5 Tips for Responsible Wildlife Tourism

As January comes to a close, hopefully you are still on track for keeping your New Years resolutions. If you’ve got travel goals this year, we hope to help you be prepared for your next adventure by releasing monthly blogs!

It seems that when it comes to wildlife tourism, no distance or amount of money is too large in the quest to find the species we so desperately seek to find. The wildlife tourism industry can have immense benefits, encouraging environmental protection, fostering stewardship behaviours, contributing money towards conservation efforts, and can have direct positive impacts on our own health. Sounds like the perfect combination, right?

Unfortunately, not all forms of wildlife tourism are created equal. Many of them can have significantly negative impacts on environmental conservation and the welfare of these wild animals.  Elephants, utilized for rides and shows are often taken from the wild and subjected to a ‘crushing’ phase where physiological and psychological abuse are used to force them to submit to their owners. Sloths are captured by having their trees knocked down, and are then used for tourists to hold take photos with, where the constant high levels of stress and lack of sleep often reduce their lifespan down to mere months. Tigers are separated from their mother usually immediately after birth, often chained, drugged, and abused for the perfect photo opportunities for tourists.

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Sadly, these examples are just the tip of the iceberg; species all over the world are suffering at the hands of wildlife tourism. In fact, an estimated 110 million people worldwide visit wildlife tourist venues that have negative impacts on animal welfare. What’s worse is that most tourists are completely unaware of the negative ramifications that their tourism dollars contribute to. So how do we work to fix this negative cycle? We must collectively decide to stop the tourist demand for these negative venues by refusing to visit them, and we must educate ourselves as to how to recognize negative forms of wildlife tourism. We must change the wildlife tourism industry.

You can be a part of this change. When booking your next adventure, here are five tips on how to ensure you are not supporting irresponsible tourism venues.

1.     Do your research

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Before heading out on your trip, it is essential for you to do your research. Reading this means that you are off to a great start! For every location you are considering, research the facility – are there online reviews advertising inappropriate care? Do they discuss their commitment to conservation and welfare? Are they accredited? Recommendations from friends and family can be great, but continuing your own education on how to find a positive wildlife tourism is essential.

2.     Look for the ‘five freedoms’

When visiting animals in captivity, it is important that they have access to the five freedoms: ‘Freedom from hunger and thirst, freedom from discomfort, freedom from pain, injury, or disease, freedom to express normal behaviour, and freedom from fear and distress.”  Animals should always have access to fresh water, a nutritious diet, access to veterinary care, and suitable shelter and space. They should also be able to exhibit species-specific behaviours such as social activities, grooming, foraging etc. Chances are, if you don't see these five freedoms being fulfilled, they animals are not receiving them. These places should be avoided.

3.     Keep it hands-off

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Animals that are handled by tourists often have high levels of stress. They are unable to appropriately rest as they are passed from one person to the next. Many of these animals have likely endured an existence consisting of suffering and abuse in order for them to be easily handled.  Even in the best circumstances, handling of wild animals simply promotes misguided messages to the public – that wild animals make suitable pets. Alternatively, some facilities can provide you with different types of interactions with their animals so you can still get a closer encounter that maintains respect for the animals.

4.     Beware of entertaining shows

Animal training can be done in many ways, however those involving physical punishments that force animals to comply should never be deemed appropriate. Tools for inflicting pain and fear should never be used, instead trainers should work with an animal’s natural history in order to reward and guide them towards an end goal. Again, respect for the animals is key here. Does a location offer dancing bears attached to chains, monkeys wearing collars riding on bicycles, or elephants playing basketball or painting? None of these behaviours are natural, and they are likely a result of forceful compliance.

5.     Be suspicious of souvenirs

Bringing home souvenirs from your travels is a great way to remember your adventure, but caution needs to be taken when purchasing these items. Illegal wildlife trade has allowed many products to become readily available- ivory, furs, feathers, leathers, corals, and shells are just a few examples of items that could be taken cruelly, and illegally. Exotic snake wine may be the result of a snake being drowned in that bottle. Sea turtle products including items labeled ‘tortoiseshell’ likely came from an endangered turtle. Not only is it unethical to buy these items, but bringing them home may also be illegal.

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Research shows that people want to see a positive change in wildlife tourism. Ensure that your experience is not at the expense of an animal’s health and welfare. Voice your concerns, make sure your tourism dollars count! Check back next month for our next blog in our effort to contribute to the education of tourists! Here at Wildlife Tourism Guide we want to build a community of people working towards the promotion of positive forms of wildlife tourism. Have you been somewhere you want to tell as about, submit your review here, we would love to hear from you.

References: 

Bale, R. (2016) Snake wine and other wild souvenirs to avoid. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ on January 11, 2017.

Ballantyne, R., Packer, J., and Hughes, K. (2009) Tourists’ support for conservation messages and sustainable management practices in wildlife tourism experiences. Tourism Management, 30, 658-664.

Daly, N. (2017) Witness the harrowing capture of a walk sloth for the black market. Retrieved from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/ on January 11, 2017.

Kals, E., Schumacher, D., and Montaga, L. (1999) Emotional affinity towards nature as a motivational basis to protect nature. Environment and Behaviours, 31, 178-202

Kontogeorgorgopoulos, N. (2009) The role of tourism in elephant welfare in Northern Thailand. Journal of Tourism, 10(2), 1-19.

Moorhouse, T.P., Dahlsjo, C.A.L., Baker, S.E., D'Cruze, N.C., and MacDonald, D.W. (2015) The customer isn't always right - conservation and animal welfare implications of the increasing demand for wildlife tourism. PLoS One, 10(10):e0138939.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0138939

Reynolds, P.C., and Braithwaite, D. (2001) Towards a conceptual framework for wildlife tourism. Tourism Management, 22, 31-42.

Schmidt-Burbach, (n.d.). Taken for a ride: the conditions for elephants used in tourism in Asia. World Animal Protection. Obtained from https://www.worldanimalprotection.org/ on September 27, 2017.

World Animal Protection (2016) Exposed: true scale of Thailand’s ‘tiger selfie’ tourism. Retrieved from https://www.worldanimalprotection.ca/ on January 11, 2017.