Our relationship with the Southern Africa Tourism Services Association (SATSA)

SATSA is a non-profit, member-driven association representing the Southern Africa region’s tourism in-bound private sector. It has over 700 members across the spectrum of in-bound travel and hospitality services.

WildChoices is an independent and private initiative and has no affiliation with SATSA.

The SATSA Captive Wildlife Attractions & Activities Guidelines and Decision Tool

At SATSA’s annual conference in August 2017, members raised concerns about:

  • the proliferation of captive wildlife attractions and activities in South Africa, and
  • the negative impact that unethical facilities might have on tourism and brand South Africa.

In 2018 SATSA established a Board Committee on Animal Interactions and commissioned BDO South Africa, an independent consulting firm, to:

  1. Define the types of entities that fall within the ambit of captive wildlife interactions including standardising definitions and terminology.
  2. Develop an ethical framework to evaluate operations that involve captive wildlife interactions to underpin the debate and establish the principles upon which the ethicalness of animal interaction operations may objectively be evaluated.
  3. Develop a set of guidelines for the self-regulation of captive wildlife tourism experiences.

SATSA adopted and published the SATSA Captive Wildlife Attractions & Activities Guidelines and Decision Tool in November 2019. This was followed by an Animal Interactions Charter which attracted 83 signatories. In 2021 they updated their MOI making adherence to the Guidelines a requirement for SATSA membership. At the SATSA AGM 2022 they reiterated details of the membership requirement and Charter.

The Elephant In The Room

Since the publication of the SATSA Captive Wildlife Attractions & Activities Guidelines and Decision Tool in November 2019, we have witnessed minimal progress in improving the captive wildlife tourism industry and South Africa’s reputation as an ethical captive wildlife tourism destination.  Even though Brett and Gavin were instrumental in the development of these industry standards as members of the SATSA Board Committee on Animal Interactions in 2018, and Brett had been handling SATSA’s inquiries in this regard on their behalf and on their request, our own engagements with their management team have been less than fruitful.

We faced challenges with SATSA’s unexpected withdrawal of endorsement days before our website launch in March 2022 and their handling of our (declined) membership application (citing concerns of risk for both). Of further concern is their failure to engage with us at any time on any assessment outcomes while they saw fit to pronounce on them in ignorance of the evidence and facts.

In their board feedback to members in June 2023, they referred to the Guidelines as a ‘contentious topic’. The Charter link is no longer available on their website. Their website also does not mention the membership criteria for animal-owning entities other than in the detail of the MOI.

SATSA’s reluctance to engage with their members listed in our assessments, despite the membership criteria amendments in 2021, raises concerns about their appetite for pursuing the objectives contained in the Guidelines.  It is unfortunate that rather than taking the opportunity to encourage their 700+ members to support facilities that adhere to sound ethics and good practices on the WildChoices Assessment Outcomes (‘WAO’), and still in the absence of a single engagement on a single assessment outcome and in spite of WildChoices’ clear independent stance, SATSA distanced itself from WildChoices in a public statement in January 2023. This statement seems to have exceeded their board’s mandate and appeared intent on discrediting our work.

In February 2023 their Director for Responsible Tourism and former Chair of the SATSA Board Committee on Animal Interactions resigned citing discomfort and concern over related internal processes. Furthermore, the SATSA CEO has been under sanction by the SATSA Board since 2023 to recuse himself from any conversation to do with Gavin, or with WildChoices.

A Sisyphean Cycle

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was condemned by the gods to roll a boulder up a steep hill in the underworld for eternity: Every time he reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down to the bottom, forcing him to start the cycle all over again.

It doesn’t have to be like this.

As an industry we have a choice: we can either passively stand by and watch the boulder roll back down the hill, or we can choose to actively support better choices.

At WildChoices we remain fully committed to advancing this conversation and working closely with like-minded individuals to bring about positive change. Our work includes:

  • Encouraging public support of captive wildlife tourism facilities that adhere to industry standards of ethics and good practices.
  • Encouraging tour operators to make responsible choices.
  • Holding membership organisations accountable to their own stated policies, and to their ability to influence positive change.
  • Advancing the 2019 line in the sand towards strengthening industry standards.
  • Encouraging and working closely with captive wildlife tourism facilities to improve their practices.