As far back at 1998, Animals Asia has been a major player in the lives of animals in Asia. Over the years, the organisation has gone from rescuing bears in China to now advocating for the protection of elephants and even dogs. So when the Buffalo team wanted to share the best tips for animal-friendly travel, we teamed up with Animals Asia to do it!
We caught up with Animals Asia’s Welfare Director David Neale, to talk about the organisation and how you can be a part of their mission.
How did Animals Asia get started, and how has its goal expanded and changed over the years?
Founded in 1998, Animals Asia promotes compassion and respect for all animals and works to bring about long-term change. We work to end the barbaric bear bile trade, which sees over 10,000 bears kept on bile farms in China and – according to official figures – about 1,200 suffering the same fate in Vietnam. Since 1998 we rescued over 500 bears, caring for them at our award-winning bear sanctuaries in China and Vietnam.
We also work to end the trade in dogs and cats for food in China and Vietnam, and lobby to improve the welfare of companion animals, promote humane population management and prevent illegal export of “meat dogs” in Asia.
In recent years, we’ve also developed campaigns to end abusive animal practices in zoos and safari parks in Asia, working closely with governing authorities to improve animal management and increase awareness of the welfare needs of captive animals.
We have also developed a series of educational programmes aimed at raising awareness of animal welfare concepts with school children and teachers in both China and Vietnam.
Why is Asia such an important region to focus on for animal welfare?
The Asian continent is home to some 4.5 billion people and attracts many millions of tourists from all other parts of the world. Animals are used in a variety of ways across the region, many of which cause immense amounts of suffering and many of these practices were imported from countries outside of Asia.
Animals have little legal protection within many Asian countries, yet the significance of animal welfare is growing throughout the region. So, the importance of increasing awareness of animal protection is growing more profound among the general public. Recently, governments are also coming under increasing pressure to adopt regulations that protect animals. Because of this, improvements in welfare in one Asian country can have a positive impact on animals within another.
Why is tourism an important factor to consider in the welfare and protection of Asia’s wildlife? What negative impacts can tourism have on local wildlife, and how can travellers avoid them?
Over 260 million tourists visit Asian countries each year – when on holiday we are far more likely to engage in activities that we would question when we are at home. Many of these involve close contact opportunities with wild animals which may present us with a ‘chance in a lifetime’ selfie but in reality the animals are often mis-treated and drugged to ensure they remain ‘safe’ in such close contact activity.
Try to see every interaction with an animal whilst on your holiday from the perspective of the animal, and ask yourself: “would this animal choose to carry out this activity if it was provided with a choice to participate or not?” In many cases, this is unlikely – so if you feel they may be in a position of being forced to perform, do not participate.
What has been the most promising change you’ve seen in tourism recently in regards to wildlife?
Recent years has seen a significant amount of public awareness with regards to the welfare of elephants used for elephant riding and close contact opportunities. This has led to over 114 companies worldwide committing not to sell tours which involve elephant riding.
This is putting a significant amount of pressure on those operators which continue to offer cruel ‘elephant experiences’. So, if this trend continues, it can help to ensure that over time the industry moves away from exploitation and towards experiences that respect individual elephants. We hope that this also focuses experiences on observing elephants behaving naturally rather than performing for our benefit.
What was the motivation behind the collaboration with Buffalo Tours?
Our collaborative approach offers us an opportunity to raise awareness of the animal welfare and conservation issues that animals across Asia are presented with. In doing so, we become part of the global movement to raise awareness of their plight and change consumer behaviours to support practices which do not cause animals to suffer.
Last but not least, how can travellers help support Animals Asia?
The best way for travellers to support our work is for them to be ‘our eyes and ears’ across the region. Change happens due to public pressure and if travellers see or experience a situation where animals are suffering, they have the power to take action on behalf of those individual animals. We encourage travellers to write polite letters to tour operators or country Ambassador’s documenting the suffering and calling for action to be taken to end it. The animals cannot talk for themselves, but we all have the opportunity to be their voice and to advocate on their behalf.