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IMATA's response to new TripAdvisor direction
October 18, 2016

IMATA issued the following letter to TripAdvisor President & CEO, Stephen Kaufer...

Mr. Stephen Kaufer
President and Chief Executive Officer
400 1st Avenue
Needham, MA 02494

Dear Mr. Kaufer,

It is no exaggeration to state that most of the advancements across all sectors of animal welfare over the past 30 years are due to the work spearheaded and continued to this day by marine mammal training professionals, particularly those represented by the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association. Pets like the family dog, wild & endangered terrestrial species found in zoos, farm animals, horses, birds, and even wildlife research, conservation & management programs have all demonstrated dramatic improvements in their respective animal welfare efforts thanks to applied operant conditioning through positive reinforcement lessons that marine mammal trainers have honed and shared with the public and animal professionals for decades.

For example:

Reward-based Protected Contact animal management of elephants, and increasingly, with dozens of other wild species?  Developed by orca trainers.

Clicker train your dog using positive rewards? Started by a dolphin trainer whose six decades of work include a half dozen books and dozens of scientific publications.

Sadly, the recent announcement by TripAdvisor to stop booking animal interactive programs like swim with dolphin programs, even those accredited by the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA), the Zoological Association of Zoos (ZAA) and others, will not advance the inextricably linked causes of improving animal welfare worldwide and increasing public education. Quite the opposite.

TripAdvisor’s unfortunate validation of animal activist groups like PeTA that are opposed to all human activities involving animals to “animal welfare group” status will ultimately harm public education, species and habitat conservation, and animal welfare efforts, not improve them. For it’s not the cessation of offering online booking services that will undermine better welfare in the future; it is the chilling effect that TripAdvisor’s act of painting all animal interactions with the same brush will have on accurate, peer-reviewed science based rating systems and dialogue. 

The mere fact that elephant rides and swim with dolphin programs were mentioned in the same sentence in TripAdvisor’s announcement--as if those training and handling paradigms are the same, interchangeable, or identical across the globe-- reveals just how poorly your organization chose among professional animal training and zoological professionals and organizations for your own edification about the state of training and welfare today.

Given the online atmosphere and impact of social media, it is hard to see how travel consumers will be better served by TripAdvisor’s new direction and partnership with groups known to be opposed to all forms of animals in human care. Rather, it is far more likely that TripAdvisor customers will be too intimidated to comment at all, especially if their animal interaction experience is positive, educational, and family-friendly.

IMATA urges you and the leadership at TripAdvisor to suspend your recent decision and to re-open dialogue with proven animal training and welfare professionals such as ours.  As we have for nearly 50 years, the thousands of well-educated professional marine mammal trainers represented by IMATA stand ready to assist TripAdvisor and its millions of customers make informed decisions about quality, licensed, humane, and accredited zoological facilities, conservation, education, and animal welfare practices.

Michele Sousa,
IMATA President

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