The Ministry of Tourism announced that because of COVID-19, it’s working on a process of certification which would establish minimum standards of safety and sanitisation measures to be followed by the tourism industry in order to help protect the public. In response, PETA India fired off a letter to Minister of Tourism Prahlad Singh Patel urging him to ban the use of animals in all tourist attractions in India. We warned that zoonotic diseases (which can spread to humans from other animals), rampant violations of animal protection laws, and animal welfare concerns are pertinent reasons for phasing out animal use immediately.
While scientists overwhelmingly believe COVID-19 first infected humans at a live-animal market in China, wild and other animals commonly used by the tourism industry can and do also transmit zoonotic diseases to humans – including tuberculosis from elephants, glanders from horses, and camelpox and MERS (which is caused by a coronavirus) from camels.
Most of the animal rides using elephants, camels, and horses are apparently illegal, since the animals aren’t registered with the Animal Welfare Board of India (AWBI), the prescribed authority under The Performing Animal (Registration) Rules, 2001. Making animals give rides, forcing them to do tricks, and allowing interactions or photos with them are all activities that give rise to a number of animal welfare concerns. When used for rides, animals are controlled with weapons and forced to bear the weight of humans, carriages, and tourists’ luggage.
Elephants and other animals are also commonly kept in chains or tightly tethered when not in use. According to figures compiled by the Heritage Animal Task Force, captive elephants killed 526 people in Kerala alone within a 15-year span.
In its 7 May 2014 judgment in the matter of AWBI v A Nagaraja and Others, the Honourable Supreme Court of India noted, “Entertainment, exhibition or amusement do not fall under … exempted categories [under Section 11 of The Prevention of Cruelty to Animals Act, 1960] and cannot be claimed as a matter of right under the doctrine of necessity.”
It’s time we ended the use of animals in the tourism industry!