The World Nomads Podcast: Avoiding the Next Pandemic

In this episode, exploring the cat and dog meat trade in Southeast Asia, the dangers of wet markets and taking animal welfare seriously.

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Woman Feeding A Cat Photo © Supplied by Four Paws International

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The World Nomads Podcast: COVID-19 Travel News

The World Nomads Travel Podcast has suspended its regular destination episodes, and in their place, sharing the thoughts of travelers who are shaping the future of the industry post-COVID 19. We tap into their vast bank of knowledge to discover what can be learned from the past as we plan a new way of traveling moving forward.

What’s in the episode

01:03 Dog and cat meat trade

03:38 The animal protection network

06:15 Charities affected by COVID-19

08:14 Animal welfare and travel

10:11 It's all in the science

11:32 The dog farms in South Korea

15:42 Avoiding dog and cat meat in your dishes

18:53 Next episode

Quotes from the episode

“I think that the thing that's been interesting to me in this time of COVID and this time of pandemic is just to realize kind of how fragile our planet is and just how fragile people are and just to realize that the way that we've treated animals up to this point and the kind of disregard for safety and hygiene and public health, we're paying the price for that.” Matt from Four Paws

“Focus now on your risk prevention and mitigation behind the scenes for when the world opens up again.” – Helen from Animondial

Who is in the episode

Helen Usher is the Co-founder and Director of Animondial, a company seeking to overcome the challenges faced by tourism and ensure effective animal protection.

With over a decade of experience in fundraising and marketing, and as a recognized corporate partnerships consultant for national and international NGOs, Helen has driven award-winning strategic global partnerships and CSR initiatives and worked with clients including Jaguar Land Rover, Allianz, Lush, Born Free Foundation, Mind, WWF, Cats Protection, Marie Curie, Etihad Airways, Body Shop, Hewlett Packard, Four Paws International, Thomson Airways, STA Travel, Kuoni and more.

Matt Backhouse is the Southeast Asia Consultant for Four Paws, a global and independent voice for animals under human control. Learn more about their projects

“Across Southeast Asia, millions of beloved pets, and stray dogs and cats are captured and stolen from their homes for the brutal dog and cat meat trade. This causes unimaginable suffering for the animals and their owners alike. Please sign and share our petition to bring this horrific trade to an end.”  

Resources & links

Wildlife Experiences to Avoid on Your Next Adventure

Is it Ethical to Visit Animals in Wildlife Sanctuaries?

Edible or Endangered? Eating Ethically on the Road

Coronavirus (COVID-19) and World Nomads Travel Insurance Coverage.

Travel safety alerts.

You can get in touch with us by emailing [email protected].

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We use the Rodecaster Pro to record our episodes and interviews when in the studio, made possible with the kind support of Rode.

Kim: In this episode, exploring the cat and dog meat trade in Southeast Asia and the dangers of wet markets.

Kim: Hi Kim and Phil with you and a big thanks for tuning in from wherever you get your favorite pods. Coronavirus. It’s believed to have zoonotic origins which are essentially a disease or infection that is naturally transmissible from animals to humans. So, in this episode, as mentioned we will touch on the dog and cat meat trade in South East Asia and its risk to public health. And chat with the co-founder of a business helping companies create experiences for travelers that are more responsible and sustainable when it comes to animals and communities.

Phil: Every day in Cambodia, Indonesia, and Vietnam, pet dogs and cats are stolen and taken to slaughterhouses and markets where they are killed. International charity Four Paws says the dog and cat meat trade consists of similar practices that have led to the likely emergence of COVID-19 from that wet market in Wuhan China and SARS from a similar live market in 2003.

Kim: We will speak to Matt from Four Paws shortly, but first, Helen is the co-founder of Animondial, their key mission is to protect animals in tourism, with 90% of travelers preferring a travel company that takes animal welfare seriously.

Helen: We've been going for a couple of years, two and a half years, and Daniel and I who's the co-director. We used to work in animal welfare charities and we met working at the Born Free Foundation. And basically there, I decided what I'm doing now. I work on corporate partnerships to charities and fundraising, and he's actually an animal welfare biologist. So together when we worked there, he was very much known and always sort of approached from travel businesses to help them with any issues with animals and tourism, because he co-wrote ABTA's animal welfare guidelines. So I don't know if you've seen them. They're the global guidelines for animal welfare and tourism, and it was written with ABTA, so the association of British tour operators or travel agents, and has been really forever been involved in that area. So we set the business up a couple of years ago and we work with travel businesses around the world, so whether that's travel associations, tour operators, airlines, whatever it might be.

And we guide on anything related to animals and communities and tourism, cause they're often interlinked. So it can be anything like, for example, looking through product selections and helping them with their portfolio. So making sure that they choose experiences that are more responsible and sustainable when it comes to animals and communities, rather than what you would know, there's a lot of challenges where the Asian elephant counts, for example, huge issue and obviously whales and dolphins, especially after Blackfish. So there's all those kind of big issues of animals and tourism and a lot that are ignored, like working animals for examples and strays. And so basically what we do is we work with travel businesses and we'll guide them on product selection. We write their policy and strategy for animal welfare and tourism sites, as part of their responsible tourism mandate, we would focus on the animal side of it.

And then alongside that, we've also got a growing network of charity partners and we call them our animal protection network. So their charity partners around the world that basically we've already trusted to try and solve some of the biggest problems for animals and tourism in their remit. So they might be tiny, tiny charities. And really that helps us cover the protection of key species around the globe and keep... there's more than one apparently... globe in key destinations. And then we're able then also to match these charities with businesses that we work with.

Phil: Cause most people, especially in the orbits that we move in with World Nomads and the type of travel companies you deal with, people are convinced we want to do the right thing by animals. So they just want to be told, is this something that I can do or not?

Helen: Yeah.

Phil: Is it black and white or full of gray?

Helen: Oh, it's absolutely full of gray. We're working on a project that's bringing travel companies together to actually support and guide elephant camps. So this is one project we're doing in Asia because actually a lot of them are really just trying to do the right thing. They're really not sure what's best for the elephants. And they're local people that are running them. And we created that problem as Westerners going in and saying, oh let's turn this into a holiday experience and make loads of money. But it was very exploitative. So now for example, in an elephant camp, there are so many things that are black and white. That's not black and white, it's gray. You know, if you can be in contact with an elephant, but not bathing with them, they could just roll over and they can kill you in a moment.

And there are all sorts of things that we just don't know about. And as you rightly say, travel businesses just want to know we're supporting them with that really, you're right. So there are so many shades of gray. [inaudible] A program that we're going to be establishing soon with a lot of big tour operators behind it. But of course, now I say soon, now it's been really put back, but it will be a case of actually going in and training a local [inaudible 00:03:59], but not us as Westerners, people that live there that we feel are doing a great job, sharing their knowledge and therefore enabling these people to host responsible experiences for tourists that are sustainable as well, the livelihoods and the elephants.

Kim I'm going to jump in before you and Phil crack a bottle of Chardonnay or Pinot- [crosstalk]

-and just chat for hours. How has the pandemic affected what you're doing?

Helen: Charities, we're giving free support to now because they can't afford it. They can't afford to pay any money. We give them a lot of free promotion and connection with travel businesses. But one thing is that COVID-19 actually came from animals. It was a zoonotic disease. And at the moment we're using this time to save travel businesses. Focus now on your risk prevention and mitigation behind the scenes for when the world opens up again.

So, COVID-19 came from now we think it's dogs, but again, it's just that human-animal interaction. A zoonotic disease is something that can be transmitted between animals and people. Actually now, maybe this can open our eyes a little bit to being a little bit more responsible in that area. So that's a change in our business and how we're talking to travel companies. Now is a good time to kind of get your house in order a little bit, if there's a capacity to do that to make sure this kind of thing doesn't happen again. So yeah, so it's affected us a lot, but we're trying to use it to support businesses in that way going forward. So risk mitigation is a big thing.

Kim: I chatted to Olivia recently on a podcast and she is trapped, stranded in a bungalow on an island in Thailand and her-

Helen: Hooked.

Kim: I know it sounds fabulous, doesn't it?

Helen: It sounds great.

Kim Yeah, she's really quite happy because she's linked in with these other ex-pats who have noticed that the stray dogs on this particular island rely on the food scraps from the hotels, which are closed, to survive.

Helen: Absolutely. [crosstalk]

Kim So they've taken it upon themselves to feed them, get the necessary vaccinations for them. They've saved 67 dogs so far.

Helen: That's amazing.

Kim: Is there anything that you would like to share further about what you're doing?

Helen: What would be amazing would be for travel businesses to... I know it's such a tough time right now. It really is. So it's hard for them to think through COVID, but I think as part of their planning for when everyone is back out in the world if they would include animal welfare as part of their responsibility pillar. If more and more companies would do that and see that actually that would not just protect the animals and travelers, but it would also give local people opportunities to thrive and have livelihoods in an ethical way. But also it can help with preventing situations such as COVID-19 from happening again in the future.

Kim: Thanks, Helen. Animondial has been supporting Four Paws, an international animal welfare organization committed to encouraging people to treat animals with respect, compassion, and understanding. Matt why did you reach out to Helen.

Matt: Basically, we reached out to Helen [inaudible] to provide a kind of expertise in how to engage with the travel sector. We are an animal welfare charity. And so we look to these kinds of expert insights and partnerships to help us kind of best communicate our campaigns and our missions.

Kim: We've had a decent chunk of time to stop and reflect since coronavirus was declared a pandemic. What have you been focusing on and thinking about as the world starts to reengage?

Matt: It's one of those things where you have, we have a plan, we have a campaign, we have our activities set that we're looking to conduct over the course of the year. And then it's a sudden sharp right turn. And so specifically where I work in Southeast Asia, I work on the dog and cat meat trade. So on that level, it was, how is it affecting you? Because country by country, it's been different. The kind of restrictions, the severity, the rates of infection have been different. We are campaigning very hard against the dog and cat meat trade in Southeast Asia. And then when you look at the science and the evidence that's been coming out over time, it's kind of common knowledge now I would hope that the suspected origins of this COVID-19 pandemic were from a wet market. And a wet market is a loose definition of a market where animals are kind of killed basically. Kind of kept sometimes alive and often killed on the premises at these markets.

And there's been lots of evidence of cross-contamination between different species, like illegally caught wildlife, snakes and bats and also with traditional kinds of livestock animals. Seeing how quickly this virus has kind of decimated so many people and economies and livelihoods and all these things globally, it's time to look at the source of where these things start, right? And then what we can do to change them. A lot of people that we meet just don't want to be doing this, but their options are very, very limited. It can be very difficult if you're living in a developing country in a rural environment, this can be an easy way to make money honestly.

Kim: Is it dogs and cats specifically because we recognize those as pets? If the wet markets were regulated and they weren't so treated so horrifically, could you see a market for it?

Matt: It's a good question. And it's a difficult question because if you look to say South Korea is a good example, so they actually have dog farms in South Korea. So it's more kind of regulated. And the dogs there are farmed for food. There again, it's become a very divisive issue in that country. And it's not somewhere that we work specifically. I have colleagues and people that are working in South Korea, but that then becomes more of a question of an association, like you say, as these domesticated animals that are pets rather than food, but that becomes subjective when you go to different countries. The reason that we focus specifically on the dog and cat meat trade and regulation is a challenging one because if a trade like this was regulated, it's so impossible to enforce these regulations. It's very, very challenging in these countries to actually make sure that, inhumane slaughter is a strange kind of oxymoron anyway.

Kim: Yeah.

Matt: But if you were to get into it, well, okay, so many of these pets are being stolen from the street. They're people's dogs. Especially in Vietnam, there's poisoning, they use kind of electric cattle prods, often just throwing cyanide and strychnine in food to poison animals. There's a whole rabbit hole of insanity when you start talking about this trade but it then becomes the real reason that the dog and cat meat trade is such an issue that we address is because of the massive risk to public health. I mean, really it comes to rabies. Rabies is one of these principle diseases that is so easily transmitted through dogs more than cats. But again, the number of human deaths that are attributed to rabies in the countries that we work in is still way higher than it needs to be. And this is in part because of these kinds of illicit and illegal trades that are continuing. So regulation, I think would be one of those that's like, it's almost an impossible ask, really.

Kim: Yeah. We'll share the work that Four Paws does in our show notes, but just a couple of closing questions, on the website there is a pledge. Can you explain that and its aim?

Matt: So we have a couple of different pledges. So we have a petition, which is on the website, which is as an individual and the people that are listening to this can sign and support us. And basically what we're trying to do with that is we are trying to reach a million signatures. And what we're going to do with that is basically use that to show governments in these different countries, just how much public sentiment is behind this issue. And this isn't just a Western-centric thing by any means. In fact, one of our largest numbers of signatures is from Vietnam. More than 150,000 signatures from Vietnam. When we hit a million, we can then go to these governments and say, "Look, we have a million signatures. This is something that you really need to take seriously."

And then the other one we also have with a travel industry pledge. So that one is basically where we're looking to the travel companies and the travel operators to help us support ethical, responsible travel that has no support or connection with the dog and cat meat trade. Keeping travelers safe, but also again, communicating to the countries where we're focusing our efforts, that this is something that's really serious, and this is something that people, tourists, travelers, and visitors don't feel safe and don't feel that this is something that is necessary or motivating for people to interact with. In fact, it's exactly the opposite.

Kim: Well, final question. I would never go to a wet market because ethically, there is no way. I would also not want to eat a cat or dog. And while I'm not a vegetarian, when I'm in Southeast Asia, I do tend to eat vegetarian food. What would a tip be to someone that's gone to a restaurant and they like the idea of beef rendang, let's say that for example. How confident can you be that that is not a dog?

Matt: That's a good question. I mean, generally now, the dog and cat meat, especially in Cambodia and Vietnam, it's quite a specific meat. It's not something that's really substituted or kind of alternated for other meats in that context. It's usually advertised specifically. You go to these restaurants and that will be what they're selling. You know they're selling dog meat and in Vietnam as well, the cat meat, or little tiger as it's kind of commonly referred to. It's almost like a specialist restaurant. You're not going to kind of accidentally get that. But one thing I would say is that although this conversation is specifically around dogs and cats, there was a really insightful investigation into the treatment of pigs in Cambodia and the conditions and slaughterhouses there. And it was terrible. It was absolutely awful. Pigs being killed with metal pipes and it's really, really horrible.

And so it's just to say that the animals that exist in and live within this kind of food system in countries, I mean the West is by no means without fault. The way that kind of the industrial agriculture system treats its animals is abhorrent. But really, I would encourage people just to kind of think about all the steps and all the things that happen to get that food, whether or not you take it from a vegetarian or vegan perspective, even just thinking about where things come from. Why is this so cheap? How can the conditions that sort of led to the production of this thing, sort of, how can you choose to interact with these things more ethically, more mindfully, and how can your tourist dollars like, don't kind of haggle for 20 cents with people that have very little? Maybe it could just be something that's always front of mind instead of the back of mind.

But I think that the thing that's been interesting to me in this time of COVID and this time of pandemic is just to realize kind of how fragile our planet is and just how fragile people are and just to realize that the way that we've treated animals up to this point and the kind of disregard for safety and hygiene and public health, we're paying the price for that. With SARS and MERS and avian flu and now this, it's kind of what's next, right? We don't want the dog and cat meat trade to be the source of the next pandemic. It's avoidable and with some more conscious choices and some more mindful behaviors, we will have a safer, healthier world for all of us, the people, the animals, and everyone that's on it. And it's kind of leave it better than you found it, right?

Kim: We will have a link to Four Paws, their pledges and work and Animondial in show notes

Phil: To get in touch with us email [email protected] and don’t forget to share and subscribe to the World Nomads Travel Podcast from wherever you get your favorite pods.

Kim: Next episode the African Bush Camps embracing preventative measures to safeguard the health of guests.

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