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I am just back from three weeks in southern India and Sri Lanka ( I was visiting my daughter who is working in a leprosy hospital lab, as well as visiting other places). Part of my aim was also to investigate both ethical and unethical animal linked tourism activities.
Animal-related tourist activities
When people go overseas on holidays, animals often feature in what they get up to, but many people don’t stop to think about the pros and cons of such activities. They often don’t realise that they are inadvertently contributing to animal cruelty.
Examples of unethical animal entertainment include:
There’s a great deal of misunderstanding about elephants: many people mistakenly believe that they are semi-domesticated. This is untrue: they are wild animals. Elephants that appear to be tame must have been treated appallingly at some stage to enforce this apparently docility. Baby elephants are often taken from their mothers in the wild when young, harsh training methods are then used and are continued throughout the animal’s life, with hooks and spikes on long sticks that are used to poke the elephant in sensitive places to maintain the dominance as the animal grows older
World Animal Protection investigated conditions endured by 2,923 elephants at tourist venues in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Laos and Cambodia, and found that 77% of them were treated appallingly.
The bottom line is that it is wrong to undertake any activity that involves close contact with elephants, apart from a few specific situations. So elephant rides, washing, feeding, “being a mahout” for a day – these should all be avoided.
2) Dancing bears and monkeys.
When you see these animals in chains, with their handlers holding sticks, the issues are obvious. If you give money to these people, you are supporting these cruel practices.
3) Wildlife selfies.
From pics with lion cubs in Africa to sloths and pink river dolphins in the Amazon, most tourists love selfie photos with wildlife. But if they knew about the suffering these animals endure for this type of photo opportunity, they’d put their phones and cameras away. World Animal Protection have persuaded 250,000 animal-lovers to sign up to their Wildlife Selfie Code. Furthermore, they persuaded Instagram to launch a new ‘wildlife warning’ page.
When Instagram users search for hashtags like #koalaselfie, #elephantride and #slothselfie, a message pops up, informing them about the animal suffering behind the photos. If you’re going on holiday, remember the Wildlife Selfie Code. Only take photos if you’re a safe distance from an animal, they can move freely, and they’re in their natural home.
A recent study showed a 33% increase in the number of tigers kept at tourist entertainment facilities over a five-year period.
The main welfare concerns witnessed at the venues by investigators include:
- Tiger cubs cruelly separated from their mothers, two to three weeks after they are born.
- Young cubs used as photo props with tourists; mishandled hundreds of times a day, which can lead to stress and injury.
- Tigers being punished to stop aggressive, unwanted behavior. One staff member told our researchers that starvation is used to punish the tigers when they make a ‘mistake’.
- Most tigers were housed in small, concrete cages or barren enclosures with limited access to fresh water.
5) Swimming with dolphins
Swim-with-the-dolphin (SWTD) programs can be found all over the world, but they’ve become exceptionally popular in the Caribbean in the past decade or so. At many of these “swim with dolphin” venues, they are forced to swim in small pens all day long. They were under extreme pressure to perform the same motions, the same speech, the same signals over and over. They get frustrated , and this is often not obvious to tourists, but to experts, it’s obvious.
It’s far better to see such animals in the wild, doing their own thing.
It’s now illegal to have wildlife in circuses in Ireland, and for the same welfare reasons, people shouldn’t visit circuses overseas that include wildlife
7) Zoos overseas
From appalling living conditions to acts of cruelty like the feeding of live calves to lions in Chinese zoos, it’s best to avoid these.
8) Witnessing neglected dogs and cats is a common part of the tourist experience in many countries.
In India and Sri Lanka, the street dog is a common sight, and while many appear remarkably healthy (their diet must be very frugal), some were in a terrible condition, with severe skin disease and other long term injuries. If visiting an area, if you see an animal in trouble, take the time to take a photo, note the location, and contact a local animal welfare group. Plenty of good work is being done to help these animals, and if visiting a country, we should all play a role in trying to help if we can.