Animal tourism is getting more popular these days, with urbanization and all, and there are also lots of travellers who volunteer with wild animals at various centres across the world. The sad thing is, is that these volunteers are animal lovers and yet many are actually unknowingly contributing to the exploitation of the animals that they so badly want to help. The majority of animal related activities, behind the scenes, involve tearing creatures away from their natural habitats and forcing them to perform tricks and a number of other things that are completely unnatural. We have come across some of the bad and some of the good places and want to share with you some of the things we’ve learned so that you can make better informed decisions about what to take part in.
Responsible Animal Tourism or Exploitation Tourism?
Many animal centres run under misleading names such as shelters or orphanages, which claim to ‘rescue’ animals or play a role in their conservation, but many of them are just a business aiming to make money. Really, think about this for a minute – do you really believe that elephants like to paint pictures or monkeys like to ride bicycles?
Generally speaking, any facility that keeps animals chained, caged up, or allows interactions with the public all day long, may not be putting the welfare of animals first.
Let’s take a look at elephant riding. Elephants are able to carry 330 lbs (150 kg) on their back, but the trekking seat (howdah) alone weighs about 100 kg itself. So, put one to three people on board and it’s much too heavy!
In Thailand, since the early 1900s, the elephant population has dropped from 100,000 elephants to a mere 3,000! These beautiful creatures are one of nature’s most majestic and intelligent animals and we should be trying to work together to fight their extinction from becoming reality.
We can still experience riding an elephant, but let’s opt for riding bareback without the chair. It’s a great experience! When you’re travelling you’ll come across some of these places who allow the elephants to roam free – these are the places you want to visit. The ones who promote elephant shows where the elephants are painting and dancing, well, you might want to stop and think first.
Then of course, there are the monkey shows – these funny little guys live in cages with chains around their necks riding bicycles – do you think they are enjoying themselves? Likely not! And what about the tiger and lion shows – most of them being drugged to be calm and docile for photos. These are just a few of the animals affected by animal tourism – there are turtles, dolphins, bears just to name a few.
So, before buying an admission ticket, paying for a picture or signing up as a volunteer, do some research first and make sure that the place actually cares about the welfare of the animals. We certainly don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, but we all need to put more effort into finding and supporting the centres and organizations out there that are working towards helping and rescuing endangered wildlife and promoting responsible tourist related activities. What are your experiences with animal tourism? We’d love to hear what you think…