Compassionate travel: say no to wildlife interaction!

Tourists taking selfies with monkeys and snakes, snapping photos while petting lion cubs or riding the back of a majestic elephant. It's all over the internet and social media. These pictures are very popular online and often seen as the ultimate tourism experience. But what about the animals behind these shots? Have you ever thought of the negative impact on these animals and the pressure on animal welfare and conservation? How compassionate are you when you travel?

Compassionate travel: say no to wildlife interaction!title=

What does it mean?

Compassionate travel is nothing more than making careful choices and informed decisions about your holiday plans. This means you have to be aware of your animal footprint and how your holiday activity affects animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Before you're able to take a photo with an elephant or even ride one, he was trained by a mahout with a sharp stick (aka an ankush), chained, and most likely separated from his mother at a very early stage.

Often this negative impact can’t be seen by tourists, but that doesn’t mean it isn't there! So, the main question you have to ask yourself is if you are doing it for you, or if you are doing it for the animal. Understanding your animal footprint is the first step to ensure these animals have a better future, to support their conservation in the wild and also to create great (and ethical) holiday experiences!

“The whole process before a tourist can take a photo with a wild animal is long and definitely not natural”

Hands off our wildlife

Last week, I attended a webinar organised by Louise de Waal from Green Girls in Africa. Louise is a great advocator of this topic and has also launched her own campaign: Hands Off Our Wildlife. The campaign aims to create greater awareness around the issues of unethical and even cruel captive wildlife interactions, by educating tourists and the tourism industry itself.

During the webinar several experts shared their opinion and experiences around animal interaction in the tourism industry. All in their own way they are trying to expose activities that are not animal friendly, promote tourism experience that help and conserve wild animals, and educate tourists for them to become compassionate travellers. Education will help tourists (and activity providers) make the right decisions during their holiday that won’t harm or have a negative impact on animals.

Compassionate travel: say no to wildlife interaction!title=

Negative effects

So even though riding an elephant or walking with lions might feel like an amazing experience, it has a huge negative impact on the animal. The welfare conditions are poor, and suffering and sometimes even death are consequences behind the scenes. The whole process before a tourist can take a photo with a wild animal is long and definitely not natural.

Animals are taken away from their mothers at a very young age, they are hand-raised and often on a substantial diet without receiving vet care. They do receive physical modification such as removed teeth and claws to create a safer environment for the tourists. Thereby, they are often chained and drugged, so they can be touched and taken photos with to be displayed on social media.

“Many people don’t think about the negative impact on animals when they take a selfie” - Louise de Waal

What do you think happens to animals that cause bad injuries to tourists or when they become unmanageable? They are not re-homed, they are killed. After all these examples, I have not even mentioned the fact that tourists are running the risk to picking up diseased from touching these animals and that they are often not aware of the fact they are dealing with an actual wild animal. The animal might even seem to enjoy the interaction, but you have to remember what happened before the photo. My advice is to just not do it, because you never know for sure.

How to be a compassionate traveller?

Now that you are aware of the extreme negative impact on animals in the tourism industry, I am hoping that you are planning to become a compassionate traveller as well! Always start by asking yourself; what are the circumstances that led to the animal being captive and available for your tourism activity. Avoid zoo’s and sanctuaries where you can interact up close, don’t go to elephant sanctuaries with a breeding program, where they are chained or where you can ride them. Also, don’t go swim with dolphins or take pictures with monkeys.

So basically, don’t do an activity that allows the animal to be touched, that trains animals to perform, or forces into unnatural behavior, such as riding or walking with tourists. Animals are beautiful in the wild, in their own natural habitat, and there is no need for them to suffer so we can have a “great experience”.

What about you?

What is your opinion about animal interaction? Has this information changed your perspective or are you already a compassionate traveller? Join the discussion on Facebook!

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