Oh, animals. They’re fluffy and cute, sometimes massively terrifying, and other times mildly so. We’re instinctively drawn to interact and be in their presence. I mean, who doesn’t want to cuddle an adorable Koala or help bathe a baby elephant?
More often than we’d like to admit the animals we strive to visit are treated inhumanely and for the sole purpose of profit and tourist entertainment. It’s a sad truth in modern tourism.
Most travelers partaking in cruel activities are unaware that animal cruelty is hidden behind closed doors. Many horrible organizations cover up any evidence of abuse and claim to rescue animals. Research is key in helping to end unethical animal tourism. If you’re ever considering visiting an animal sanctuary or park, Google the name. The power of the internet is slowly starting to uncover the truth behind the torturous organizations around the world.
I’ll admit, in the past, I’ve done it. I’m not perfect. Once at an all-inclusive resort in Mexico I handled a monkey for photos. I simply didn’t understand the effects that captivity and human interaction has on certain animals. But this is why I’m writing this article. The more people educated on this topic the more who can help end these awful organizations and instead promote the happy, healthy ones.
Basically, this post is all about encouraging positive animal interactions with accredited sanctuaries. The good news is there are plenty of incredible organizations around the world that promote positive interactions with animals! I recently visited Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary in Brisbane, where I could interact with Koalas and Kangaroos in an ethical (and extremely fun) way. Nothing brings more happiness than four kangaroos mauling you to get the last bit of kibbles or a sleepy koala cradled in your arms and itching its butt (which means it’s comfortable on you).
Avoid: Riding Elephants
You may believe because elephants are some the biggest animals in the world and are often referred to as ‘gentle giants’ that a small human has little impact. Unfortunately, that is not true. Elephants don’t naturally allow humans on their back, so in order to do so, they are abused as a baby in a process called Phajaan, which includes excessive beating and sleep deprivation. Eventually, the elephants fear humans enough and succumb to the torture.
The good news…
You can still play with elephants! Certain sanctuaries rescue the abused elephants and let travelers play, feed, and even take mud baths with them. Learn more about moral elephant tourism here: Expert Vagabond: Elephants in Thailand
Avoid: Taking photos with tigers
A selfie with a giant man-eating Tiger is sure to capture the attention of all your Facebook friends and Instagram followers. However, don’t let the search for ‘likes’ allow you to turn a blind eye. Tigers calm enough to take photos with tourists are under the influence of sedative drugs. I know, depressing.
The good news…
Lions, bears, and huskies, oh my! Check out these ethical alternatives in comparison to those overrated tiger photo-ops.
Avoid: Swimming with captive dolphins
Listen, I love dolphins as much as the next traveler. I would LOVE to hug, swim, and kiss them all day, every day. Unfortunately, it’s not the best decision and thousands of tourists partake in dolphin activities every year.
The good news…
You can just swim with them in the wild! You might not get to touch them, but who cares. Personally, an experience swimming with dolphins in the wild vs. swimming with dolphins in a super-lame, overpriced, and touristy swimming pool is wayyyyyyyyyy better. Better yet, you can swim with WHALE SHARKS in the wild. You know, whale sharks? Like one of the biggest creatures in the entire world? Yeah, way cooler. Just make sure you pick a guide that doesn’t touch, feed or alter the whale sharks natural migration. Learn more: Swimming with whale sharks.
All in all, if you are considering visiting or interacting with animals while traveling, do your research and avoid supporting anything you might regret later. Trust me, I know it’s hard. When I was a kid I dreamt about riding an elephant like Eliza Thornberry during the solar eclipse and feeling like a complete badass. Ethical animal tourism is possible. Just make sure you understand who you’re supporting and what you’re supporting when deciding to take part.