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Animals are a fascination for many tourists across the world. Yes, you can see a lion in a zoo, but often the public enjoyment of seeing this predator sleeping behind bars in a small pen, is not appealing. Instead we are given the so-called ‘eco-sustainable’ tourism where we can see the lion in its natural habitat, and by partaking in this tourism, we are supplying the population with the resources to properly care for the future of the animal…or so that’s what we are told and want to think!
The reality is that most of us have taken part in animal tourism at some point in our travels, whether this be the result of naivety, ignorance or selfishness and I am no exception. Over the years between us my husband and I have probably ticked off most of the animal experiences popular amongst travellers. However, as we have grown older and wiser we have learned that not all is as it seems. Whilst I might have laughed at a monkey on a chain wearing a nappy and sucking a dummy when I was 18, now I am horrified to see such things. I now notice the visible health of the animal and assess the conditions that they live in before concluding my views. However this often comes after paying an entrance fee and contributing to the existence of such an industry.
As such, this is a post written with regret. Regret of my contribution to the potential mal treatment of animals. Regret of my ignorance and naivety. Regret that I wasn’t more aware when I was younger. In my defence, this awareness and associated attitudes amongst many travellers does appear to have been exacerbated in recent years. Society thinks a little differently nowadays and there is a greater awareness and concern for such issues. Nevertheless, I kick myself when I look back at my experiences with animal tourism. This post, therefore, is written to highlight some of negative impacts of animal tourism and to raise awareness amongst travellers, who like that younger me, might not be aware of all of the facts.
Bull fighting- Spain
The stand-off between the brave human matador waving his red cape in the face of a raging bull. Sounds pretty evocative, but the reality is far different. The bull has often been starved, drugged and poked with sticks for 48hours to a point where it is next to delirious. Sometimes they are even blinded to get a greater fear reaction out of the bull. It is then forced out into an arena to battle in a fight. It’s not a fight, it’s a slaughter of an innocent animal. The matador shows his prowess by evading the raging bull, before, slowly slicing the bull with a dagger to a painful death. All through he cheers of a vociferous crowd.
Whilst I haven’t been to a bull flight per se, I did attend the Running of the Bulls festivals, otherwise known as San Fermin, a couple of years ago. Watching drunk people (and I mean DRUNK!) torment the bulls in such a way was sad to see.
Monkeys & snakes – Morocco
I was told by numerous people of the many wonders of Marrakech. In travelling through the country for 3 weeks, we decided to make it our final stop. Arriving excited and ready to sample the bustling sights and sounds we made our way to the main square only to be shocked at what we saw. Monkeys were dressed in clothes and a hat, with a chain around its neck. The keepers would put the monkey onto you and encourage you to take a photo, which you would, of course, have to pay them for. These monkeys appeared malnourished and in need of food and water.
Tigers – Thailand
I’ve been to Tiger Kingdom in Chang Mai and Tiger Temple in Kanchanaburi, and I was sold the same story. “Here we treat the animals with respect, this is a breeding centre to help grow the number of adult tigers in the wild. They reach an age and are then introduced back into their natural habitat”. Wow I thought, perhaps my money would be going to good use. Seriously, how could I have been so naïve, I mean did I ACTUALLY believe that the tigers were so calm because they lived with monks?! Get real, Hayley!
Recent news revealed that tigers are frequently drugged and kept in inhuman conditions. I even heard that they discovered dead tigers that had been frozen and stored in freezers. Last I knew Tiger Temple had been shut down because of maltreatment.
Elephants – India
The example of riding an elephant for money could be applied in a lot of countries, I even saw it in Tenerife once. But in my case, I had my first elephant-riding experience whilst in India. I arrived to see an elephant waiting for us to climb aboard, it’s skin looked terrible all rutted with what looked like scars. “Must just be the way an elephants skin is” I thought. Round we went on our elephant ride, everything seemed to going ok, I kept telling myself this elephant seems happy when we reached some grass area and the elephant wanted to eat it. The Indian man walking with us to control the elephant did not want him to eat. Perhaps the Indian man knew better than us on how to treat this creature, but it didn’t seem like it. He hit the elephant repeatedly with a stick, ignoring our pleas of telling him to stop and let the elephant eat. “No, no, no, it’s ok” was what we kept getting told. When we arrived back I saw a further 4 elephants with all 4 legs chained up around the back.
Since this experience I have seen elephants in large, open reserves in both India and Thailand. Whilst they are not free to roam anywhere they please, they looked far healthier and happier than the first elephants I had seen. I would strongly recommend that you research any elephant-riding opportunities prior to handing over your cash to make sure that they are treated well and are healthy. For more information, check out this post about the truth about riding elephants.
Donkeys – Greece
Donkeys, I have been repeatedly told, are working animals. They enjoy completing grinding tasks as that’s what they were made for. In Santorini, Greece they were used to transport overweight tourists from the bottom of the hill where the cruise ships dock up to the top for a view point and some lunch. Greece in August can be stiflingly hot and we regularly take breaks for shade and water. Whenever we get thirsty or hungry, we had the opportunity to refresh ourselves. These donkeys did not. I couldn’t help feel sorry for them as they were tied to one another and being forced up and down the hill all day. I have never ridden a donkey and instead take pride in always walking up the hills. If it’s tough for you. Think how hard the donkey is working with you on its back!
Orca – Sea World USA
I have never visited Sea World in America, but my husband went there as a kid. He loved the large predators of the sea, with the Orca (killer whale) being his favourite. He watched Shamu jump, wave, spray water and splash everyone in their seat, all with a smiling handler explaining how wonderful this creature was. Sea World stated that “The animals are saved from certain death of the fishing nets they get caught in and are then reared in captivity to finally be released into the wild”. If only this was true. Active campaigning across the USA has started to reveal the real Sea World and the cramped and poor conditions that whales are frequently kept in.
Dolphins – Mexico
Let’s face it, a hell of a lot of people have ‘swimming with dolphins’ as a bucket list item! Ideals of having flipper be your best friend for 1 hour showing you just how much he loves to play sounds great doesn’t it?! What’s the reality though? Well if you want to swim with wild dolphins, you take a boat out trying to find them, then jump in the water hoping they will stay and play. My husband did this in Zanzibar and loved it. The animals were free to swim where they pleased and were in their natural habitat. There was a problem though, there were no good photo opprtunities!
So next time he had a chance, he did it properly. Cancun, Mexico that’s the place, everyone comes back with great photos! Off we go to Isla Mujeres off Cancun to Dolphin Discovery, one of the top-rated attractions on Trip Adviser. The pen had lots of dolphins which meant it was far too small for them and they were made to jump, wave, clap and do pretty much anything the paying customer wanted. Yes, we got some amazing photos, even a free mug (!), but we shouldn’t have. What life it that for a dolphin to be a continuing performing puppet? What if you were placed in a cage and controlled to do the same thing everyday, 10 hours a day? How would you feel? The keepers said they liked it because they are playful animals, but I’m not convinced…
Hug a cub is one of Johannesburg’s major attractions. Here, tourists are provided with the opportunity to play with baby lion cubs and even to feed them. Whilst you might get super cute photos, what is the reality behind the lens? Caged lions can never be put back into the wild after such close human interaction and there are suspicions that they often end up in the canned hunting industry where hunters shoot them for fun. After all, lion cubs don’t stay as cute babies for long…
I did the tourist thing and bought the photograph of me holding a koala at Steve Irwin’s zoo. But There is a controversy as to whether you should be able to hold a koala. After all, this is not at all natural for the animals, even if it feels like the most natural thing to us. Is it stressing them too much, is it a marketing ploy at the cost of the animals’ well-being? If you are an ardent animal lover and conservationist, then the answer should be not to hug any wild animal. In fact, holding a Koala is illegal in all Australian states except Queensland.
This concludes my main experiences with animal tourism and I will ensure that I bring my daughter up to be more consciously aware of the treatment and conditions that the animals are kept in when we encounter this type of thins on our travels. Whilst it is too late for me to turn back the clock, it’s not too late to make smarter decisions in the future. What animal tourism have you experienced and what advice would you give? Please leave your comments below!