By Sarah Marshall
Virgin Holidays’ decision to stop selling captive whale and dolphin activities reflects our evolving attitude towards wildlife, says Sarah Marshall.
If you love something, set it free. It’s an aphorism we’re all familiar with yet so often it’s hard to put into practice. The truth is we’d rather keep the objects of our affections as close as possible, even if that means cosseting them under lock and key.
Perhaps this partially explains our long and complex relationship with wildlife. In medieval times, exotic animals were exchanged as gifts between foreign rulers and in Elizabeth I’s reign, the public first flocked to see the Tower of London’s royal menagerie of lions and elephants.
Wild beasts and curious creatures were a spectacle and a connection to corners of the world few people would ever have the chance to see. Today, we still share that fascination with nature, but travel, education and awareness have advanced our thinking; over the last few centuries, animals have earned our respect.
Summing up this developing sentiment, Virgin Holidays recently announced it will no longer be selling any captive whale or dolphin entertainment attractions and experiences. It’s the culmination of a series of animal welfare initiatives implemented by the company from 2014, reflecting its customers’ growing desire to see animals in the wild.
“In our recent survey, 92% of UK holidaymakers said they prefer to see animals in their natural habitat,” said Joe Thompson, managing director of Virgin Holidays.
It’s a decision that will be welcomed by many, as pressure grows on tour operators to take a stand. In 2014, Intrepid Travel ceased all elephant-ride activities, sparking a domino effect in the industry when other companies followed suit.
Of course, the situation isn’t always straightforward. Take, for example, the controversy surrounding zoos. On the one hand, seeing animals like gorillas and giraffes penned into small enclosures is depressing, yet many of these institutions have served as incubators for important research and conservation work.
There are benefits, that’s true. However, in an age when excellent wildlife documentaries from the likes of David Attenborough are available at the flick of a TV remote control, the very concept of a zoo feels like an anachronism. Seeing animals in confinement is no longer a spectacle; even a fleeting glimpse of a tail or backside in the wild is worth so much more.
And you don’t necessarily need to travel to farflung locations, because there are plenty of ways to experience nature closer to home: Iberian lynx in Spain, Marsican bears in Italy, or blackbirds in your own backyard.
One thing’s for certain: The way we enjoy animals has changed and for the better. After all, there’s nothing captivating about creatures in captivity.
When it comes to wildlife viewing, only our sense of wonder should be captured. And that’s something that knows no bounds.