Avoid Cruel Animal Tourism

I am going to start this post by saying that in all of its forms, I am against animal tourism. This DOESN’T mean admiring or taking photos of animals at a distance and in their natural habitats, or volunteering with these animals under the guise of professionals or visiting animal sanctuaries. I am talking about when animals are forced to perform, can be cuddled, picked up, ridden or exploited for money, used as props, or just generally forced against their will to engage in acts they wouldn't otherwise in the wild.

I should also preface that while I write this I feel like a massive hypocrite because a few years ago on a trip to Thailand I participated in an elephant ride, which is actually why I am writing this post. Yes, it's because I feel guilty and regretful, but it's also because I am now older and wiser and at the time was only a teenager travelling with a respected travel company who had ensured me that the facility was a ‘rehabilitation centre’ for the animals and that they were treated well. I later learnt during my trip, when I volunteered at an actual elephant sanctuary, that animals, which are treated well, are not used as a form of entertainment for tourists’ pleasure. Rather, they are shown love, dignity, respect and care that all animals deserve.

So please, do yourself, the planet and even me a favour and don't support these horrid industries both financially and with your time. I think with a lot of these things it comes down to awareness so I hope this post can help you in avoiding the same mistake that I did and across other cruel animal tourist attractions too. World Animal Protection has compiled a list of the 10 cruellest, which I have attempted to elaborate upon with some of my own insights and opinions.

Elephant Rides

In order to teach an elephant to perform tricks like dancing, painting, playing instruments, as well as giving rides a painful learning process is initiated. This usually begins when an elephant is a baby, taken away prematurely from its mother where training starts immediately known as ‘the crush’. The name really is as bad as it sounds, with the babies beaten and abused so badly that their spirits literally become so ‘crushed’ and broken that they begin to obey their trainers. The hook that you will see trainers using during tourist shows acts to remind the elephant of the trauma inflicted, maintaining human dominance – how disgusting.


Tiger Selfies and Lion Cuddles

Tigers and lions are so cute and are amazing creatures, but I think we all know they are predators right? Consequently, having an opportunity to get up close and take a selfie or to have a cuddle is completely unnatural and the animal would only comply with such activity as a result of some serious mistreatment and intensive training. When I was in Thailand, facilities such as Tiger Kingdom were a major tourist attraction, with the World Animal Protection reporting that there are 830 tigers in this sort of captivity across the country. Even on the promotional posters marketing the tourist attractions, there are photos of the animals tied up on chains, being lounged and passed around by visitors and I heard rumours from locals that the animals were drugged to keep them in such a relaxed state. Behind the scenes the welfare concerns continue to persist with reports that the animals are kept in small cages often with no access to water, the cubs are taken away from their mothers from as young as two weeks old, and that punishment for aggressive behaviour can take forms such as physical violence and periods of starvation.


Civet Coffee

When I was in Bali, civet coffee could be found everywhere. But don't be fooled. Civet coffee, when turned into a tourist attraction, is cruel and also, in my opinion, pretty disgusting. For those of you who aren’t familiar with civet coffee, the civet is a small, long bodied nocturnal mammal that can be found in Asia and Africa. The coffee it is involved in producing is harvested from their poo…yes you read that correctly…from their poo. Naturally, civets enjoy eating coffee cherries and it is believed that as a result of the digestive process, the coffee beans take on a different taste. I believe it was the workers at the coffee plantations that initially made this discovery, however, over time the uniqueness of taste and even experience has become highly sought after by tourists.

Corresponding this popularity, civets increasingly became captured and placed in captivity where they are often fed exclusively coffee cherries. The animals have been reported to experience such distress in these conditions that they often fight with the other animals, start gnawing off their limbs, experience an array of health conditions and eventually get so unwell and die. It doesn't sound worth it for a (pretty gross) cup of coffee does it?


Holding Turtles

I have previously seen photos on Instagram of people holding sea turtles and always considered it a bit of a dream. But, upon further research when writing this piece, I realised how cruel such an act can be. At many sea turtle facilities, the animals fight for space in cramped conditions causing intense stress, which in turn weakens their immune system and enhances the spread of illness. This is worsened by visitors constantly picking up the creatures, which can lead to injuries such as broken shells, fractures as well as exposure to products on human skin including sunscreen or repellent which is toxic to turtles.


Performing Monkeys

Around the world, monkeys are often trained aggressively to make them appear or behave more like a human. You might see them dressed up, riding bikes or dancing, some even play with fire or are forced to jump through hoops lined with knives. When they are not performing they are chained up, often so tightly that the metal can become embedded in the skin, leading to infections. 


Bear Enclosures

At bear enclosures the animals are kept in small concrete pits, many of which are devoid of any form of mental stimulation. Without this, or the freedom that comes with being in their natural habitats to dig, play and forage, the bears beg for food, pace back and forth, and begin to display signs of physical and emotional stress. This can include obesity, dental problems (especially as they often bite on the bars), bruising from sleeping on the concrete floors, conflict with other animals, and, like other abused animals, self harm behaviours.


Performing Dolphins

The mistreatment of Dolphins and other sea animals that are forced to perform at a number of facilities around the world has been a topic of repeated discussion over the past few years. This is particularly as documentaries such as ‘Blackfish’ become released on platforms like Netflix (I would highly recommend by the way). Performing Dolphins are first caught in the wild, chased by speedboats and captured using nets. If they survive this stress and the period of transportation to the facilities, the dolphins live their life and breed in captivity. These confined conditions are a stark contrast to the freedom of the open ocean, and can lead to the animals displaying behaviour such as aggression, self harm (such as banging their bodies against the walls) as well as developing stress illnesses like stomach ulcers.


Snake Charming

There is something so mystical about snake charming. The way the snake moves to the music in a hypnotised state, it has been a tourist attraction for hundreds of years. And as much as I hate to burst the bubble, the only reason a snake would react in such a way is due to some pretty nasty animal cruelty. First, the snake is taken out of its habitat and its fangs are forcibly removed. Then, its venom ducks are taken out or blocked which often leads to infection. If the animal happens to survive such a procedure, they live out the rest of their days performing for money. 


Crocodile Farming

Crocodile Farms are a truly disgusting wildlife experience. The crocodiles are bread intensely and kept in over crowded unhygienic conditions, which in turn leads to the spread of diseases and lots of conflict breaking out between the animals particularly as they fight for limited food and space. The crocodiles are then selected and slaughtered, both for their meat, which can be eaten at adjoining restaurants, and their skin, often used to supply the fashion industry.


What can you do?

So what can you do? Aside from being aware, please vote with your dollar by avoiding these industries. Don’t stop to take a photo or even to take the time to look. Report abuse and do your research, there are some amazing sanctuaries out there. You can also always find tours that allow you to admire the animal in the wild, as it should be.