Introducing Wildlife Heritage Sites

This year, the Wilderlife team has been commissioned by World Animal Protection in partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance to develop and launch a new groundbreaking programme to protect wildlife destinations and encourage responsible tourism. Welcome to Wildlife Heritage Sites!

A better future for wildlife tourism

The travel industry is slowly emerging from the covid pandemic into a world that demands a more sustainable approach. In the last few decades, tourism has relied heavily on zoos and aquariums for ‘animal entertainment’ tourism. Now, research points to growing international demand for nature-based tourism, predicted to expand rapidly over the next two decades. 

As animal welfare and sustainable tourism in general rise up the priority list of the travelling public; tour operators and destination managers are increasingly looking for suppliers and destinations that tick the boxes of animal welfare, wildlife conservation, sustainability, and community engagement. Recent examples include the animal welfare guidelines developed by the Dutch Travel Trade Association (ANVR) which make captive dolphin entertainment unacceptable; the UK Travel Association (ABTA) which makes captive elephant entertainment unacceptable; and the South African Tourism Services Association (SATSA) which rejects the sacrifice of individuals to advance the goal of species conservation in its ethical framework.

Although there are hundreds of different types of protected areas for wildlife worldwide, the travel industry currently has no means of identifying the wildlife sites that are meeting high standards of animal welfare, wildlife conservation and sustainability, whilst also maintaining high tourism value. Many protected area programmes are also failing to empower local communities, on which the sites usually depend.

Wildlife Heritage Sites will provide a quality marker for the animal welfare, sustainability, and wildlife conservation demands of both governments and the travelling public. By highlighting destinations championing responsible wildlife tourism, Wildlife Heritage Sites will support local communities in their attempts to better protect the animals and ecosystems with which they are intrinsically linked.


What makes Wildlife Heritage Sites unique?

 Although there are a number of certification programmes focusing on wildlife conservation and sustainability, the concept of Wildlife Heritage Sites is a unique offering. Analysis of other high profile certification programmes reveals how little attention is being paid to animal welfare as criteria for certification and this needs to be addressed.

The successful track record of the nascent Whale Heritage Sites programme, with its focus on animal welfare, wildlife conservation, sustainability and cultural heritage, indicates that animal welfare can form an integral part of a successful sustainability certification programme. What’s more, Whale Heritage Sites have gained currency with local governments, tourism departments and the private sector, and attracted significant media attention.  

Wildlife Heritage Sites have huge potential because they will be the only site-based certification programme for places where people have a respectful and embedded cultural bond with wild animals, biodiverse ecosystems, and wilderness areas; sites that share similar high standards of animal welfare, nature conservation, and sustainability.

Power to the people

But that is only half of the story. Perhaps the most ground breaking and compelling reason why Wildlife Heritage Sites could be hugely successful for wildlife and people is the level of empowerment the programme could bestow upon local communities. Firstly, Wildlife Heritage Sites focus on collaboration and enhancing cultural links with wildlife. This approach allows people to meet the criteria in ways that they understand and feel comfortable with. And perhaps even more importantly, the 'custodian communities' of Wildlife Heritage Sites will have enormous influence over the programme itself. There is potential for local communities to apply, assess, manage, and collaborate to run these sites and the programme, ultimately adapting it and improving it to further benefit wildlife and people.

Wildlife Heritage Sites will deliver total grass-roots empowerment within a framework that encourages an ever more respectful relationship between people and wildlife, overcoming language, religious, political and other site-specific challenges in the process. That is a brave and necessary approach. As the window of opportunity to protect the world’s wildlife from suffering and loss narrows every day, the need to empower the people on the frontline protecting wildlife in their local communities grows stronger by the hour. In Wildlife Heritage Sites we have a global programme that can meet that need.


Ten reasons why the timing is right for Wildlife Heritage Sites

1. People are increasingly disenfranchised by the efforts of their governments to make progress on the big environmental issues, and are looking for action within their local communities. 

2. The value of wildlife and the importance of ecosystems is finally receiving significant recognition – with increasing spend on carbon sequestration, biodiversity protection, and habitat regeneration. 

3. The voices of local communities and indigenous people are increasingly being represented. 

4. More people than ever have been removed from their land and have lost their connection to it. The movement is growing to claim it back. 

5. We are realising that a strong connection to nature is increasingly important for our health and well-being.

6. More and more people are recognising the need to act to defend wildlife against cruelty, extinction, and the climate crisis. 

7. Most sustainability certification programmes have yet to fully recognise the importance of animal welfare. 

8. Most sustainability certification programmes have yet to find a way to empower the local communities upon which our wildlife depends. 

9. Local communities need international support, advice and funding in order to fend off the environmental impacts of private industry and illegal trade. 

10. The travel industry, still almost entirely reliant on fossil fuels, must build back greener and find new ways of engaging with a travelling public that is increasingly prioritising more sustainable options.

A collective thank you

We'd like to say a special thank you to the core team of experts working on this project: 

Holly Tuppen - Sustainable Travel Expert

Lloyd Gofton - Liberate Media

Marie Chambers - World Animal Protection

Nick Stewart - World Animal Protection

Jan Schmidt-Burbach - World Animal Protection

Neil D'Cruze - World Animal Protection

Owen Priestley - Liquid Light - Digital strategy & web agency

Matt Keogh - Liquid Light - Digital strategy & web agency

Zaq Mughal - Liquid Light - Digital strategy & web agency

Elizabeth Cuevas - World Cetacean Alliance

Harry Eckman - World Cetacean Alliance

Dylan Walker - Wilderlife


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