Thomas Cook’s Mistake

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Thomas Cook’s Mistake

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Source: Letter – Thomas Cook’s Mistake

At the end of a working week and in full summer vacation time, precisely on Friday, July 27, at 16.06hrs, Loro Parque was taken by complete surprise when it received an e-mail from the CEO of the British tour operator Thomas Cook, announcing that due to a change in their animal welfare policy they will cease the ticket sale to Loro Parque.

Loro Parque was even more surprised when hardly 30 minutes later it started to receive the first inquiries from the British press asking for a statement on the decision of Thomas Cook to remove from sale any attractions featuring orcas under human care.

With this scenario it was clear to us that the British tour operator had announced its unilateral decision to the British press even before it was communicated to us; and this after 45 years of an honest and satisfactory business relationship for both parties.

This decision came to us completely unexpected and without any advanced warning.

A little less than a year ago Loro Parque, on request of Thomas Cook, has been audited by Global Spirit (a company linked to the Born Free Foundation) to determine the compliance in our facilities according to the ABTA animal welfare guidelines. The inspection confirmed the 100% compliance of these standards, which is not only the highest score, but guarantees that not only the orcas but all animals at Loro Parque are kept under the highest welfare standards and the strict regulations of ABTA are fulfilled.

Therefore, we ask ourselves: what value does the ABTA certificate with 100% compliance have, if within no time a tour operator decides to finalize a long term good business relationship? Will there be any other zoological institution in the future that will accept an audit of this kind? Are the ABTA guidelines for animal welfare of any use?

In its announcement Thomas Cook states that 90% of their customers take animal welfare serious. We are more than happy to hear that since the welfare of the animals is our outmost concern however, Loro Parque in the last 45 years of cooperation has not received a single complaint or any comment of concern regarding the welfare status of the animals in our care, neither from a Thomas Cook customer nor from the tour operator itself.

Which concerns are we talking about? Unless the customers of Thomas Cook, that have chosen to visit Loro Parque, and many of them repeatedly, are watching over the same standards that Loro Parque manifests in its daily work, offering the best welfare to all the animals in our care.

The same Friday, July 27, Loro Parque was obliged to publish the following statement:

First of all, Loro Parque wants to publicly express its gratitude to the more than a million visitors that have come to our park with Thomas Cook during the last 45 years. In all these years we have not received a single complaint from any of them regarding the welfare of our animals.

In April 2017 Loro Parque was inspected by Global Spirit (a company linked to the Born Free Foundation) following the request of Thomas Cook, in order to determine the compliance of our facilities and procedures with the ABTA animal welfare standards. The inspection obtained the highest score (100% of compliance), which guarantees that not only the orcas, but all the animals in Loro Parque have the best welfare conditions under the strict regulations of the Association of British Tour Agents. The decision of Thomas Cook not only diminishes the value of this inspection, but also is against the animal welfare regulations of ABTA, which are the most rigorous of the world.

Thomas Cook sustains that its decision is based on scientific evidence, but fails to provide any. They also argue that 90% of their clients are concerned about animal welfare, but it does not mean that they have expressed concerns about the orcas housed at Loro Parque.

In our company not only 90% but 100% of our staff is concerned about animal welfare, and we proudly work every day to provide every single animal under our care with the outmost love and respect. That’s the reason why we have obtained the maximum qualifications, not only by Global Spirit, but also by the American Humane, TÜV, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the European Association for Aquatic Mammals or the Alliance for Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. This is a clear proof of excellence in animal care, and excellence is the main reason why Loro Parque has been also honoured with the Trip Advisor’s Travellers Choice Award as the best zoo in the world. There is no doubt that many of the visitors that voted to give this award to Loro Parque were Thomas Cook clients.

In fact Loro Parque is the highest decorated zoo in the world having received every single Gold Medal on regional and national level in Spain as well as the highest distinction that any company in Spain can receive: the Prince Felipe Award of Entrepreneurial Excellence.

Furthermore, Loro Parque founded in 1994 led Loro Parque Fundación which has invested until today more than 19 million US dollars in over 150 conservation projects worldwide. As a result nine parrot species have been saved from extinction and many others have improved their population in the wild.

The decision of Thomas Cook is clearly led by anti-zoo organizations leaded by a minority of activists not really concerned about the animals, but just aimed in destroying the zoos and their conservation, research and educational activities. But this will not change our determination to continue working for the welfare of every single animal in this world, and for the conservation of the biodiversity in a planet threatened by the sixth extinction as has been scientifically proven. Already now with 700 million visitors in zoos worldwide it is clear that a zoo visit is a highly demanded activity which in light of the destruction of our nature and environment will become an absolute “must” in the future.

Fortunately, Loro Parque is this year welcoming more visitors than ever, and even without the partnership of Thomas Cook we will continue offering all our visitors a unique opportunity to get to know the wonders of wildlife and become part of our mission: to protect and preserve the animals and their natural habitats for future generations.

On Tuesday, July 31, Loro Parque sent a letter to the British tour operator confirming that we are willing to end the contractual agreement with Thomas Cook by August 1, 2018 if they wish. On Thursday, August 2, Thomas Cook answered us that they do not wish to end the contractual agreement before the end of June 2019.

It is important to note that the British tour operator Thomas Cook took this decision, despite the fact that Loro Parque has all documents on animal welfare in order and up-to-date, on its own account and individually, while this kind of decision can be very harmful for all ecological institutions worldwide.

This is why we are making this case public and transparent. We want to share with you the multiple letters of support that we have received since Thomas Cook published its announcement and we ask you to read the scientific argument prepared by Dr. Javier Almunia, Director of Loro Parque Fundación, which explains in detail why our orcas or any orca under human care cannot be released.

Recently we have also learned that the multinational financial company Fosun from China holds shares of the British tour operator Thomas Cook. Amongst the many activities of this company, they are also active in the tourism sector and own leisure facilities where the interaction with cetaceans is no problem at all. Furthermore, it has been confirmed that the animals in these facilities originate from the cruel drive hunts in Taiji. These hunts have been strongly rejected by the whole zoological community worldwide since many years and no zoological institution in Europe has ever accepted an animal from Taiji.

Finally we would like to state that Loro Parque receives this year more customers than ever and with or without the collaboration of Thomas Cook, we will continue to offer our visitors an opportunity to get to know the wonders of wildlife and make them part of our mission: protect and conserve the animals and their natural habitats for our future generations.

Orcas under human care

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Are sanctuaries and cetacean releases viable alternatives?

As we move ahead through the 21st century and the disconnection between humans and nature increases, the already important educational animal presentations in modern zoological facilities become more and more necessary. Every animal species housed in a zoo becomes an ambassador not only for its wild counterparts, but also for many others that live in endangered habitats and ecosystems.

From more than 46 years ago Loro Parque has become a home for numerous animals in need: chimpanzees, penguins, gorillas, tigers, even orcas. More than a decade ago, SeaWorld needed space to house its growing group of killer whales and Loro Parque agreed to build the world’s most modern facility to provide new space for four of them. In 2006 Skyla, Kohana, Tekoa and Keto (second and third generation orcas bred under human care) arrived to the brand new facilities built at Loro Parque. The group welcomed a new member in 2010, when Adan was born. And in 2011 the Dutch Government requested Loro Parque to house Morgan, an orca found emaciated in the Wadden Sea the previous year, and which was declared non-releasable by the Dutch authorities. At that point the only alternative for Morgan was euthanasia, as the experts and the Supreme Court, after eight previous similar resolutions, agreed that her release would mean a slow but sure death.

Nowadays the six orcas housed at Loro Parque are in perfect shape; their health is closely monitored by a team of veterinarians and their daily needs attended to by a group of zoo keepers with extensive experience in taking care of this species. The social structure of the group is stable and the veterinary records prove that in the last three years they have not presented any significant pathology. Their welfare is continuously monitored by unaffiliated experts from different universities and independent international consultants visit the premises regularly to give advice on various husbandry aspects.

Although there are no concerns about the health and welfare of this group of orcas, some groups of activists like PETA (People for the Ethic Treatment of Animals), Born Free Foundation or Free Morgan Foundation, actively lobby different administrations to release these animals to the sea, or to relocate them to a marine sanctuary. As we will explain further on, the liberation of these animals to the sea is completely impossible and their transfer to a sanctuary will not improve their welfare but rather the contrary. But lately the blackmailing and the pressure from the activists is not limited anymore to the administrations or zoological institutions, they are also threatening tour operators and other companies that work in the touristic sector.

It suits to ask two questions:

Who is saying that the orcas in zoological institutions are not happy?

The answer is only given by anti-zoo organizations. Not any researcher from an independent institution (university) with academic knowledge and accredited experience about animal welfare corroborates these affirmations. Some scientists that have supported the anti-zoo organizations are not experts in animal welfare but their experience is based only on general biology or neuroanatomy.

On what are their affirmations, that the orcas are suffering, based?

Their affirmations are not based on measurements of hormones, rigorous investigations about behaviour or careful scientific studies that evaluate the personality or the activity of the animals. The affirmations of the anti-zoo organizations are based on prejudices and speculations never proven.

In contrast, Loro Parque has independent studies from experts in animal welfare of the Autonomous University of Barcelona, the University of Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the Max Planck Institute which, by analyzing all hormonal parameters, their activity and behaviour, conclude that the welfare of the animals is very high.

This leaves very clear that the self-proclaimed organizations for animal rights claim that they are motivated by the lack of welfare of the zoo-housed orcas, despite the fact that none of them has the academic background in animal welfare. Actually, the vast majority of their personnel don’t even have the minimum formation in biology or zoology. The truth is that the so called “animal rights” organizations have turned into big multinational businesses that receive million of dollars in donations from good-hearted people who are truly concerned about animals. Due to this lack of knowledge and experience the effects of these campaigns against zoos that have cetaceans in their care have a disastrous outcome for the orcas. SeaWorld’s decision to stop the breeding program of their orcas in 2016 has resulted in reactivating the hunt of orcas in Russia in order to fulfill the demand of Chinese parks.

At this point it is very important to analyze the demands that the anti-zoo groups make to the administrations and the tour operators: to liberate the orcas to the sea or to transfer them to marine sanctuaries.

1.- Can the orcas be returned to the sea?

The answer is very clear: No. And they know it because we’re talking about a group of hybrid animals (a mixture between orcas from the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans) and no administration from any country will allow that they are liberated into the sea since the risk of genetic contamination of the wild orca populations will be far too high.

And if that was not enough, these animals, born in second, third and fourth generation under human care, have never learned to hunt their prey. The only known experience of liberating an orca that was born wild and kept 20 years under human care (Keiko) demonstrated that it is not possible for them to recuperate the ability to hunt for their own food; and this, even though Keiko had not been born under human care. The adaptation of animals that have lived several generations under human care would be even more difficult.

Also the health authorities would not allow a reintroduction into the sea because of the possibility to liberate at the same time bacteria, fungi, and parasites which have been treated with medicines and could cause severe epidemics in wild populations of dolphins and whales.

The best evidence of the impossibility to re-adapt zoo-housed killer whales to the sea is the reintroduction of Keiko (the protagonist of the film “Free Willy”). After more than three years of preparation and 20 million dollars spent, the only result was the sacrifice of a beautiful animal that was incapable of hunting for itself. But it seems that neither PETA nor Born Free Foundation or Free Morgan Foundation have learned anything from the death of Keiko and keep on presenting the liberation as an ideal solution.

2.- Would the orcas welfare status improve if they are transferred to a sanctuary?

In this case the answer also is no. It is very naive to think that orcas, that have lived various generations in zoological facilities, will automatically swim longer distances for the mere fact of having more space. The reality is that the orcas would have to be kept exactly the same way as in zoological institutions, with trainers that motivate them to swim and jump in order to release their energy, a team of veterinarians that can obtain blood, urine, stool and blowhole samples (which can only be achieved with training) to guarantee their health.

For the same reasons of genetic contamination and the possible epidemic infections earlier mentioned, no government will allow the construction of a sanctuary in its waters since this would put the wild populations of dolphins and whales in high danger. The possibility of an accidental or deliberate escape of the animals from a sanctuary is very high, the same as the transmission of illness and infections through the water that will be exchanged with seawater without purification. There is a famous precedent of an intentional liberation of two dolphins from a sanctuary, of which one died and the other one ended up with severe damage since neither of them was able to hunt fish to feed themselves. The author of this liberation, Rick O’Barry, was sentenced for animal abuse breaking the Marine Mammal Protection Act of the USA.

In case of oil spills or other naval accidents or simply by the general plastic pollution, the animals would be in great risk of contamination.

In case of storms the animals would be at risk of drowning if the nets of the enclosure broke or simply that big waves in the bay would push them to land. Therefore, the sanctuary will need to have an emergency system which in practice means to build a pool with its filtration system, water control, etc.

The dietary necessities of the orcas would be the same as in the zoological facility. That means that they have to be offered 8 to 9 feedings which represent more than 300kg of highest quality fish daily. It is not possible to find this amount of live fish in a small bay and if live fish gets thrown in, it would escape through the holes of the nets. Therefore, the feeding in a sanctuary would also have to be based on frozen fish.

A group of 6 of these big animals produces approximately 54,000kg of excrement a year; this means that very strong tidal current would be needed to keep the bay clean. But the tides could have a negative impact on the animals as well as the nets and moorings used to close the bay.

To keep an orca costs approximately 600,000 US$ a year which means that a sanctuary needs to generate a minimum of 3.6 million dollars yearly for at least 40 to 50 years to come. Taking into consideration the difficulties that dog and cat shelters have nowadays to maintain their very inferior costs, it might very well be possible that these costs, in a few years, will have to be paid by the taxes of all citizens.

All these arguments leave it very clear that neither the reintroduction into the sea nor the transfer into a sanctuary are viable options for orcas born under human care like the ones at Loro Parque. But what about Morgan? She has not been born under human care. This is true and, as has been explained, Morgan arrived to Loro Parque because she was rescued,which saved her life, and because of a petition from the Dutch Authorities so that they didn’t have to euthanize her. This means that thanks to Loro Parque her life was saved twice.

With the arrival of Morgan to our installations, we were very aware of three things:

  • Our interference was necessary in order to save the life of an animal.
  • Our maintenance cost would increase by US$ 600,000 per year.
  • Morgan would not bring one customer more to Loro Parque.

But as on many previous occasions, Loro Parque has highlighted the fact that there was an animal in need. This is why we have received Morgan and welcomed her not only with professionalism but most of all with tremendous love and respect towards an animal with a big history of suffering.

However, and unexpected by us, the arrival of Morgan also unchained the criticisms of the activists and their false arguments, as for example, that her family awaits her in the sea (although her pod had never been located) when the most likely was that her family had left her behind because of a sensory deficiency. This hearing deficit, which was not diagnosed until several months after of her arrival to our facilities, might have been the reason why, applying the maxim of “only the strong survive”, her family separated from her, an animal that cannot help in the survival of the group.

When Morgan’s trainers started to suspect that she was deaf, Loro Parque contacted the highest experts in cetacean acoustics, Dr. Houser, Dr. Luke and Dr. Finneran of the National Marine Mammal Foundation, IMARES and the US Navy respectively. They demonstrated the complete lack of hearing of Morgan and published their results in a scientific journal.

Therefore, the liberation of Morgan into the sea would be her death penalty because, besides that she has never learned how to hunt (like the other orcas in the group), her hearing deficit would not allow her to find prey since it implies that her sonar does not function. Also her communication problems would not allow her to coordinate herself with other orcas in order to hunt and orcas like Morgan are not able to feed themselves.

In conclusion, if PETA or Born Free Foundation would achieve their objective, to take the orcas from Loro Parque to a sanctuary or to liberate, they would only provoke their sure death.

EAAM Statement on Thomas Cook Announcement

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EAAM, European Association for Aquatic mammals, is deeply concern about the announcement of the Thomas Cook Travel Company that, from the summer 2019, will stop selling trips to Zoological parks that keep killer whales. The Zoological Facilities affected are SeaWorld, in Florida, and Loro Parque in Tenerife.

The chief executive of the Holiday Giant, Peter Fankhauser said “This was not a decision we took lightly” acknowledging that both parks had met standards and had made improvements to how animals were kept, however he added, “… more than 90% of our customers were concerned about animal welfare… and when so many of our customers are so clear in their view, I could not allow our business to ignore them”.

However the Travel Company lacked to explain correctly to their customers that Animal Welfare Standards in these Parks , like for the other Zoological Parks members of numerous Associations like EAAM (European Association for Aquatic mammals, EAZA (European Association of Zoos and Aquaria), WAZA (World Association of Zoos and Aquariums), AMMPA (Alliance of Marine Mammals Parks and Aquariums) provide outstanding animal welfare to their marine mammals certified by a strict Accreditation process. Besisdes some of these Zoological Parks received also the ‘Humane Conservation’ certification of Animal Welfare as a result of independent worldwide Zoological expert’s inspection, Loro Parque is one of these Zoological facilities.

Thomas Cook Company also failed to evaluate the large impact in terms of in situ projects and direct conservation support that these Zoological parks give every year to the Nature conservation and wild animals protection.

EAAM with all its members provides a huge support in terms of money, professionals, know-how and experience at service of the Nature, only Loro Parque contributed until now with more than $19 million to over 150 conservation projects globally.

In addition, a fundamental positive impact on Nature presevation and conservation is possible only by educating and sensitizing people, performing Conservation Education activities and engaging experiences that increase awareness and empowerment in millions of adults and child that visit Zoos and Marine Parks.

Millions of UK and of worldwide guests had visited these parks and they have seen first-hand the incredible care provided to all animals hosted and learned about how it is possible to protect and save species in the wild.

The WAZA Chief Executive Officer Doug Cress highlight “Thomas Cook focused on orcas but overlooked the ongoing efforts to protect marine species around the world. Those programs that rescue pilot whales or save sea turtles are funded by tourist revenue. Thomas Cook sold its clients only a fraction of the true story, and could undermine essential conservation work as a result.”

Joining to the WAZA Chief Executive Officer message, the EAAM President Elect Renato Lenzi, invite the Thomas Cook Agency to carefully and responsible re-consider its decision and let their consumers take park in the effort to protect our natural heritage continuing to include marine parks in its travel packages.

ANCOR Institute for Biology supports Loro Parque

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Original source:

Respected Ladies and Gentlemen;

Learning about the plans of your company makes me very sad! Thus, I strongly ask you to immediately take care and action that the Loro Parque remains “The number One Zoo” in Europe and also worldwide! Let me explain:

I have been fighting for the wellbeing of animals since decades: i.e. as the scientific director of the International Laboratory of Dolphin Behaviour Research in Eilat, Israel; also have I been working as an independent expert appointed by the German Government for developing new rules for an optimal housing of marine mammals, and finally since 2005, I am observing the housing of orcas in the Loro Parque, and supervising crucial research on the behaviour of these whales.

With all this as a reference I feel glad to testify about Wolfgang Kiessling and his crew/team to provide best conditions and care for all their whales and dolphins. I am proud to stick out my neck for that, because a number of lies have been reported in the past.

So, dear Ladies and Gentlemen, please rethink the matter and confine your plans to zoos only with a pour housing of their animals.

Best Regards, (Dietmar Todt)

Justus-Liebig-Universität Giessen supports Loro Parque

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Recently, Thomas Cook, a touristic tour operator, stated that they will not sell tours or tickets of Zoos, keeping Orcas. As reason the impact of keeping those animals on animal welfarewas provided in addition to the change of visitor opinions. This statement has a negative influence on zoos at all, as the statement sentence all zoos keeping orcas, and maybe even more in future. In general, it is a positive sign, that tour operators think about the attractions they sell and implement also quality controls based on scientific evidence which can be measured. This has been done by several tour operators and zoos where accredited. The problem starts, when Zoos, which passed this accreditation, than gets banned by single tour operators without providing further reasons. In public, this might be taken as scientific evidence that either the zoos have not passed this accreditation, or that certain animals cannot be kept in captivity by respecting animal welfare. For the first, this is just a false information with regard to the LoroParque as he passed this accreditation, and for the second there is no scientific evidence that generally the keeping of Orcas in captivity is not possible.

Suffer of animals is difficult to judge. An animal can suffer by organic or mental reasons. In the first case the suffer is usually obvious, in the second case suffer also results in health issues or behavior alterations. If, in the second case mental suffer does not result in health issues, it is not detectable, if even present. For the last no evidence is so far provided and leads just to an emotional discussion which is not scientifically based. This means that only the health of an animal (and physiological parameters) is a measurable tool. Therefore, it is vital that Zoos have their own veterinary departments with experts in their field, exchanging their knowledge worldwide. Here, Loro Parque is an excellent example of state of the art veterinary care. Their vet department involves three veterinarians, which have a long history of zoo animal experience and even free-ranging animal medicine. They are supported by state examined veterinary nurses and educated laboratory staff working in a large in-house laboratory. Many zoos do not have such facilities. The animals are routinely examined and environmental samples are taken, so any alterations in the health or management of the animals are immediately noticed. By providing this and not detecting management related health issues in the animals, there is no evidence that the animals do suffer.

Control of Zoos by specialist are necessary and if zoos fail to meet the state of the art criteria of zoo management, tourist operators may and should implement consequences. But this should be based on the Zoo itself and not on the animals they are keeping by pretending that such animals cannot be kept.

All in all, tour operators should not start to act as judges for animal husbandry and what is possible and what is not. They should implement accreditation systems based on scientific evidence and knowledge developed by experts in Zoo housing systems and veterinarians which are specialists for the different animal groups. In general, such a statement of a tour operator as made by Thomas Cook is unfair for those zoos providing the best care to their animals according to the up to date knowledge which is available at present and does not respect the impact of zoos towards species conservation and nature awareness of the public. The emotional driven discussion, which potentially led to the decision of the tour operator should be placed back on a scientific and evidence based discussion.

The Value of Having Cetaceans in Human Care at Accredited Aquariums and Zoos

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I’ve spent my entire 37-year career in the field of conservation. I can count many accomplishments, but few make me prouder than those opportunities when I’ve been able to support the protection of places, great and small, but especially the areas that stand apart as ecosystems unto themselves — like the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument. These are amazing places, increasingly rare in a world where human populations are continuing to expand in numbers and affluence. They are increasingly hard to protect, as illustrated in our government’s current headlong rush to allow oil developers into the Arctic Refuge’s coastal plain; its biological heart.

If we are going to protect these great places, providing homes for the creatures, great and small, that depend upon them, we must nurture a public that sees the protection of these places as relevant and essential. This is challenging in a world where people are rapidly evolving into urban and indoor creatures. Here in the US, 82% live in and around cities, and we spend 93% of our time indoors. Will we spend our time and money and cast our votes to support conservation of wildlife and places from which we are increasingly disconnected? Unfortunately, growing evidence seems to indicate the answer is “No.”

We need to do better.

A bright spot – and an opportunity to create more engaged, aware and actively conservation-minded citizens – is the community of purposeful, mission-driven, zoos and aquariums accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). More than 200 million guests will visit AZA members in the coming year. Yes, they will have fun! Moreover, they will leave with a better understanding, empathy, and inspiration for the animals they see and the need to protect their wild brethren and their homes.

There is controversy about keeping animals in human-care — some like to say, “captivity.” That controversy is sharpest around animals that are large, social, emotional, and highly mobile, like elephants, great apes, and cetaceans (especially whales, dolphins and porpoises). However, humans are tactile animals, meaning we connect with things we can see, smell, touch, and sense. That’s as true for dolphins and whales, as it is for tigers, tortoises, or tadpoles.

It is also why I stand squarely with AZA’s accredited members caring for cetaceans. Sure, it’s amazing to see wild dolphins or killer whales, but most people will never have that opportunity. And honestly, we don’t want 7.5 billion people rushing out into nature to watch whales and dolphins. And they don’t have to, because they can see them in responsibly-managed facilities, like SeaWorld, Georgia Aquarium, Shedd Aquarium, and Texas State Aquarium, where they receive exceptional care, while also serving as amazing ambassadors for wild nature.

Recently, there has been an increase in the debate over the importance and value of having these animals in human care and on display. Cetaceans have been in the care of AZA-accredited aquariums and zoos for more than 50 years. During that time, we have made great strides in understanding the natural history, reproduction, care and behavior of these incredible animals. In turn, these facilities work hand-in-hand with government, non-profits, and other partners to advance ocean conservation and research projects to benefit these animals in the wild.

Most certainly, we must provide the very best standard of care. We must be dedicated to continual improvement. And at AZA, we are. If you have any doubt, the best way to judge is to see it for yourself. Visit! Talk to a keeper or trainer or aquarist. Ask them hard questions. I’m confident that they will have good answers for you. Answers that address the care they provide, and answers about the benefits of sharing these animals with their guests.

At a time when we need to be uniting to help save these magnificent creatures, we seem to be dividing ourselves.

It was disappointing last week when the British travel agency, Thomas Cook, announced that beginning in 2019 they would no longer sell tickets to SeaWorld. SeaWorld is a member and leader in the AZA community, and a long-time and established leader in marine mammal care, conservation, research, and rescue. Thomas Cook’s decision came on the heels of SeaWorld receiving a 100% passing score, based on the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA) Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism. So, SeaWorld met their animal welfare standards, and Thomas Cook is penalizing them nonetheless.

If you want to see a more responsible travel agency position, take a look at the animal welfare policy of Attraction Tickets Direct (ATD), which is also an ABTA member:

ATD actually follows the ABTA welfare assessment standards and also recognizes the value of rigorous accreditations, like AZA’s.

Previous to joining AZA, I served as Director of the world’s largest wildlife conservation organization — the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. I know how people would react if I acted like Thomas Cook did with SeaWorld, ignoring science and standards, and instead, making an arbitrary and intolerant decision. They would be outraged!

Today, our world is too full with intolerance and outrage, so I simply would ask that Thomas Cook revisit their decision. If you think SeaWorld can do more and better, try a novel approach — ask them.

Trying to punish them economically may feel righteous, but it will target the thing that most needs our help — wild marine mammals. We need a connection to nature and inspiration to save it; we get that when we visit places like SeaWorld. We need great institutions — government, non-profit and for-profit — with cultures of service and social responsibility; SeaWorld has a proven record. We need concerned citizens to unite; there are too few of us; let’s not divide and conquer ourselves.

Thomas Cook, you made the wrong choice! Please reconsider. Let’s join together and help create a world where all people respect, value and conserve wildlife and wild places. That’s our vision!

Loro Parque: Thomas Cook influenced by activists seeking to destroy zoos

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The decision by British Tour Operator Thomas Cook to stop selling tickets for attractions with orcas is clearly influenced by activists who are not concerned about animals but about destroying zoos and their conservation activities, warned the Loro Parque Foundation today.

The Director of the Loro Parque Foundation, Javier Almunia, made this statement to EFE after Thomas Cook announced on July 29 its intention, starting this summer, to stop selling tickets for attractions that show orcas in captivity, such as at the Tenerife zoo.

In this regard, Loro Parque expresses its gratitude to the over a million visitors who have visited its facilities with Thomas Cook over the past 45 years “during which we have not received a single complaint from even one of them regarding the welfare of our animals”.

Thomas Cook argues that its decision is based on scientific evidence but does not provide any, and argues that 90 per cent of its clients are concerned about animal welfare, which does not mean that they have expressed concern about the orcas housed at Loro Parque.

In fact, as Javier Almunia points out, in April 2017 Global Spirit, a company linked to the Born Free Foundation, inspected Loro Parque at the request of Thomas Cook to determine compliance of its facilities and procedures with the animal welfare standards of the British Travel Agents Association (ABTA).

The inspection obtained the highest score (100 per cent compliance), which ensures that not only the orcas, but all the animals in Loro Parque “have the best welfare conditions under the strict regulations” of ABTA, so Thomas Cook’s decision “not only diminishes the value of this inspection, but also goes against ABTA’s animal welfare standards, which are the most stringent in the world”.

At Loro Parque “one hundred percent of our members of staff” are concerned about animal welfare “and we are proud to work every day to give all the animals under our care the greatest love and respect” added the Director of the Loro Parque Foundation.

That’s why Loro Parque has obtained the highest marks, not only from Global Spirit, but also from American Humane, TÜV, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, the Iberian Association of Zoos and Aquariums, the European Association of Aquatic Mammals and the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums.

Javier Almunia underlines that this is clear proof of excellence in animal care and this is the main reason why Loro Parque has also been awarded the TripAdvisor Travellers’ Choice award as the World’s Best Zoo.

“There’s no doubt that many of the visitors who voted to award this prize to Loro Parque were clients of Thomas Cook” continued the Director of the Foundation, who affirmed that the entity is the most decorated zoo in the world and in Spain has received the highest distinction that any company can receive: the Prince Felipe Award for Business Excellence.

Loro Parque more than meets the most demanding animal welfare standards, which has been certified, as has the handling and care of their orcas, with which it does “exceptional” work.

In fact, Loro Parque Foundation is working with animal welfare experts at the University of Barcelona to develop a framework for measuring this factor “in close detail” in orcas, so that daily or seasonal variations that may occur due to differences in sexual or group behaviour can be measured more accurately.

Javier Almunia also points out that since the Loro Parque Foundation was founded in 1994, it has invested so far more than 19 million dollars in more than 150 conservation projects around the world. As a result, nine species of parrot have been saved from extinction and many others have improved their populations in the wild.

Thomas Cook’s decision “will not change our determination to continue working for the welfare of every animal in this world” and for the conservation of biodiversity on a planet threatened by the ‘sixth extinction’, as has been scientifically proved.

He also believes that, with 700 million visitors to zoos around the world, it’s clear that a visit to the zoo is a highly demanded activity which, in the light of the destruction of our nature and the environment, will become an absolute ‘must’ in the future.

“Fortunately, Loro Parque welcomes more visitors than ever before and even without Thomas Cook’s help, it will continue to offer everyone a unique opportunity to learn about the wonders of wildlife and be part of our mission: to protect and preserve animals and their natural habitats for future generations,” he confirmed.

Open Letter from AMMPA & IMATA to Thomas Cook

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Original source: 180802AMMPA_IMATAThomasCookLetter

Dear Dr. Frankhauser,

We are writing on behalf the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA) and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association (IMATA) to urge Thomas Cook Group to reconsider its decision to stop selling tickets to SeaWorld Orlando and Spain’s Loro Parque because of their care for and public display of killer whales in their world-renowned institutions.

Our request is based on science, research and facts verified by the Alliance, which is the preeminent trade association and accrediting body for zoos, aquariums, and marine parks throughout the world that exhibit marine mammals. The Alliance supports the highest standards of care for marine mammals and contributes to their conservation in the wild through public education, scientific research, and the rescue and rehabilitation of sick and injured animals in the wild. Our accredited institutions in the U.S., Canada, Mexico, Europe, Asia, and the Caribbean—including SeaWorld Orlando and Loro Parque—collectively possess the largest body of marine mammal experience and expertise in the world.

As one of the oldest and largest animal training organizations in the world, IMATA is dedicated to advancing the humane care and handling of marine animals by fostering communication and sharing best practices among individual professionals through training, public display, research, husbandry, conservation, and public education. IMATA members utilize the most advanced and responsible management techniques benefiting the marine animals in their care to ensure the public’s experience with these animals fosters emotional and personal connections that promote conservation of our marine environments and respect for marine species.

While we share Thomas Cook’s desire to ensure animal welfare in tourism, it is disappointing that your company is ignoring the fact that both institutions exceed the highest animal care standards in the world and are leading contributors to education, conservation and research efforts to conserve killer whales and other marine mammals in the wild. SeaWorld and Loro Parque are also leaders in marine mammal rescue and rehabilitation and provide an important connection between people and daily work to protect marine life. This work is exactly what your customers said they desire when they report they want you to “take animal welfare seriously.”

Do not deny your customers the choice to see for themselves all that SeaWorld and Loro Parque are doing for animals globally to ensure animal welfare. Let them experience firsthand how inspiring and often transformational it is to see marine animals up close and in a safe, educational environment that is positive for people and for animals. This is what makes accredited marine parks so critical in the global efforts to protect marine mammals and the oceans.

SeaWorld has rescued more than 31,000 animals in the past five decades through its SeaWorld Cares program and provides funding and professional expertise to important animal and habitat conservation projects around the world. As part of its $10 million commitment to killer whale conservation, SeaWorld has helped fund a breakthrough nutritional assessment of Northern Resident killer whales and has done work on killer whale milk composition to understand their nutritional requirements and pregnancy and lactation to understand how killer whales metabolize toxins in their environment.

Loro Parque continuously receives awards of excellence and the highest ratings from visitors who recognize the institution’s commitment to marine mammals. Loro Parque also makes important contributions to conservation and research projects throughout the world. Since 2011, Loro Parque has funded or participated in research projects with orcas focused on bioacoustics, genetics, physiology, ethology, biotracking and biometrics. They are also participating in a project to evaluate the effects of realistic pollutant exposure on in vitro immune function in killer whales in order to generate data for a population model of contaminant effects in killer whales. As a result of this scientific work, in the last six years, six scientific papers have been published in peer- reviewed journals (and another three have been submitted), two masters and six diploma theses have been produced, and 11 presentations have been given at international congresses.

Like all Alliance members, SeaWorld Orlando and Loro Parque are mission driven and make animal welfare their top priority. The conservation of animals is what inspires the professionals at these outstanding organizations to dedicate their lives to providing the best care of marine mammals both at their organizations and in the wild. Their dedication and the opportunities they provide the public to connect with and learn more about these amazing animals is what draws millions of visitors to these parks. We understand the pressure animal rights organizations like PETA can bring to bear on a company through endless protests, letter writing and demands, constantly moving the goalposts on their desired action. They targeted Thomas Cook Group, and they will continue to pressure your company and others. However, please don’t confuse customer interest in animal welfare with the radical agenda of animal rights groups that attacked you and that are now taking credit for your decision to end support for organizations that are actually doing significant work to save marine mammals. Contrary to allegations from animal rights organizations, science shows that marine mammals in accredited facilities thrive and live as long as or, in many cases, much longer than their counterparts in the wild. They receive high quality, nutritious food, regular and preventative veterinary care by licensed professionals, and exercise and play in ways that are mentally and physically beneficial. These are facts from the experts who know and care for the animals, not those whose agenda it is to end the public display of all animals.

Again, we urge your company to reconsider its decision to deny your customers the chance to experience SeaWorld and Spain’s Loro Parque marine parks that are leading the work to save marine life.


Kathleen Dezio

Support for Humane Certified™ Institutions following Travel Operator Decision

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American Humane, which has worked to protect animals for 141 years and is the largest certifier of animal welfare in the world, stands by Loro Parque and our other Humane Certified™ institutions as they were audited against the independent, gold star standard of animal welfare, backed by science, top animal experts, veterinarians and ethicists.

We can attest to the excellent welfare afforded to the animals at Loro Parque, including the orcas, which are healthy and very well-treated. Fewer than one-half of one percent of zoos, aquariums, and conservation centers in the world have achieved our rigorous certification, which thoroughly verifies the many dimensions of good welfare.

The decision by Thomas Cook is being driven by an animal activist philosophy that seeks to remove animals from our lives, and is not based on science, actual welfare considerations, the good care of the animals we encountered, or the invaluable need for humane conservation and public education that is critical to the survival of so many species with whom we share the Earth.

By taking this action, Thomas Cook has decided to take an unprecedented giant step away from their legacy of providing sound and unbiased guidance to travelers who seek good, safe, and ethical experiences, which will have the unfortunate effect of pushing more remarkable and endangered species closer to the edge of extinction.

Those seeking thrilling and ethical experiences with animals can rest assured they can find and enjoy them at Loro Parque.