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Ostrich riding: Why you should never RIDE an ostrich

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Ostrich riding is a popular tourist activity in some parts of the world and you will see plenty of places advertising the opportunity to ride an ostrich, especially in the South Africa, where it is particularly popular. Whilst it may look fun, there are actually many reasons why you should NOT ride an ostrich. Read on to find out why you should NEVER ride an ostrich…

Can you ride an ostrich?

Before we look into whether you should ride an ostrich, can you even do it? The answer is yes – in certain places, ostrich riding is available and even a common tourist pastime. This tends to be in countries like South Africa, particularly in the Oudtshoorn area. It is less popular now, but still an activity that is available to tourists.

Ostrich riding: should you do it?

As with any tourist activity that involves animals, ostrich riding comes with many questions surrounding the ethics and morals.

Ostriches are beautiful, majestic creatures and – with all animals – do not exist purely for human entertainment.

Ostriches are actually not built to take the weight of a human being: ostriches are birds, not mammals, and there is just no circumstance in the wild in which they would have to withstand such a weight on their backs. Ostrich riding farms do put a weight limit on guests who want to ride an ostrich, but there is an argument for not riding them at all. Their bone structure will weaken over time as they continually put up with this weight, and on top of this the ostriches will likely be in pain.

As an animal lover, you likely don’t want to see an animal in pain at all. You would especially not want to see an animal in pain for human entertainment, which is one reason why you shouldn’t ride an ostrich. Pain makes people grumpy, and animals feel this too. If you put stress and physical pain on an ostrich, it is likely to turn violent and vicious.

Is ostrich riding dangerous?

ostrich farms in Oudtshoorn

As briefly mentioned, ostriches can turn violent in response to stress and pain.

Ostriches are especially violent when frightened – and while ostriches in captivity probably aren’t too frightened of humans due to their extensive exposure to us, there is still a chance that you might do something to scare the ostrich, resulting in an attack.

When frightened, ostriches can reach speeds of 45 miles per hour. They can also give quite a hefty kick – they have been known to kill lions in the past just by kicking them in fear. Do you really fancy your chances against the world’s largest living birds? I know I don’t!

On top of the risk of attack, ostrich riding can be dangerous due to those high speeds. There is always the chance you could fall off and injure yourself while riding an ostrich. It is safer all around to just avoid this activity!

DID YOU KNOW: “One of the most interesting ostrich-attack stories involved the American musician Johnny Cash, who kept an exotic animal park with ostriches on his property. Cash encountered an aggressive male ostrich several times during his walks in the woods in 1981. On one occasion, Cash brandished a 6-foot stick and swung it at the bird, who dodged the swipe and slashed at Cash with its foot. Cash noted that the blow struck him in the stomach, and if it weren’t for a strong belt buckle, he said that the ostrich’s toe claw would have cut his abdomen open and killed him”


ABTA and ostrich riding 

The Association of British Travel Agents is a group you will likely have heard of. ABTA is there to ensure certain standards are withheld when it comes to travelling and especially package holidays. They have a list of ‘Unacceptable practices involving animals in captive attractions’, which you can see below:

  • Animal breeding or commercial trade in sanctuaries and orphanages 
  • Any tourist holding of, or photo opportunity with, wild animals where the animal does not have the choice of terminating the interaction or moving away
  • Performances or tourist interactions involving wild animals where training involves punishment or food deprivation, causes the animal fear, injury or distress, or the tasks are not based on normal behaviour 
  • Tourist contact or feeding elephants without a barrier 
  • Elephant shows or performances for tourists
  • Tourist contact, feeding of and “walking with” wild cats 
  • Contact with or feeding of crocodiles or alligators 
  • Tourist contact or feeding of great apes (chimpanzees, orangutans, gorillas, bonobos) 
  • Contact with or feeding of bears 
  • Tourist contact or feeding of sloths
  • The feeding of animals with live vertebrate prey
  • Canned hunting
  • Ostrich riding (observing or participating)
  • Unlicensed zoos 

ABTA provides guidance for its members and their suppliers. This ensures that ABTA travel providers will not sell animal attractions such as ostrich riding. The upholding of these standards and guidelines is how you know an ABTA-protected holiday is safe for everybody involved.

Facts about ostriches

Generally, it is widely accepted that ostrich riding is something that tourists shouldn’t engage in when travelling. As visitors fall out of love with the idea, less and less farms actually offer the option to ride ostriches now. This is undoubtedly a good thing, and should be celebrated. Instead, they focus on the education of visitors. Here are some fun facts about ostriches – they really are magnificent birds!

There is plenty of them

When it comes to their conservation status, it is of the ‘least concern’. This means there are plenty of ostriches in existence and there are no worries surrounding them becoming endangered any time soon. They are brilliant birds, and by phasing out ostrich riding activities they are going to be around for a long time.

They are huge

As mentioned, ostriches are the biggest living birds. Males can grow to around 210-275 cm, with females at around 175-190 cm. They’re heavy, too, with males weighing up to 156 kg and females weight up to around 110 kg. Their wings reach a span of around 2 metres, too.

Ostriches can live up to around 40 years, which is pretty good innings… On top of this, their eggs are some of the biggest in the bird world. They actually weigh up to around 1.3 kilograms, which makes sense given how big ostriches can grow to be.

Eggs are incubated for up to 45 days

Those giant eggs are incubated by the dominant female during the day, and by the male at night. Females blend in with the sand during the day making eggs less easy to detect, while male ostriches are darker and therefore provide camouflage at night.

The aforementioned dominant female actually incubates all of the herd’s eggs, at least in the wild. Her nest is around 3 metres in diameter.

Ostriches aren’t always in herds, though: they usually spend the winter months in pairs or alone. It is only during this breeding season (and sometimes during extremely rainless periods) that they live in these nomadic ‘herds’ of around 5 to 50 birds.

Ostriches are mostly vegetarian 

Ostriches tend to eat seeds, leaves, succulents and grass. Sometimes they swallow plants whole by pulling them up from the root – in order to aid with the digestion of these, they also eat pebbles and sand. They have been known to eat insects and very small vertebrates too, but mostly live on a herbivore’s diet.

Ostriches also don’t drink. They don’t need to, as they get plenty of water from all of the succulent plants they eat!

They have three stomachs

To process all of those veggies, and the occasional tiny animals they eat, ostriches actually have three stomachs. Their intestine is also really long – it takes 36 hours for them to digest food.

The three stomachs each have a different function: the glandular stomach acts like the human gall bladder would, and it empties into a muscular stomach. Next is the small intestine.

Why do ostriches have such a complex stomach system? Science isn’t really too sure, but it’s an interesting fact nonetheless!

Ostriches are the only didactyl birds

This means they only have two toes per foot. Most other birds have three or four toes, but as ostriches have two they’re really unique. This is what helps them run so fast – as discussed in the ostrich riding part of this post, they are speedy. Ostriches can actually run up to 50km/ph for half an hour – but if need be, when predators are around, they can get up to around 70 kilometres per hour.

Don’t be fooled, though. They are incredible graceful even at these high speeds!

To conclude: Why ostrich riding is bad

Ostriches are fascinating animals and it is great fun to visit ostrich farms and learn all about them. But human beings should never ever ride an ostrich because it is painful and unethical!

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