Operators that balance thrilling wildlife encounters with sustainability and conservation can be tracked down by following these three steps:
1. Ask the right questions
Does the operator have an animal-welfare policy in place that prohibits activities such as feeding and holding wild animals? If not, move on. “Beware lip service,” says Kelly Galaski, director of global programs for the non-profit Planeterra foundation. “Operators must be able to provide specific examples of responsible travel.”
Other telling queries include: “How do you give back to local communities?” and “How will the animals benefit from my travels?” Answers here should highlight sustainability and conservation, again with specific examples. For instance, when sourcing wildlife tour operators, Toronto-based Goway Travel “is specifically concerned with helping travellers actively contribute to the regeneration of local ecosystems and to protecting the wildlife,” says Emma Cottis, the agency’s marketing manager.
2. Check affiliations
Membership in national organizations such as the Canadian Association of Tour Operators and the United States Tour Operators Association may comfort travellers, but it’s not always clear how it benefits wildlife. That’s where third-party affiliations come in. Operators that partner with the World Wildlife Fund, the Jane Goodall Institute, the Born Free Foundation and World Animal Protection, to name just a few relevant groups, must adhere to established best practices surrounding animal welfare.
3. Read reviews
The millions of reviews on TripAdvisor and the like are undeniably useful for assessing tour operators. TourRadar.com drills even deeper by encouraging travellers to post reviews of the tours they booked through the Austria-based website. These now number more than 70,000, says spokeswoman Katie Stanwyck, and “give you a great, unbiased sense of what tours are like.”