Tips for responsible wildlife tourism
Travelers love animals. We want to get closer to them and learn more about them. But the reality that many tourists don’t see is that in order to stay in business, animal encounters, such as elephant rides and photo ops with tigers, rely on putting wild creatures to work. .
Discerning the difference between ethical and problematic wildlife experiences is one of the thorny questions addressed in National Geographic feature article of the magazine “Invisible suffering: the dark truth behind animal tourism“. For visitors to environments ranging from zoos to national parks, it can be particularly difficult to determine how to observe animals in a human manner. To assess how establishments treat animals in captivity, you can refer to the “five freedoms”- internationally recognized standards based on a 1965 UK government report. Consider these tips before your next wilderness adventure:
Do your research
Look for facilities where animals appear to be well fed and have access to clean water at all times. An installation that scores high on TripAdvisor may not be human. Read the one- and two-star reviews, which often include animal welfare issues cited by visitors. (See more photos of wildlife from around the world.)
Scan the space
Observe if the animals have a suitable environment, including shelter, ample space, a comfortable resting area, and a secluded spot away from crowds. Beware of buzzwords such as “give back to conservation”, “sanctuary” and “rescue”. Be careful if a facility makes these promises while still providing extensive interaction to a large number of people.
Look for red flags
Avoid facilities where animals are visibly injured or are forced to participate in activities that could injure or cause them pain, or where enclosures are not clean. Being chained, playing and interacting with tourists – going for walks, posing with them, being washed by them – is not normal for a wild animal, even born in captivity. (Discover 10 wild experiences in national parks.)
Be aware that large crowds and artificial noise cause distress, especially for animals that have undergone fear-based training, separation from their mother at birth, or other trauma.
Keep it wild
Look for experiments that offer the observation of animals engaging in natural behaviors in natural environments.
The global wildlife tourism industry is entrepreneurial. Individual actions can make a collective difference, signaling to the market that consumers support ethical encounters with wildlife. When travelers decide they want humane treatment of animals, the wildlife tourism market will change for the better.
Wildlife Watch is an investigative reporting project between the National Geographic Society and National Geographic Partners focused on the exploitation of wildlife. Read more Wildlife viewing stories here, and learn more about the National Geographic Society’s nonprofit mission at nationalgeographic.org. Send tips, comments and story ideas to [email protected]