Travel company Thomas Cook have just announced that they are no longer selling activities that involve animal cruelty, including dolphin interactions and elephant rides after a damning report revealed that they were not meeting official welfare standards. The Sunday Times reported that the audit found that 16 of the 25 destinations that were inspected did not meet the minimum standards of UK travel industry body Abta. Damaging activities that were being featured in their package holidays included dolphins with badly damaged skin and heavily chained elephants showing signs of distress in five destinations including the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Thailand, according to the report. Some of the elephants that were discovered in the investigation were even being forced to spin hoops, stand on tiny platforms, and take part in a ‘tug of war’, which were all attractions that staff had sold tickets for to earn their personal commission.
The chief executive of Thomas Cook, Peter Frankhauser, told the Sunday Times, “Our industry has not changed fast enough. By taking these attractions off sale, we are sending a message that we won’t accept anything less than full compliance with the welfare standards our customers would expect.” As Britain’s second biggest travel company, this decision is setting a positive example for all other travel organisations to follow.
A total of 25 inspections were carried out last year by Global Spirit, and the auditors will inspect the 90 captive animal attractions that Thomas Cook sells tickets for. Ocean World in the Dominican Republic was one of the attractions that were dropped by Thomas Cook, as they have a bad record of animal welfare. It is known that any facilities that offer attractions such as swimming with dolphins and dolphin shows are involved in animal cruelty. An inspection by the World Society for the Protection of Animals in 2009 found that dolphins were held in shallow tanks surrounded by 20 tourists for 30 minutes at a time, whilst being forced to ‘hug and ‘shake hands’ with each one.
Other attractions that are now being dropped include Sealanya in Turkey, which also offers swimming with dolphins, and Baan Chang tours in Koh Samui, Thailand, which offers elephant rides, together with attractions in India and Cuba. This report comes at a good time for the tour operator, who announced that they were expecting to hit their full-year operating targets after seeing early signs that tourists were returning to troubled markets Turkey and Egypt. The five main attractions that have now been axed from their holiday packages were asked for comment by the Daily Mail but did not respond.