Why do we need to rethink animal tourism | Ethical holidays

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Does the first-hand experience of magnificent wild animals in their natural habitat deepen our connection to nature? Almost certainly. Does it change our behavior towards the environment as a whole? Occasionally. Are these moments possible to recreate in a context of captivity? I rarely think.

While reputable zoological societies have long played an important role in breeding and conservation programs for rare species, the same can rarely be said of theme parks which tend to titillate rather than rehabilitate our disconnected relationship with nature. .

The award-winning documentary Blackfish is a heartbreaking and depressing example. His “star,” an Orca bull named Tilikum, is an incarcerated shadow of his wild cousins ​​- soft-finned, naturally cantankerous, and arguably borderline psychopath due to his imprisonment in a theme park. Attending shows with such stars is less a celebration of harmony and natural wonders than a note of crass commercial discord and exploitation.

Natural history television technology now allows us to view extraordinary, breathtaking and awe-inspiring information about the most incredible wild animals on our planet. These techniques are relatively non-invasive, using remote-controlled cameras often disguised as other animals. They give us realistic, perhaps more honest, representations of how nature actually works.

Even though the images are visceral, red between teeth and claws, and at times romantically anthropomorphized, it’s a far and higher cry to watch a King of the Ocean orca perform lame pool tricks in exchange for a fish. dead.

If in order to be motivated to conserve our most magical animals we all need to have a touching encounter with them in the wild, on safari, or in a theme park, then they really are screwed. I have been fortunate enough to enjoy a moment or two with such beasts on my low carbon earth journeys, these no-fly adventures at least in part motivated by the desire to see the natural world without boiling it. with a multitude of carbon emissions in the process. Yet as powerful as that is a good David Attenborough makes my skin tingle almost as much.

By far the most important thing is to do something. Campaign for, donate or directly sponsor conservation work. Grand ecotourism has its place, raising awareness in the community that animals and their habitats are more valuable alive and intact than cut up like, say, bushmeat, but it is not an option for all, but for a few. privileged.

Perhaps listening to breathtaking television that puts us in intimate, even indirect, contact with wildlife is the only real way forward for a planet of 7 billion people.

It certainly beats the rude cabaret of theme parks or hunting animals across the savannah in a squadron of Land Rovers. These practices demean both us and the nature of which we are an integral part and now dominant. In the 21st century, we can do so much better.

Ed Gillespie is an eco-traveler writer who has written about slow, eco-friendly travel. His book Only the planet comes out next month.


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