Tourist initiated wildlife interactions
Earlier this week, a YouTube video was released showing a guide being attacked by a cheetah at the Tenikwa Wildlife Awareness Centre.
The public response to this video highlighted the potential risks of wildlife interactions, but also the unnecessary cruel reaction of the guide swinging the cheetah by its hind leg and trying to kick it. Fortunately, he never managed to engage with the cheetah.
Since the video broke on social media, Tenikwa released an official statement apologising for the guide’s behaviour. Although the statement gives a very thorough explanation of the incident, it finished with a very unusual phrase.
We would like to highlight that none of our programs at Tenikwa allow any tourist initiated interactions with our Cats.
Anybody following our #HandsOffOurWildlife campaign know that I am very black and white when it comes to wildlife interactions for capital gain. So my question is what is the difference between tourist initiated and non-tourist initiated interactions? Is there a difference? What does this phrase actually mean? Does that mean the interactions are initiated by the animals? Did this cheetah actually asked to be brushed?
Obviously not, so we are talking about interactions that are neither initiated by the animals nor by the tourists. In other words, are Tenikwa suggesting that as long as the guide provides careful instructions to the visitor on how to behave, the wildlife-tourist interaction is acceptable?
No, it is still the same hands-on wildlife encounter wrapped in obscure wording.
The development of the phrase ‘we don’t allow tourist initiated interactions’ worries me greatly, as it could lead to further confusion among tourists. They might believe their interaction is different.
I don’t criticise Tenikwa’s wildlife rehabilitation efforts, neither do I disregard the fact they give wildlife that can’t be released into the wild a forever home. However, their message regarding animal interactions could be accused of being ambiguous.
In my personal opinion, hands-on wildlife encounters are unethical and have no longer a place in our current tourism space. Furthermore, the video of the cheetah attack again highlights the potential danger involved with hands-on wildlife interactions and sadly in recent months we have seen too many incidents during such encounters.
The average visitor already finds it extremely difficult to distinguish between those wildlife facilities that are purely commercial ventures and those that promote conservation, but also offer hands-on activities as part of their business model. It is our responsibility, as people who have wildlife’s best intentions in mind, to be transparent and make the choices as easy as possible for visitors.
What message would be easier than #HandsOffOurWildlife?
Picture credits: All pictures used can be found on the Tenikwa TripAdvisor review page and were uploaded during April and May 2017.