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Our easy-to-follow guide for ethical animal tourism

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An encounter with some exotic animal makes its way onto many a traveller’s Bucket List. Unfortunately, all too often, the need for a unique travel experience and a great profile pic is put before animal welfare.

As Wildlife Alliance have demonstrated in Chi Phat, a community based tourism project in Cambodia that is helping protect the precious Cardamom Mountains, tourism can benefit wildlife. It can generate financial support for conservation efforts, provide an alternative income for ex-poachers, and bring additional help and skills through volunteering projects.

But the sad reality is that, a lot of the time, tourism has a negative impact on animals and wildlife across the world. Whether it’s volunteering at ‘con conservation’ projects, having your picture taken with a tiger in Thailand, holding a sea turtle in the Caymans, or riding an elephant that’s been broken – tourism contributes to animal cruelty in many ways. A recent study by World Animal Protection found that 75% of wildlife tourist attractions are having a negative impact on wild animals.


A wildlife conservation project in Mukuni game park, Zambia. Image c/o David Berger, Flickr

Many of us who visit animal attractions or interact with wildlife when travelling don’t realise that we could be sustaining a cycle of poor animal welfare. The lack of awareness is alarming, with World Animal Protection claiming that 80% of people left positive reviews on Trip Advisor for venues that are having a negative impact on animal welfare. Here some tips and advice to help you steer clear of activities and attractions that involve animal cruelty.

1. Do your research

You can avoid being duped by false organisations that do more harm than good by doing your research. When you know about the suffering involved you won’t want to take part in activities like walking a lion in South Africa or touring civet coffee plantations in Vietnam.

As travellers, it is our responsibility to be informed and to make the right choices that benefit wildlife. In the age of Google, “I didn’t know’ isn’t much of an excuse anymore.

2. Don’t support hotels, bars or entertainment venues that display captive animals

Avoid staying at a hotel or eating at a restaurant that displays captive animals or offers exotic animals on the menu. If you have already booked and then find out on arrival, let the management know your disapproval. If they get enough of these comments there is more chance of them stopping the practice.

3. Don’t support the use of animals as photographic props

Almost all of these animals have been taken as babies from the wild and those that grow too large to handle will ultimately be killed. Endangered animals like the Slow Loris suffer because of their cuteness. These small, wide eyed creatures are captured from the wild and are subjected to having their teeth cut off or pulled out so they cannot bite tourists. Unfortunately many die from infection following the procedure.

Gibbons are also commonly used as photo props for that ‘all-important’ selfie and yet the Gibbon Rehabilitation Projectestimates that 10 – 15 gibbons are killed for every 1 you see on the street.

Taking these protected species from the wild is illegal in most countries. If you see them being used as photo props in the street please report it to the local police.


A good example of sustainable and ethical tourism: gorilla trekking in Rwanda. Image c/o Joachim Huber, Flickr

4. Humanised behaviour is a no go

As a rule, avoid any animal attraction where animals are trained to perform tasks that have humanised behaviours for example riding bikes, cleaning teeth, painting etc. As Born Free explain these unnatural behaviours involve substantially more training and can have serious animal welfare implications. 

5. Culture is not an excuse for cruelty

Even if an activity is considered part of a countries cultural heritage it doesn’t excuse animal cruelty. Avoid cockfighting, bullfighting or any festivals or any occasions that involve animal cruelty.

6. Consider your own welfare

You’re in a foreign country where medical care may not be fantastic. Always bear in mind, especially if you want to be around large animals, the harm that they could potentially cause you. This is another big reason to do your research and only choose to visit well managed, ethical animal attractions where visitor safety is important. 

7. Use a responsible and trusted tour operator

If you are using a tour operator for part or all of your trip then once again do your research! Ask questions about the kind of attractions they offer and see if they have signed up to any wildlife protection bodies. Responsible operators like Intrepid won’t offer activities that involve animal welfare issues like riding elephants. Intrepid has committed to animal welfare (we were one of the first to put a stop to elephant rides on our trips).

8. Make the most of responsible travel resources

There are a handful of great responsible travel resources that you can use to help identify ethical animal attractions and activities.

Set up by Care for the Wild, the Right Tourism website is a great resource to find out more about animal friendly travel, things to avoid, as well as a responsible organisation directory.

Original blog featured on Intrepid Travel Blog


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