James Ruggia | December 11, 2015 1:00 PM ET
Friday Flashback: The Legacy of Mr. Jiggs
Editor’s note: TravelPulse features an editorial column from one of our editors on a rotating daily basis. Destinations Editor James Ruggia has traditionally held the Friday spot, making it his own and sharing his views as someone who has seen nearly every point on the globe and has a story to tell about them all. With our friend Jim being under the weather, we wanted to keep his Friday spot warm for him by bringing you this Dec. 12, 2014 column on travel’s unique relationship with the dignity of wild animals . We wish our friend the best for a speedy recovery and can’t wait to hear the next story from his travels.
As a kid I remember watching, Mr. Jiggs, the human chimpanzee on television. Jiggs and his handler, Ron Winters, worked together for some 30 years doing parties, conventions and TV variety shows. Winters taught him to roller skate, mix cocktails, light and smoke cigarettes.
In her book, Visions of Caliban (co-authored with Dale Peterson), Jane Goodall reflected on Jiggs and other chimpanzee TV “personalities,” saying they represented a human fantasy of a relationship between species that put the human in the role of civilizer. It’s not very civil to inflict hurt on animal, dress him in children’s clothing and get him to light cigarettes. Jiggs could have taught Winters a thing or two about acting like a human.
Travel has been a key reason why the Jiggs act wouldn’t fly today. We have come to respect animals a little more. Nature documentaries, also on TV, lifted animals to being more than comic props. Early on in the rise of ecotourism, travelers began gathering to watch sea turtles lay their eggs, a rite that still goes on in places like Bundaberg, Australia where almost 400 turtles and 30,000 travelers converged last year at Mon Repos Regional Park, to watch the egg laying.
In London, at the last World Travel Mart’s Responsible Tourism Day, panelists addressed how tourism could help elephant and rhino conservation. andBeyond, a pioneer in African and Indian lodges in wildlife refuges, set an example by moving six rhinos from its Phinda Private Game Reserve into the Okavango Delta to help repopulate an area where rhino numbers are thinning.
In 2013, more than 1,000 rhino were poached in South Africa alone. Rhinos and elephants are important economic resources to companies like andBeyond. Travel companies that rely on the survival of wildlife are now defining themselves as “non-extractive” businesses. It’s an interesting distinction that pits the economic requirements of ecotourism against “extractive” businesses that harvest the lives of animals as resources. Non-extractive businesses contribute more than $400 billion annually to the global economy.
In October, more than 80 ecotourism and dive operators from 44 different countries met in Pyeongchang, South Korea and issued a Declaration to the 12th Conference of the Parties of the Convention on Biological Diversity, requesting “protection from the continued devastation of the natural environments and species upon which their businesses depend, by practices such as rampant industrial fishing, wildlife traffic and logging of native forests.”
“The fact that international treaties do not yet consider our businesses´ needs and ways to protect us from predatory uses of nature is a gaping hole that needs to be addressed,” said Paulo Guilherme Cavalcanti, a Brazilian dive operator from Rio de Janeiro and co-founder of the Divers for Sharks campaign.
The list of tourism businesses chipping in is long and getting longer. Since 2005, Hurtigruten guests have donated nearly $250,000 to organizations in Greenland and Antarctica. Intrepid Travel’s Intrepid Foundation has donated over AUD$430,000 to animal and wildlife conservancy projects.
Tourism also finds itself on the other side of the divide.
In the U.K. and in other places, there’s a large movement afoot to prevent tourism attractions from using wild animals as performers, whether they’re elephants playing soccer in Thailand or dolphins doing back flips in ocean parks. In the wild, aquatic mammals swim dozens of miles per day making any kind of captivity necessarily painful. In May, the Born Free Foundation surveyed 2,050 Britons about the ethics of using dolphins and whales this way. Some 86 percent of people surveyed said they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas holiday.
In August, Responsibletravel.com released a guide: Elephants in tourism – right or wrong? The guide makes the case against elephant shows. “We believe endangered elephants will continue to be taken from the wild as long as tourist demand for such activities remains in place, and chains and unethical training methods will continue to be used to control the elephants around tourists,” said Justin Francis, the company’s managing director.
This is a debate that is raging rather loudly between people these days in many places. In Europe, the “rewilding” strategy of reintroducing species has sheep farmers howling against the reintroduction of wolves. Besides wolves, 25 European countries have reintroduced such other species as bear, lynx, beavers and European bison.
In New York City, the issue of horse carriages driving through the wilds of Manhattan’s traffic has erected yet another high decibel barrier between political foes. As in most of these dysfunctional political howl-fests, the rancor just delays the action long enough to make it uninteresting and so the media focus moves on to yet another constipated debate.
With nature, the louder we get in our arguing, the closer we come to the silence that Rachel Carson described so many years ago in Silent Spring.
The argument has a life of its own. Even hardcore scientific facts are challenged. Where will it all end up? Who knows? Mr. Jiggs lights another cigarette.
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