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Animal Protection Policy FAQs

Explore has launched a new Animal Protection Policy for 2021. We chat with Prue Stone, our Head of Sustainability, to find out a little more about the policy, and what it means for our customers and our trips.
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What is animal protection vs animal welfare?

For Explore, animal welfare refers to the physical and mental state of an animal, primarily an animal we use or are in charge of. It doesn’t necessarily include a wild animal on a game safari; nor does it encapsulate how we discourage poaching by not purchasing wild animal part souvenirs or bushmeat.

Animal welfare refers to the state of an individual animal and its ability to cope in a particular circumstance. Whilst animal protection not only considers the welfare of the individual, but further the survival of animal populations and species. For this reason we have an Animal Protection Policy that considers the welfare of captive animals but also our influence in the natural world, on flora and fauna alike.

 

Why did you write a new animal protection policy?

Protecting and respecting the natural world have always been hugely important to Explore. But the unusual events of 2020 gave us time and space to review and rewrite our animal protection policy as part of our commitment to ‘build back better’.
 
We haven’t published a policy before on our website although we have always had guidelines for our own use, and it has been a fascinating journey. I have poured over different existing policies, uncovering the nuances of each, read endless scholarly articles and discussed ideas with specialists. Ultimately I wanted to produce a robust policy that truly reflected the ethos and heart of Explore. I wanted to provide clear guidelines about what is acceptable on an Explore holiday and what is not, creating transparency and understanding. But it is also important for us to welcome feedback, training opportunities and mutual education with all our suppliers so that we can all make improvements as needed.

Whilst it's important to do all we can, as a business, to protect nature, its wildlife and the individual animal, we must also consider our ability to fulfil those ideals in reality. The policy not only defines Explore’s principles in relation to animal protection, but also how these are applied through our operations, in collaboration with our destination partners, and taking account of the different circumstances on the ground.  

 

Why are you launching it now?

We are in the most unique position for the first time in nearly forty years where we haven’t had groups travelling. In addition it has become obvious that we don’t only love our natural world, we need it. Now is the time to make improvements to our holidays, to our homes, to our lives, to ensure the future is cleaner, is kinder, and that the planet can continue to support us indefinitely.

COVID19 has highlighted the importance of animal and nature protection. If poorly managed, tourism tends to exploit nature, its wildlife, and its limited resources, resulting in biodiversity loss, Climate Change, and greater human-wildlife challenges. This includes heightened exposure to viral transference between animals and humans (Hockings M. et al. 2020). Environmental sustainability in tourism is therefore not only better for people, nature, and its wildlife, but integral to prevent future pandemics. It is vital at this point in time that all businesses, including Explore, ‘Build Back Better for Animals’ (ANIMONDIAL 2020). 

 

What changes can we expect to see on the trips?

The process of writing a policy from scratch has been really rewarding. It has meant we will be making some changes to our itineraries but also has resulted in a much more transparent approach to animal experiences. We have a clearer set of guidelines and explanations behind each decision. This will help our product team when designing trips, our agents to understand our stance, our customer sales team to speak with our customers.
 
Examples of trip changes include our new no contact policy. Whilst we have always refrained from contact with wild animals, this is now a clear decision we have made and has been expanded out to include community (stray) animals also. We won’t be riding on mules or donkeys, and importantly we will commission an independent audit on our experiences so we can be sure that we’re visiting the best places possible. This is an ongoing process, and we’ll be working through our entire range of holidays in the coming weeks and months.
 
For many companies it might be that writing a new policy, or even just reviewing a current policy, adds a layer of understanding around the company when it is communicated, and that alone filters through to our daily lives and actionsThe collective choices shapes much needed change.

 

What makes this policy different to others?

One of our core values at Explore is “Responsible in everything we do”. I think this helps highlight how broad the concept of “sustainability” is - it runs through each team in the company and each decision made, and this is no different with our animal protection policy. Our policy isn’t just about what we will and won’t see on a holiday, it isn’t just about good welfare for captive animals or how close we should get to a wild animal. We’ve taken advice from two different animal welfare charities (Born Free and FOUR PAWS), as well as a specialist animal protection consultancy (ANIMONDIAL) and we have covered topics including what we eat, what souvenirs we should avoid, exactly which animals we can touch, or ride, or use on treks. We’ve included domestic animals, wild and tame animals, stray animals.

What’s next?

The Animal Protection Policy isn’t something that we’ve worked on and will now move on from. It’s a live and evolving policy. We are always looking to improve, and our policy is committed to helping report any violations of animal protection , always working with our suppliers to make improvements, and reacting to the changing needs of the industry. We have improved our communication channels so we can monitor how we are performing better, so customers and tour leaders alike can let us know their thoughts. We’re writing online training modules for all staff and suppliers explaining why each decision has been made and providing more learning resources and access to specialists.

I think what makes our policy different is this approach. We are collaborative; with our charity partners, consultants, tour leaders, ground agents and industry peers. We believe that only through mutual understanding, actively making these positive changes, being more transparent and acknowledging our weaknesses as well as our strengths, can we all build back better at a time when it is most needed.

 

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