Wildlife Tourism: Yes or No? Maybe

Wildlife Tourism: Yes or No? Maybe

Maggie the Koala and Me in Australia

There are very few things I regret in life. But a huge regret is being actively involved in animal tourism, well activities that may have involved animal suffering. I LOVE animals, always have, dogs of course are my favorite. The cruelty the animals involved in tourism go through was brought to my attention in Petra, Jordan. In my rush to see the Holy Grail of all tourism sites, Petra (think Raiders of the Lost Ark), I ran through the ticket booth and by-passed the information boards choosing to read them on the way out. Later I discovered that the boards were not discussing the history of Petra but the history of the cruelty to the animals, especially the donkeys and camels used to transport some of the tourist around the gigantic complex. The boards encouraged everyone to decline riding the animals within Petra. I was sick. I had actually ridden a horse and a donkey as you can see from the pictures below.

I have discovered that there are millions of people like me who love animals and think that the tourism industry is saving animals and treating them with the love and kindness they deserve.  Many of them are. But read on and you will see why this is not always the case.

I stumbled upon this website www.worldanimalprotection.org and read about their “WILDLIFE.notentertainers” campaign. This campaign can be credited with getting TripAdvisor to educate millions about the cruelties of wildlife animal tourism that uses animals as props for human entertainment; but also with changing policies at TripAdvisor who no longer sells tickets to some of the cruelest wildlife activities.

An article on the The World’s Cruelest Wildlife Attractions really caught my attention. It lists the ten cruelest forms of animal tourism. Reading the title I held my breath hoping that I had not participated unknowingly in any form of animal cruelty. I was in for disappointing news. I glanced through the list quickly.  Of the ten I had participated in three forms of cruelty on the list. I was disappointed but with my history with animals, there were many more encounters,  I was quite relieved that I had only been involved in three. But I could not absolve myself of guilt for long. I had a big aha moment when I read that World Animal Protection says:

“If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with the wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue”.  

I was devastated. My mind raced to recall past animal encounters, three incidents had suddenly turned into at least eight to ten infractions on my part. I can’t tell you how sick I felt. The pictures below are a small representation. I have also herded sheep in New Zealand, went dog sledding above the arctic circle in Finland, swam with dolphins in Jamaica, and rode horses in Hawaii. While herding sheep, dog sledding and horseback riding appear to be fairly innocent, swimming with dolphins is questionable.

The three that I have engaged in from the list:

Riding Elephants:

Elephant Rides in Thailand (me and a friend)

In order to get elephants to comply and interact with humans they have to be broken which involves cruel acts such as physical restraints, inflicting pain and withholding food and water. How else would you get such a large animal to comply with tiny humans? I hope there are more humane methods. Often the babies are taken from the mothers at an early age to break them. The term used in the industry is “crush” them. When not entertaining or riding tourists around, they are chained never to roam free and interact with other elephants causing physical as well as psychological damage.


Holding Tigers:

Lion Cubs in South Africa

The tiger/lion cubs are also separated from their mothers at an early age so they can be used to take photos with tourists. In the picture of me with the lion cub I am as happy as can be, completely unaware of the life this poor lion cub might be living outside of my visit. The baby cubs and tigers are handled and hugged by hundreds of tourists and later typically kept chained or in small cages with concrete floors. I read that a typical female lion roams about 16-32 km per day. Imagine being born for that kind of life and being locked in a cage the rest of your life!


Performing Dolphins: (I have a picture of a dolphin kissing me on the cheek but it is unavailable as I write this)

This is the most surprising one. Because of its popularity chances are you have been to Sea World or a similar venue to see performing dolphins and killer whales. It is such a clean and loving environment I never thought about the process used to capture and train these animals. Because of the massive amount of stress the capturing process has on the animals, many die before reaching their destinations. Cruelty and abuse is often used to get these animals to perform. Once trained, they spend the rest of their lives in an unnatural and restrictive space no bigger than a large swimming pool. Compared to an open sea environment I would say their captivity is cruel.

To add more guilt I remember my trip to Jamaica with my nephew several Christmases ago where we swam with the dolphins. It was awesome. But in hindsight, knowing what I know now, I would not do it again.

Side note: SeaWorld has stopped capturing and breeding killer whales. The current generation is the last to live in a captive state and they are working hard to create more natural environments for the remaining whales and focusing the entertainment on their natural behaviors.

What can we all do about it?

Click this link to the article titled Checking Out of Cruelty . Within this article is the list of The World’s Cruelest Attractions. I listed my three infractions, you can find the other seven in the article. At the end of the article there is a list of some attractions that have been recognized for the way they treat animals involved in animal/elephant tourism. Share this article and the www.worldanimalprotection.org website with as many people as you can. Many people who love animals participate in animal tourism. Because of that love they can never imagine that the staged environment is cruel and unhealthy for the animals once the performance is over. I was one of those people, sadly, many times. The more you know the more likely you will think twice before engaging in an activity that involves cruelty to animals.

Animals in the pictures above may or may not have been harmed. After what I have learned surely I will never again hold a lion cub, let an orangutan hug me (I am sure she had other things she wanted to do), ride a donkey, feed a kangaroo or ride a camel. But, some animal tourism venues are animal friendly and environmentally correct. The elephant behind me in the picture in Ghana was free to roam and happened to pass behind my cabin. I left her alone and she left me alone. It was so cool to see the elephant in her natural environment. Eventually she went back into the bush. The llama in Machu Picchu was just sitting there. No one bothered her. Llamas were everywhere and people just took pictures of them. However, I am sure there are tourists who may make them anxious. Horse drawn carriages have been pulling wagons with people in them for centuries so no guilt here for that ride to the Taj Mahal. But now, I wonder how the owner treated the horse. The guinea pig farm in Ecuador, well, it was a farm. If you have a guinea pig for a pet you might want to stop reading right here. Those cute little cuddly babies were in line to be someone’s dinner. Yes they eat guinea pigs in Ecuador. Passing through the local markets it was common to see “Fluffy” roasting on the spit ready for purchase. Needless to say I did not choose guinea from the menu.

The thing is you never know how the animals are being treated unless you ask, do some research beforehand or physically check out the animal. If you suspect wrongdoing it is not worth it to participate.

After a wonderful safari  in South Africa, I swore I would never visit a zoo again and I haven’t. When you see animals in their natural environment it is hard to see them captured and in cages.

There are places where animal tourism is done with dignity and respect for the animal in a natural environment. Have fun but do some research before you go.

The information in this post was gleaned from the www.worldanimalprotection.org website.



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