“Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them.
But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.”
– Edwin Way Teale
I read this week that TripAdvisor will no longer sell tickets to many animal attractions. The top internet travel review site consulted with animal welfare groups over a six month period and decided not to implicitly endorse attractions “where travelers come into contact with wild animals or endangered species held in captivity.” The attractions include swimming-with-dolphin experiences, elephant rides and petting of endangered species like tigers.
TripAdvisor also will create an educational site to inform users of animal welfare issues, and encourage reviewers to include animal welfare concerns in their reviews.
Hopefully these actions will enable travelers to make better informed decisions about their choices – and in the long run – increase pressure on operators to treat animals more humanely. Not all human-animal interaction offerings will be dropped; many which include educational benefits and carefully controlled interactions will still be included on TripAdvisor’s site.
Many typical human-animal interactions can be retro-fitted with great benefit. One example of the shift from abuse to nurture and education came in Southeast Asia where elephant rides are widely available. Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park offers a different experience where visitors can help to feed and bathe rescued elephants and other animals.
What can the curious traveler do to know the better operators from the abusive ones? Remember that each operator is in business to make money. This offers the temptation to cut operating expenses (food, space, water, personnel training, scheduling) to a minimum. Making a barely living wage is not much incentive for trainers who must then push the animals to do more and more.
One piece of advice for the thoughtful traveler is “if it smells bad – literally – it probably is bad” for the animals. But booking attractions ahead of time does not allow the sniff test. Internet reviews (such as will become available on TripAdvisor in the coming year) can help travelers evaluate whether they want to support an operator with their attendance.
Wildlife tourism can be an immensely rewarding endeavor, putting people in touch with facets of the world which they never would have imagined.
Reputable operators such as those affiliated with Virtuoso take great care to provide ethical experiences which preserve and support the animal population and their environment.
Some governments (most notably Ecuador) have been quite pro-active developing regulations for how people can be allowed to interact with wildlife. But many governments, preoccupied with more pressing concerns, have not worked to protect wild or semi-domesticated animals. We cannot assume that “surely someone is on top of this” when we see questionable treatment of animals. (Even in the US – see the movie “Blackfish” if you have doubts.)
The responsibility remains for consumers to keep questions of ethical treatment of animals, workers, and the environment in mind as they make their choices. TripAdvisor is taking a step in the right direction. I will be happy to help you plan for your experience in the wild, too!
Boundaries divide. Travel unites.
13 October 2016