During this travel pause, let’s rethink how we interact with animals from now on, says celebrated scientist Jane Goodall

A lot of us are feeling helpless in the middle of the worst global pandemic to hit civilization in more than a century, but famed scientist and activist Dr. Jane Goodall thinks we shouldn’t be frustrated by it, but to instead use this time to reflect on the decisions we make going forward, especially concerning our interactions with wildlife as travellers.

“Never forget that every single day you live, you make an impact on this planet and you have a choice as to what kind of impact you make,” Goodall reminded us last week during an online appearance hosted by G Adventures.

It was the second of the company’s Retravel Live events aimed at discussing topics of concern to travellers and the theme of the latest seminar was tourism and animal welfare. From an office in her childhood home, the 86-year-old Goodall shared her thoughts with an online audience of about 1,000 people as she answered questions posed to her by G Adventures founder Bruce Poon Tip.

“I think it’s very fortunate that there is this pause,” said Goodall during the video call. “We need to do things differently. As the world got wealthier and more and more people began to travel in so many instances they were destroying, by sheer numbers, the very places that they wanted to go and see because they were wild.”

Find the right balance of visitors for each destination

When Poon Tip asked her what we should do differently with regards to our interactions with wildlife as tourists, she suggested that there be more mechanisms to limit the number of people going to wild places, but didn’t want those experiences to become something that only the elite could afford.

“You don’t want to ban people of lower income brackets from going out and seeing a wild animal but on the other hand those people then go on package tours, which means there’s many of them,” she said. “I know from being on the ground the effect that it can have when you get too many people and if you only have a few then it’s much more expensive, so I don’t know.”

Goodall told the story of a man who met her and told her that he had saved up for years to visit the Serengeti and was disillusioned by an incident where his guide took him out to see a lion and by the time they got there, 22 other combis full of tourists had gathered in a circle to watch the animal devour its kill. He said he never wanted to travel again.

“So many of the operators never talk about the negative side because they want the customer so they paint a very rosy picture and they don’t really tell the people who might not go if they realize that their going would be distressing to the animal,” she said.

Poon Tip said that it was not just over-tourism of wild places that had an adverse effect on animals, but travellers should also consider attractions they visit that offer animal encounters like elephant rides, dolphin swims or tiger orphanages. Not only do many of those businesses mistreat their animals, he said, but they don’t do much, if anything, to benefit conservation of wildlife and natural places.

He noted that G Adventures, with the assistance of the Jane Goodall Institute, World Animal Protection and World Cetacean Alliance, undertook an audit of its animal-welfare guidelines not long ago and found some of them to be severely lacking and cut them from their programs.

“We thought we were this ethical company that looked at communities and culture and cultural preservation poverty alleviation but when we just took an audit of animal welfare we realized we had so many problems and it uncovered so many things and we were so grateful to be able to work with you on that,” he said.

We can put unethical animal attractions out of business

Goodall noted that not all attractions that offer animal encounters are necessarily bad, but said travellers should inform themselves about the ones are ethical and the ones that aren’t and those that aren’t can be put out of business if we stop supporting them.

“Tourism can play a major role by saying ‘well, if you continue to treat them that way then we’re not going to come and you won’t get our dollars.’” she said.

Both Poon Tip and Goodall noted that the tourism pause caused by the pandemic has not been good to animals in some places as the lack of tourism has led to increased poaching. The lack of money means governments can’t pay rangers to protect the animals so cartels swoop in to kill wild game and other local people who rely on the tourist economy can’t afford to buy food so are killing the animals to stay alive.

You can help, even if you’re not travelling

Even though they can’t go to those places to support them with their tourist dollars right now,  Goodall noted that those of us stuck at home can still help by sending donations to pay park rangers in the world’s most precarious places.

“Donations are really what’s keeping some of these parks going,” she explained. “People can donate to the ranger forces through the Thin Green Line Foundation and the International Ranger Association.”

Goodall conceded that it’s easy to be overwhelmed by events in the world right now, but urged us to make small changes around us that could affect positive change for everyone.

“I think the reason that more people aren’t actually rolling up their sleeves and trying to do something is because of their feeling of helplessness,” she said. “There are so many problems and you always hear ’think globally, act globally,’ but if you think globally, you don’t have the energy to act locally and that’s why I began our youth program, Roots and Shoots.”

The global organization with chapters in more than 140 countries was founded by Goodall to empower young people to affect positive change in their own communities.

“My biggest hope for the future is the young people,” she said. “Once they understand the problem and they are empowered to take action it’s incredible what they’re doing.”

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