Camera? Check. Passport? Check. Compassion? Check! One heck of a life-changing experience? Double Check!
Many eager explorers in their quest for the best holiday experience unknowingly fuel a dark and cruel trade - unethical animal tourism. It can be tricky, because without even realising it, many animal tourism hotspots can have an unknown dark side, just look at the famous Thai Tiger Temples as a prime example. Each year around 110 million people will visit inhumane wildlife attractions worldwide - that’s a staggering 10% of all 1.1 billion international tourism trips taken annually.
(World Animal Protection found that 3 out of 4 wildlife tourist attractions involved some form of animal cruelty)
The good news is: tourism can still benefit wildlife! Through ethical volunteering projects, you can generate support for important conservation efforts, bring increasing awareness and tons of additional help and skills to each project you visit. And thankfully if you’re an animal lover seeking out ethical experiences, there are plenty out there. Here’s our guide to being able to tell the good from the bad:
Research is your new best friend
It’s our number one responsibility as travellers to ensure that the choices we make benefit the animals and their environment. The good news is that ecotourism still has a place in this world, with a number of outlets passionately dedicated to rescuing and rehabilitating wildlife, or providing opportunities to get to help with conservation efforts. If you’re planning on going somewhere that promotes encounters with wildlife, a simple Google search could be the difference between supporting animal conservation or trafficking.
(If you can ride it, hug it or selfie with it, then it’s more than likely cruel)
It’s important to know exactly what to avoid:
The general rule of thumb is to run for the hills if you find anywhere that offers:
- Animal rides & close up photo opps
We all love to see and play with different and exotic animals during our travels, but what’s the harm you ask? People see baby tiger cub picture opportunities and rides on elephants and jump to the conclusions that it’s a rosie experience for everyone involved. Sadly, not all animal encounters are created equal, with most involving abuse and neglect behind the scenes to make them obedient & submissive. Their owners usually beat and torment them to “break them” so they don’t dare act like they would in the wild around humans.
These attractions will only continue for as long as people pay for them. If there is no money to be made, animal cruelty won’t have a place to continue. By supporting this industry for even a few dollars, you are directly taking part in the abuse and trade of animals and it will continue.
- Beware of local cuisine & souvenirs
Supporting animal tourism goes beyond just insta-worthy animal encounters. Souvenirs and certain culinary ‘delights’ can have dark and seriously underhanded cultures around them. We all know that there’s no better way to sink your teeth into a new culture than trying out the traditional foods. But, this should not be an excuse for animal cruelty. Shark fin soup & civet coffee are both prime examples of being expensive, gross and super cruel. You don’t have to become a vegetarian or vegan to enjoy a holiday (though it certainly isn’t a bad idea), but you should know where your food is coming from, aim for sustainably produced food that is done in a humanely way. Same goes with any products containing ivory, fur, feather, shells, leather, teeth, bones or coral. Always ask before you buy!
- Make sure they give back too
Generally if a volunteer operator claims to be eco-tourism based, the organisation should be actively doing something to create solutions in the long term to problems in the area, and give back to its local communities. Look out for ways that they give back - do they educate guests on the problems they face and offer solutions? Do they work with or support any local communities? Do they directly support any projects that are making a difference?
They shouldn’t just be talking the talk, they should be walking the walk too! Global and our partners on the ground are passionate about working together in an effort to combat tragic animal exploitation.
Ethical Animal Experiences to Feel Good About:
Here’s where it pays to do research to identify the legitimate parks from the phonies when volunteering:
Go wild instead
Safari, Swahili for ‘journey’ is likely a word everyone's got penciled in on their ultimate bucket list. Safaris have always been a great way to see animals in their wild habitat, but how do you ensure the tour you're doing is both safe and ethical? Get involved! Instead of passively watching on, travellers can actively participate and join conservation efforts in Africa to build awareness on a broader global scale. And let's face it, spending your days amongst all the famous faces in the animal kingdom ticks all the boxes for one hell of a life-changing experience!
If you missed it, here’s what’s been happening over in Africa on our African Wildlife & Conservation Trip: Global Catch Up: The Ultimate African Volunteer Adventure.
(Global Traveller Ky during an Elephant Rescue & Rehabilitation trip)
Easily the most ethical way to have an elephant experience is to just hang out with them, walk with them, feed them, but most importantly see them as they should be… chain-free and without a group of travellers on their back. Elephant Sanctuaries play a huge role in animal welfare, supporting law enforcement in fighting the ivory trade, raising awareness, nature conservation and securing biodiversity. By supporting elephant sanctuaries you’re putting the welfare of these majestic beauties first, tackling the challenges faced in elephant conservation today and becoming educated on the importance of protecting them from illegal trade and poachers.
(Last year our Global Volunteers completed 6,600 hours of conservation work which culminated in watching over 2,300 turtles making their way to shore on our Sea Turtle Conservation Trip in Costa Rica!)
Marine Life Conservation
If you have heard of the Cayman Island Turtle Farm and seen the documentary Blackfish, you know exactly why you shouldn’t be supporting the captivity of marine life. Marine mammals, reptiles and fish all belong in the ocean. By joining marine conservation projects, you can help out and still have meaningful experiences with these fantastic animals. Your work will create a lasting impact to the ocean, local communities and just as importantly, you. You can still have the opportunity to swim with them in the wild, just make sure it’s on their terms.
Global and our partners on the ground are passionate about working together in an effort to combat tragic animal exploitation. To check out our huge range of ethical adventures click that blue button below...