Released in late 2019, SATSA's Animal Interaction Research Study is an extensive set of guidelines designed to help tourism operators, guides and the tourism industry at large make responsible decisions about supporting attractions that are potentially harmful to animals. The guidelines are described as a 'homegrown' approach to a worldwide problem that will help South Africa to 'draw a line in the sand' and successfully position itself as an 'ethical tourism destination'. SATSA aims for the guidelines that brand captive animal interaction as an 'unacceptable' practice to be taken up across the country by July 2020.
While petting cubs and walking with cheetahs is not illegal in South Africa, partaking in these activities perpetuates the further establishment and growth of such attractions. In very simple terms, if tourists en masse stop paying for these activities, the activities will ultimately stop being offered.
Say NO to animal interaction experiencesAccording to SATSA's guidelines the following animal interaction experiences are considered unacceptable and should be discouraged:
Say NO to performing animals
SATSA's research shows that the training of animals to perform in 'shows' and other performative acts exposes them to physical and mental abuse and has no educational or conservational value. This includes all types of animals such as elephants, monkeys, reptiles, lions etc.
Say NO to interactions with infant wild animals
Tactile interactions with young animals, such as lion cub petting, have been shown to have a highly negative effect on the infant animals who are naturally scared of humans and need to be separated from their mother in order to be exposed to human contact. Again it has also been proven that these interactions have no educational or conservational value and they are therefore considered unacceptable.
Say NO to predator interactions
In order for a predator, such as a cheetah, lion or orca, to 'safely interact' with humans (this might be as part of a 'predator walk' for example) it must undergo extensive training which usually involves harmful or negative techniques. Keeping these animals in captivity in order for them to interact with humans also has negative effects on their behaviour and there is no educational or conservational value to these forms of interaction that cannot be provided in other ways.
Say NO to the riding of animals
As with the experiences above, having a human ride a wild animal is completely contrary to their natural behaviour and for the animals involved, such as elephants, to accept humans riding on their back, usually means they have to be trained or participate in the activity against their will.
Do your research before booking. If a park or reserve offers animal petting or performances in addition to guided drives then you know its a no-go.
By far the best, and most ethical, way to encounter and learn about South African wildlife is on a game drive. The thrill of encountering large animals in their natural habitat while on safari is one of this country's greatest attractions and an unforgettable experience. The South African National Parks authority (SANParks) is a world leader in environmental conservation and research and by visiting South Africa's national parks you are also supporting the important work they do to protect the environment and wildlife.