Out With Irresponsible Tourism and In With Animal-Friendly Tourism:

How To Avoid Animal Cruelty When Travelling

There has always been some form of animal abuse or conservation concerns within the wildlife tourism industry, however it is not as rife as it is today. As the number of travellers increase, so does the amount of animal suffering and abuse. Many organisations in this industry focus more on entertaining tourists and less on protecting and caring for animals in order to maximise profits, all at the expense of the poor creatures. It may come across as all fun and games to some tourists and travellers when they see monkeys dancing, dolphins performing and taking selfies with tigers, but little do they know what sadly goes on behind the scenes. For some animals, these activities can cause life-long suffering because of the awful damage to their psychological and physical wellbeing. Being captured in the wild or bred in captivity is just the start of the painful experience these animals are forced to endure. Kept on chains, stored in small cages, hit if they display aggressive behaviour and unable to socially interact with one another are just some of the terrible happenings which occur within organisations that exploit animals for tourism purposes.

In order to help stop the animal exploitation and cruelty that goes on around the world, it’s important to raise awareness about the damaging effects and outcomes of such activities. Here are five of just some of the many cruel attractions and why they need to be banned:

1. Performing Dolphins

Captured in the wild after being chased by speed-boats, dolphins are snatched from their natural habitat and spend the rest of their lives kept in constricted swimming pools, which is nothing compared to the open sea environment. These pools are treated with chlorine and can cause irritation to their skin and eyes. Some dolphins don’t even make it this far due to the high levels of stress they suffer when being caught in nets and end up dying during transportation to their doomed destinations. The ones who make it to the attractions are forced to breed and are then traumatically separated from their calves at a very young age. As part of the training process for performing, dolphins are often deprived of food and experience stress-related illnesses and even heart attacks.

2. Riding Elephants

Put through a horrific training process after being taken from their mothers when they are babies, elephants are forced to give rides to humans as well as perform unnatural tricks at circuses. Similar to dolphins, they are also deprived of food and water during the training process and are physically abused using whips and electric shocks. According to the World Animal Protection Organisation, 96% of venues offering elephant rides out of 220 elephant tourist attractions in Asia kept them in unlivable and cruel conditions. Their ‘Taken for a ride’ report includes a list of places where elephants are given the best possible care and not used as taxi rides or as puppets in shows. Searching for and visiting animal-friendly attractions such as these are one of many ways in which we can raise awareness of the unacceptable cruelty and help protect elephants around the world.

3. Dancing Monkeys

Made to perform tricks in tourist attractions and other public places, ‘dance monkeys’ undergo terrible abuse during training in order to learn such acts. They have their arms tied on their back and are chained to a wall, before being made to stand on two legs for a damaging length of time. Some monkeys develop mouth infections from having their teeth pulled out as a punishment during training, as well as being starved until they learn required tricks and therefore end up being very skinny and malnourished. Due to more awareness being raised over recent years, organisations such as Wildlife Watchdogs have created rescue projects to help protect and save monkeys which are forced into this industry. After going through a one-year rehabilitation process, hundreds of monkeys are released into protected forest areas where they can live happy, wild and free.

4. Bear Parks

Naturally solitary animals, bears are unfortunately kept in overcrowded cages in parks which are not suited to their natural environment. Some bears are dressed as clowns and are made to perform circus tricks to please the crowds, which often result in the development of bacterial infections. It’s common for attractions such as parks to replicate the natural arctic environment of polar bears, with the use of pools, ice and fake rocks. Recently opened in 2021 is the world’s first ‘Polar Bear Hotel’ in China, which offers rooms that overlook an indoor pit that’s home to two polar bears. Exploitation such as being removed from a natural habitat and forced into an unnatural, restricted and psychologically-damaging environment results in a lifetime of suffering.

5. Tiger Selfies

Taking selfies with tigers is more of a recently developed trend and is sadly becoming increasingly popular in Thailand and Indonesia. Tiger cubs are housed in poor conditions after being taken from their mothers at a very young age, where they are often beaten if they display any unwelcome or aggressive behaviour. Tourists are encouraged to hug and take pictures with them. It’s a known fact that tigers are not naturally welcoming to humans and in order for them to behave in such a way, attractions offering this activity tend to drug them so they are capable of being used for taking selfies and being hugged by tourists.

When it comes to travelling and exploring places within the animal tourism industry, it’s important to do research on the establishments before visiting and potentially contributing towards the exploitation of animals. Here are some ways to help avoid animal cruelty when travelling and encourage the end of cruel practices: When booking a tour or experience which involves animals in any way, check to see if the companies involved have committed to the World Animal Protection Organisation’s agreement to end wildlife cruelty in the tourism industry.

  • Avoid entertainment venues and hotels which use animals for decoration (the Polar Bear Hotel in China is the perfect example). This also includes hanging stuffed animal heads around the location and if exotic types of meats are being served.

  • Do not ride any animals. Always avoid attractions which offer animal riding services, such as elephants.

  • Do not visit any circuses or zoos where animals are forced to perform tricks and are kept in poor and unnatural living conditions.

  • Opt for excursions where you can visit animals in the wild, where they are able to roam freely in their natural habitat.

  • Avoid attractions which offer handling or photo opportunities with animals. Most of these have been taken from the wild as babies and have their teeth removed so they can’t bite tourists.

Travel companies such as Intrepid Travel, G Adventures and World Expeditions have committed to not sell or promote any forms of cruel wildlife entertainment and are leading the way to ensure no animals are harmed on trips. It’s vital that more and more travel companies join this movement in order to put a stop to harmful and damaging practices which are happening everyday, purely for the purpose of entertaining tourists and visitors. If you’re an animal lover and want to include parts of wildlife in your travels, remember to always research companies before booking to ensure you are not contributing to those which partake in animal cruelty. If you happen to witness any forms of animal cruelty when travelling, check to see if there are any animal sanctuaries nearby where you’re able to support and help protect them. Visit national parks, protected habitats and choose ethical safari tours to help generate income to further protect wildlife and ensure animals are living the way they are meant to. To put it simply, if you see any animals that are performing, whom you’re able to touch or handle, or not in their natural habitat, always avoid! With the help of tourists and travellers following these actions and travel companies committing to not selling or promoting any forms of animal cruelty, there is hope that animal cruelty within the tourism industry will finally come to an end.