Ethical Animal Tourism
Animal tourism has always been a check on the bucket lists of many travelers. Visiting wild and exotic animal attractions can be the most incredible highlight of any travel experience, especially for animal lovers. Unfortunately, tourists often fail to recognize the cruelty and abuse that goes on behind the scenes to make these very encounters possible. Research conducted by the University of Oxford found that three out of four wildlife tourist attractions involve some form of animal abuse or conservation concerns. Furthermore, approximately 80% of tourists did not recognize the negative impacts that these wildlife attractions have on animal welfare. To combat this, travelers must commit to increasing their understanding of the wildlife tourism industry and avoid visiting exploitative and harmful animal attractions.
Across the globe, there are many ways in which animals are used and exploited for tourism purposes. Studies have found that only a handful of activities—such as mountain gorilla ecotourism in Uganda have both positive conservation standards and animal welfare components. Most other wildlife tourism exhibits around the world—including elephant rides, lion safaris, and dolphin interactions were found to be quite the opposite. The rise of social media has exacerbated the mistreatment of animals for tourism purposes- the demand for animal encounters that produce a photo as a final product is fuel. However, for wild animals to appear compliant and willing to pose for a photo they must often be manipulated. Adult tigers must be drugged and declawed while cubs are speed bred and taken from their mothers entirely too soon after birth. Many young elephants involved in riding attractions must be emotionally broken- a torturous process that involves eating, starving, sleep deprivation, and more from a very young age. The popularity of these elephant ride attractions creates a demand for more poaching and illegal elephant trafficking as well. Furthermore, marine mammal parks and aquariums are also a major concern. Dolphins in captivity are forced to live their entire lives in small, shallow pools and are exhausted day after day from performing tricks. These mammals are also exposed to foreign pathogens and bacteria in petting pools, severely affecting their behavior. Often, this causes dolphins to act violently which means they will likely be put down.
Fortunately, these past few months have presented the opportunity to change the way we travel forever. In the earliest stages of the COVID-19 lockdown, social media was flooded with reports of wild animals reclaiming newly abandoned environments. The widespread closure of tourist parks and attractions worldwide presents an opportunity to enact a shift in the world’s wildlife tourism sector. Furthermore, the coronavirus has thrust issues of wildlife trade and exploitation into the spotlight- more people than ever before are becoming aware of the prominent issues surrounding the wildlife trade.
As the world cautiously begins to reopen, I encourage you to look into socially minded travel and ethical animal tourism. Looking out for wildlife while on vacation doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy amazing experiences with animals. The goal of ethical animal tourism is to primarily ensure the humane and compassionate treatment of animals. The tourism dollar allows visitors to interact or observe animals in a way that increases awareness and funds for ongoing conservation efforts while protecting the integrity of the animal’s natural habitat and welfare. The best way to avoid supporting tourist organizations that exploit wildlife is to do plenty of research before booking a trip. Being informed and making ethical tourism decisions is one of the best ways we can fight against animal exploitation. Through conscious travel, we can move towards creating an industry fuelled by protecting the world's most vulnerable species- not exploiting them.