according to Michael Markarian, president of The Fund for Animals.

Investigations have revealed that using tiger cubs for photo ops and play sessions can yield over $20,000 per month for a roadside zoo, fueling demand for more and more cubs – but once the cats mature, their future is uncertain. “There is just not enough space or resources at accredited sanctuaries to support the demand created by this irresponsible breeding,” said Kellie Heckman, executive director of Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries.

Editor’s note: This report was updated on April 8.

Christmas bonus: Farm animals in demand for Nativity scenes

Some farmers have extra reason to rejoice at Christmas: Tis the season for renting out animals for live Nativity scenes and other holiday events.

Growing up in rural Burlington, Wisconsin, one of Larry Squire’s favorite Christmas traditions was helping to set up a Nativity scene in his uncle’s barn.

“We borrowed the animals from all over the neighborhood,” he recalled.

So several years ago, Squire brought the tradition to Cargill United Methodist Church in his current hometown of Janesville, Wisconsin, renting animals from petting zoos and small farms. The church rents two pens’ worth of animals to stand next to a makeshift stable alongside volunteers dressed as Mary, Joseph, angels and the three wise men.

“It’s a beautiful thing. There’s a calm and peacefulness that comes from having the animals there,” Squire said.

Farm animals, reindeer and camels are in high demand between Thanksgiving and Christmas, said Megan Powell, event coordinator at Honey Hill Farm, a mobile petting zoo with locations in Berry, Kentucky, and Utica, Ohio.

“We will do 25 to 30 events in one weekend,” Powell said. “It’s not uncommon for us to sell out.”

Renting animals for Christmas programs helps pay for their food and upkeep, she said, and has been a huge growth area for the business.

“Churches love it,” Powell said. “We didn’t create the demand. We just became overwhelmed by it.”

Jodi Collen, an event planner at Augsburg College in Minneapolis and president of the International Special Events Society, explains it this way: “As event professionals, it doesn’t take you long to say, ‘I’m organizing a Nativity and I can get a donkey — why wouldn’t I get a donkey?’”

Honey Hill works with dozens of churches, schools and businesses to provide sheep, donkeys and goats for live Nativity scenes, said Powell, whose mother started the business about 15 years ago with a pony that she rented for birthday parties. “It really took off and she started adding animals.”

Rentals start at $325 an hour for a group of animals, depending on which ones are requested and for how long. In most cases, Powell said, visitors are allowed to touch and pet the animals.

“We do have a camel,” she said. “But we only have one — so he goes really fast.”

Few petting zoos and traditional farms raise camels, and they are harder to incorporate into programs and exhibits, said Bob Hudelson of Lost River Game Farm in Orleans, Indiana. He raises foxes, skunks and other exotic animals.

“There are a lot of camels out there — just not a lot of tame camels,” he said.

Many churches want them, however: “The three kings definitely had camels on their journey to see Christ,” Hudelson said. “With the camel, you get more of a feel of the story.”

Customers also want reindeer, said Powell, who does not raise them but has thought about it.

“The demand for reindeer is really high,” she said.

From his farm in Knoxville, Tennessee, Kyle Wilson rents reindeer to malls, Christmas tree farms, zoos, hospitals and other businesses throughout the South. His prices start at $1,500 for a pair of reindeer for four hours.

“I currently have 21 reindeer but that’s not enough,” he said. “I started 15 years ago and each year I have had a record year.”

Families love to see Santa arrive with reindeer, said Amy Boyles, marketing manager of Kingsport Town Center in Kingsport, Tennessee.

“It’s an added thing for our community and kids,” she said. “How many people get to see a reindeer? It gives them a bit of a wow factor.”

She has already booked “Dasher” and “Dancer” to appear with Santa during the mall’s Black Friday sale.