A thought on animal tourism (and why I avoid it)
If you’re anything like me you love animals, and the thought of cuddling a tiger or swimming with dolphins is genuinely appealing. However, if you’re also like me you’ll know that ultimately these wild animals aren’t that interested in swimming with us or getting a good selfie.
It’s often easy to get swept up on holiday and to look at these activities as something fun and in a twisted way “that you are helping” by paying money to “sanctuaries” who are supposedly looking after these animals.
Sadly this is quite often not the case, and I find it hard to digest that there are people out there who are against things such as fur, dog meat, trophy hunting, and yet are still willing to pay good to money to an industry that trades in the capture, trade, and exploitation of wild animals for the sake of a selfie opportunity. A recent study by WAP found that nearly 75% of animal tourist attractions are having a negative impact on wildlife.
One such example is that of the Tiger Temple in Thailand, which was FINALLY shut down after Thai authorities raided the premises and found 44 dead tiger cubs (some of whom were not related to any of the tigers on the property, a sign of animal trafficking) kept in freezers, an array of tiger paraphernalia used in everything from Chinese medicine to quite simply rugs. The image perpetuated by this sanctuary was one where tigers and monks lived harmoniously together. The dark reality was quite different, and was often under fire from Thai authorities for it’s “speed breeding” whereby cubs are taken away at a young age in order to get the female tiger pregnant again quickly.
Elephant rides are another seemingly harmless, but often dark and distressing form of animal tourism. Common in so many holiday hotspots in Asia. In a report by World Animal Protection, they found that nearly three quarters of the elephants who are “employed” in the wildlife trade in Asia are found to be living in “severely cruel conditions”. These elephants, who are incredibly social creatures and have strong family bonds, are often found to be chained day and night when not giving rides and as calfs experience severe beatings and other forms of “training” in order to make them perform.
Dolphins are another popular, but often cruel form of tourism. With a growing demand for Dolphin encounters, these mammals are often taken from the wild and live dramatically shortened lives as a result of injury, poor living conditions, stress caused by their environment and many other factors. And it’s simply not enough to not visit marine parks as the sad fact of the matter is, is that tours operated to swim with wild dolphins tend to distress and disturb a dolphins natural habitat and force these creatures to swim and search for new places to live and bread. Dolphins are powerful creatures and safety of the swimmer and dolphin is also important to consider when you’re jumping off the side of a boat into their territory. That’s not to say that people haven’t had incredible experiences with dolphins in the wild, but the long and short of it is, if a dolphin decides to follow your boat thats great, if you’ve gone in search of them and are disturbing them for your own instagram feed, that’s really not great.
Dolphins, tigers and elephants are just some of the many, many animals, that are being exploited for tourism and it’s something I strongly believe should be made illegal. I understand that not everyone can afford a safari in Botswana or to travel to these places to see these animals in their true and wild habitat, in places that are actively seeking to to put an end of trophy hunting, poaching and illegal wildlife trade.
Quite frankly, wild animals were not placed on our earth for selfies and holiday pictures and if it means I have to content myself by flicking through national geographic or watching an Attenborough documentary to see these animals then I am fine with that.
So my top tips for making sure that your travel is as ethical as you can make it is quite simple.
Do not visit a place that uses animals as a “selfie” or photo op.
Do not support hotels/bars and other entertainment venues that use animals as “display”
Humanised behaviour is a no go. Wild animals do not behave like you or I and this involves quite often very cruel training to make them.
Make the most of google, there are ways to interact with the wild without harming it, (it just quite often means from afar and with a very good camera)
Quite simply, don’t turn a blind eye to the obvious, should a tiger/dolphin/elephant/gibbon be chained up, living in a cage, docile around humans, up for a selfie with thousands of people a week, or a quick swim? No.
Support initiatives that are actively looking to reintroduce animals to the wild, to educate the local community on how to help rather than endanger and exploit. Here is a list of some great ethical animal sanctuaries that are worth a visit!