SeaWorld's CEO has attacked British Airways Holidays’ new animal welfare policy, saying that the tour operator’s removal of captive animal attractions from its package holidays would, in practice, harm international conservation efforts.
The policy, announced last week, was developed in partnership with international wildlife charity Born Free – however, SeaWorld CEO Gus Antorcha has claimed that the move was misguided.
“Pressuring companies and trying to shame them into cutting ties with independently accredited zoos and aquariums works against the vital research and conservation work to protect these animals,” Antorcha claimed in a statement.
“We are disappointed that British Airways Holidays succumbed to pressure from animal activists and changed its policy given the facts,” he continued.
However, conservation charities have jumped to British Airways’ defence, with animal rights campaigners PETA saying that the move is “first class”.
BA Holidays announced its new policy last week, stating that it no longer sells tickets to venues where captive animals were “central to the attraction”. While it still works with some hotels that keep wild animals onsite, this is now clearly labelled in all marketing materials – to enable customers “to make an informed choice when booking”.
The policy does not specifically mention SeaWorld – nor any other captive animal attractions – by name, but says that it will “never promote wild animals in captivity”. BA Holidays joins Thomas Cook and Virgin Holidays, which have also stopped selling tickets to SeaWorld.
The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund, which is partly funded by SeaWorld ticket sales, has donated US$16.5 million (£13.6 million) to global conservation efforts. On its website, it states that over 1,200 conservation projects have benefitted from its support, including coral reef restoration and habitat protection.
When questioned by Telegraph Travel, SeaWorld was unwilling to reveal the financial impact of BA Holidays' decision.
However, according to animal welfare campaigners World Animal Protection (WAP), any such charity work is too little, too late. “The amount spent on [conservation] programs is a mere fraction of the income generated by the facilities,” Katheryn Wise, WAP's UK Campaigns Manager told Telegraph Travel.
“Fewer than five to ten per cent of zoos and aquaria are involved in substantial conservation programs,” Wise continued. “Thankfully, holiday companies and the general public now realise that keeping animals in captivity only causes them suffering.”
Wildlife activists PETA has also welcomed BA Holidays’ announcement. “No travel provider should profit from cruelty to animals,” PETA’s Director, Elisa Allen, told Telegraph Travel. “BA Holidays' decision to cut ties with disgusting sideshows that confine ocean-going orcas and other marine mammals to cramped concrete tanks is first class.
“[SeaWorld] has never released a single orca back into the ocean, although it has taken plenty from it,” Allen continues. “It still forces dolphins to perform painful circus-style tricks for food until they die in captivity, far short of their natural life expectancy.
“PETA urges TUI to follow BA's lead.”
The British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums (BIAZA) has also responded to BA Holidays' welfare policy.
“We too would like to see an end to any tourist attraction that keeps animals in sub-optimal conditions,” Dr Madelon Willemsen, CEO of BIAZA, told Telegraph Travel. “Ultimately, BA Holidays, the Born Free Foundation and BIAZA are aligned in our desire to eliminate poor animal welfare standards and to conserve animals in the wild.”
However, Dr Willemsen did criticise BA Holidays “universal ban”, calling instead for “an evidence-based assessment of animal welfare standards”.
“Disappointingly, neither the policy nor the campaign provide any clear information to the public regarding animal welfare, nor do they have any robust processes in place to properly and swiftly assess and address any substantiated issues of poor welfare. It is important that we distinguish good zoos from bad.”
Would you visit SeaWorld? Is it encouraging to see companies like BA and Virgin tighten up their animal welfare policies or have they gone too far? Let us know your thoughts in the comment box below