How to Avoid Exploitative Animal Tourism

You see Laura’s Instagram, it’s goals. Her photos from the summer are numerous and feature her posing candidly on an elephant’s back and stroking a lion cub that lies on her lap. It looks fabulous and she’s got shed loads of likes. We can all agree that these kind of ultimate bucket list experiences are once in a lifetime and make great memories, but most of us are unaware of the cruelty that goes on behind the camera.

It might come as a surprise to learn that elephants do not have very strong backs; experts claim that an adult elephant can only support a maximum of 150 kg comfortably for up to four hours a day, however many elephants in the tourist industry are forced to work over eight hour shifts and carry more than one person at a time. The seats installed on their back add an extra 50kgs, leading to acute pain and stress for the animals, which are often not given adequate access to water or shade either.

Companies that offer you the chance to pose with a lion or tiger cub are equally as bad. The cubs are taken from their mothers at two weeks old, thrusted into the arms of tourists for bottle feeding and nonstop molestation. In the wild, tigers would stay with their mothers until two years at least, rather than two weeks. As well as often being denied medical care and exercise, they are often heavily sedated every day to prevent injuries that occur from being too close to unpredictable wild animals. Sadly, the money that tourists donate to the charity are not used to help tiger conservation like they claim, or anything like it.

We essentially vote with our tourism money, and so it is important to make sure you’re voting for experiences that are equally as breath-taking, but are also ethical. Rather than taking photos with an exhausted elephant, why not get up close and personal in a different way by volunteering with some elephants rescued from this line of work at one of the certified elephant sanctuaries? The best known one in Thailand is the award winning Chiang Mai elephant rehabilitation centre, where you can hear the elephant’s stories before feeding them and walking them down to the river for an afternoon bath. There are similar organisations all over the world, just make sure you research beforehand to ensure you are supporting a legitimate organisation.

As well as this, there are simple and obvious steps you can follow to make sure you aren’t supporting ‘con-conservative’ projects or tourism that has a negative impact on wildlife: do not support venues that display captive animals, do not ever support the use of animals as photographic props, avoid attractions where animals are trained to ‘perform’ and never allow culture to be an excuse for cruelty (bullfighting and festivals that involve animal cruelty).

Websites like the Right Tourism Website are good resources to find out about animal friendly travel and things to avoid.

Animals are wildlife, not entertainment. Let’s make sure that as we book our holidays for this summer we remember that.

Edited by Jess Shelton