Would you like to swim with dolphins in a pool? Do you dream of an elephant ride to visit a beautiful forest in Thailand? Are you amused by a sea lion clapping its fins and catching a ball? Would you like a selfie with a tiger? What about feeding a crocodile? Or petting a giraffe at the zoo?
If you love animals, then the answer is NO. NO, NO, NO and NO. Because you don’t want to hurt them. Nor do you want to support activities that harm them. My intention in this post is not to blame you for these activities you should not have done. I admit I visited zoos and marine parks. But it was before I realised how bad it is for these animals to be exploited and kept in captivity. I would no do it again. And I want to go one step further with this article by raising awareness, so fewer travellers join these activities.
According to National Geographic, “wildlife attractions account for between 20 and 40 percent of all tourism worldwide” and the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit “found that the millions of people who visit wildlife attractions each year don’t seem to realise that places they’re visiting have ill effects on animals”. So we can make a significant change for animal welfare!
Trip Advisor has just announced they stopped selling tickets for some of the world’s cruellest attractions. It’s about time and, although it’s a step forward, it’s not enough. They shouldn’t list these activities on their website at all. And we should boycott all tours where an animal is abused or has a miserable life for entertainment purposes.
What activities am I talking about, and what are the substitutes?
I wish organisations were transparent to give us a quick way to judge, but it’s not that easy. There is information we can seek to make up our minds about whether a wildlife attraction is ethical or not. My two main questions are:
1. Are they helping animals or exploiting them for money and tourists’ pleasure?
Seeing animals in captivity
I have become highly selective when a park keeps in captivity animals that belong to the wild. Isn’t freedom the most precious thing we can have?
Studies prove that keeping wild animals in captivity reduce their life expectancy dramatically. Not only do they have a shorter life, but they also have a miserable life. That’s mostly the case for bigger animals as it is highly challenging and expensive to recreate the space, the environment and the activities they would have in their natural habitat. Hence, they feel bored, lonely and even stressed and depressed. For more details, you can read these shocking statistics and facts about dolphins and whales and carnivore beasts in captivity.
To avoid zoos and marine parks, I suggest you look at visiting a sanctuary instead. The animals there are rescued and rehabilitated. Those who stay wouldn’t have survived in the wild, so the captivity here is a win-win situation. If a sanctuary is not an option and you really want to go to a zoo, do some research to find a place that aligns with your values. Zoos vary in size and quality. It costs a lot to respect the animals when operating a zoo. Animals can be traded like objects and sometimes even killed when the zoo needs more space. Although animals should always be a priority, it’s not often the case as zoos need to make a profit.
Seeing animals in the wild
Seeing and interacting with wild animals in their natural habitat is one of my favourite activities. It’s the best way to learn about them. Before joining a tour, I check they don’t disturb the animal or the environment. Zero impact is never possible, but some tours respect nature more than others. There are different levels of impacts, and it’s a personal choice to decide what to accept. My level of acceptance: human actions should not change the wild animal behaviours.
When making a choice, you can consider local rules to protect the animals (and yourself too) and that some countries reinforce rules more than others. For example, it will cost you more to do a shark cave-diving in Australia than in Mexico, but Australia’s reputation for following the rules can act as an ethical and quality guarantee. Often, making the right decision to protect wild animals is not that easy. Although they don’t do it in a perfect way, I feel we should still support the poorer countries who develop their tourism around their local wild animals and help them do it better. It will give them an economic reason to protect their environment!
Feeding wild animals is for me a no-go as it can have dangerous repercussions on all the natural chain and dramatic consequences. And I mostly don’t think touching wild animals should be allowed.
Of course, we don’t see the animals as well in the wild, and there is a risk of not seeing them at all. But it is part of the game, and when it happens, it’s even more amazing!
That’s not a topic I am familiar with, but as for the others, research is the key for me. If there is respect for the animal, no risk of pain and if the owner can treat his animal well, it’s a great activity to connect and develop a special bond.
Research often reveals quickly if an activity has a negative impact on animals, like riding elephants or dolphins.
2. Does the organisation support conservation?
Don’t be fooled by the marketing statements!
- Some zoos will state they use funds for research. Correct, but the research might be about how to breed animals in captivity. How is that positive for the animal?
- Some zoos will advertise they help protect species from extinction. Correct, look a bit further. Do they often release endangered animals into the wild to actually support the species?
According to David Hancocks, a former zoo director, less than 3% of the budget of accredited zoos go to conservation. Those who aren’t accredited often do not support conservation. Billions of dollars are spent on exhibits and marketing to attract visitors. (Source: National Geographic)
I’m not saying they are all doing it badly. Animals can be a great way to attract people and then raise awareness about environmental issues. Not everyone can interact with wild animals, so having some in captivity could be an opportunity to interest a broader audience. I hate seeing turtles in an aquarium, but I’ve seen kids with stars in their eyes listening to an educating talk that hopefully convinced them to pick up rubbish and cut their plastic use.
Sometimes, sacrificing the wilderness of a few can help the entire species to survive. I didn’t like the idea of visitors holding a wombat, a Tasmanian devil or a snake for a $20 photo at the Reptile Park. But my opinion changed when I understood the park redistributes the collected funds to research a cure for the disease killing all the Tasmanian devil population. It’s an efficient way of fundraising for a cause that actually helps the animals in the wild.
What do you think? How do you choose your activities involving animals? I’d love to hear your tips. Leave a comment below!
If you love animals, please help spread the word. Talk to your family and friends about not booking tours abusing animals. You can also share this article!
Eloise lives in Brisbane (Australia), but you won’t find her often in the city. When she is not disconnected underwater or in a national park, she loves sharing her travel tips and inspiring her readers to take care of our beautiful planet. She considers every weekend as a two-day holiday break. Her approach: you don’t always need to go far to travel. Still, she also enjoys exploring the world and discovering new cultures. Eloise is originally from France and, before moving to Brisbane, she lived in Sydney, Istanbul and England.