If you are anything like me, seeing animals native to the area I am visiting is a highlight. Wildlife attractions account for between 20 and 40 percent of all tourism worldwide, with 3.6 to six million people visiting these sites annually. The sad reality is however, that tourism often has a negative impact on animals and wildlife around the world. A recent study by World Animal Protection found that 75% of wildlife tourist attractions are having a negative impact on wild animals. Another study found that every year two to four million tourists financially support these attractions that aren't good for conservation or animal welfare. I don't know about you, but this breaks my heart.
Since forever, one of my greatest animal loves is the elephant (second only to Chihuahuas; quite the paradox I know!). Because of that love of elephants, I put off travelling to Thailand for many years due to their cruel practices in taming baby elephants. When I finally went to visit a number of years ago now, I was part of a tour group and I did not go with the group to the elephant experience that was included in our tour because of the non-responsible animal tourism practices. I had done my own research and chose to visit Patara Elephant Farm instead. One of the best days of my life, but that's a whole other story. Don't let me digress! I did my part for elephants. I didn't however for tigers. My mother and I had hired a private, local guide in Bangkok and one of the places she took us was to the Tiger Temple. I hadn't done my research ahead of time in this case and though I didn't have the best feeling about it, I went. Well since that time this place has been shut down and there are still horror stories being released about what went on there. I still feel badly that I visited this place. The moral of this story is, do your research ahead of time. If we don't we risk sustaining a cycle of poor animal welfare. World Animal Protection claims 80% of people left positive reviews on TripAdvisor for venues that are having a negative impact on animal welfare. Once again TripAdvisor proves not to be the best source of information. So how do you find out which attractions and activities involve animal cruelty? Here are some tips and advice that I hope you will find helpful.
1. Do your research
Okay I'm repeating myself already but this does need to be emphasized. As travellers it is our responsibility to be informed and to make choices that benefit wildlife. When you realize the suffering involved you won't want to take part in activities like swimming with dolphins. If you don't want to do the research yourself then hire someone to do. Like...say...ME! Jokes aside, I have researched the tour operators I work with regularly. And would research any I recommend.
2. Don't support the use of animals as props for your photographs
In almost all cases these animals will have been taken as babies from the wild Once they grow too large they will ultimately be killed, often sold off for the purposes of a canned hunt.
3. Do not support hotels, bar or entertainment that display captive animals
Simple. Don't stay at a hotel or eat at a restaurant that displays captive animals or offers items associated with inhumane practices on the menu. For example, I avoid eating at restaurants that serve Fois Gras. If you can't avoid these experiences, then speak up and let management know of your disapproval.
4. Tradition is not an excuse for cruelty
Just because an activity is part of a county's cultural heritage doesn't excuse the animal cruelty. ie. bullfighting, cockfighting or any festivals that involve animal cruelty.
5. Use a responsible and trustworthy tour operator
Lucky for us this option is becoming easier to tease out as many tour operators proudly tout that they only support responsible animal tourism For example G Adventures is endorsed by Jane Goodall. If you can't easily find the information, ask questions and see if they are aligned with any wildlife protection bodies. The Right Tourism website is a great resource.
Further than this animals give us indicators of their welfare state through their appearance and behaviours. Here are some things you can look for:
Is the animal being provided with access to food and water in ways which simulate this activity in the wild?; Has the animal been provided with a suitable living environment for its species type?; Is the animal in a good state of health?; Does the animal have the chance to exhibit natural behaviours?; Is the animal protected from fear and distress?
Animal tourism can be a force for good and that is the responsibility of all of us. Choose wisely and compassionately!Anywhere