You probably have seen pictures of travellers taking selfies with tigers, swimming with dolphins or other animal related activities that seem super cool, but are actually awful extortions and abuse of the animals that are involved. We all know what kind of activities are too cruel (like bears ‘dancing’ or people standing on top of killer whales in Seaworld), but there are also a lot of activities that appear to be decent when they actually aren’t.
There are multiple organizations out there that portray themselves as animal sanctuaries, but that are actually in it for the money. For a lot of travelers, myself included, it is difficult to separate the real good-doing sanctuaries from the fake ones that actually abuse animals and make profit from it.
I was talking about this with my friend Adarshjit Das on Instagram. He is a researcher in Animal Behavior and Ecology in India, and he gave me some great insights on what to look for if you want to know what kind of organization you’ve encountered. I invited him today on Wanderlust Wonderland to talk about his work as a researcher and to give us a little bit more insight on how you can tell if an animal activity is a do or a don’t.
Thank you so much Mariska, for inviting me today in your most wonderful and informative travel blog. Also I very much appreciate and applaud your initiative to speak and spread the word about the thin line that separates ethical and unethical wildlife tourism. Speaking a little about myself, just like my generous host Mariska introduced me, I am a researcher in the field of ethology, that is, study of animal behaviour as well as ecology, with my field of research primarily being India, my home country. My work mostly involves study of animal behaviour patterns, their ecological importance and implications. Tigers are the model animal that I usually base my studies on.
Now coming to the subject of Wildlife Tourism, this is a very important type of tourism, as it not only introduces human beings to the amazing and vibrant world of animals, insects, birds, reptiles and many more, it provides a vivid learning experience for people of all age groups. But the issue with Wildlife Tourism is, there is a very thin line that separates good, educational insights into the animal world, from the inhumane world of using animals as means of luxury, money-making by causing heavy and dark scarring to the animals for the rest of its miserable and, mostly, short life. It is therefore very important to know the limitations, and the right ways to Wildlife Tourism.
Many so-called wildlife experiences, are an outright display of torturing animals for the sake of human pleasure. Travelers may be very amused at the prospect of riding on an elephant’s backs. It sure seems fun, until you know that baby elephants are separated from their mothers, beaten and struck to make them submissive, just to make them ready to give a ride to you. A similar traumatic treatment of pain and fear goes into the making of dancing bears, dancing monkeys and the “cheerfully friendly” animals that you see in circuses.
Furthermore, there is the popular activity of tiger tourism in Thailand, which offers the most attractive, proud and bold touch of wildlife, a close-up selfie with a tiger or bottle feeding a tiger cub. Visitors to Thailand surely have this one activity on their to do list. What they don’t realise is the horrors that go on behind the scenes of this industry. The tigers and lions that are put up for selfies, are first traumatically separated from their mothers, tortured since childhood into being submissive and then heavily drugged to make them ready for “Human Interaction”.
So how do you get to experience real, ethical and humane methods of animal interactions without crossing that thin line?
Visiting natural forests, wildlife corridors, national parks and sanctuaries are some of the foremost and authentic ways to do so. Even zoos, which are often seen as oppressive to animals, are actually a great way for travelers to learn about the animal world. Although not in their natural habitat, zoos help in rehabilitation of injured, traumatised, separated and helpless animals as well as aid in speciation by ethical, regulated captive breeding programs. Now let’s be clear, we have to be very observant even when in such “natural habitats”, to look for signs which might suggest that unethical animal conduct is going on in the guise of ethical animal activities. So how can we identify these things?
The answer is simple, by being keenly observant. The first thing to look out for is, the environment of the sanctuary. Look out for how well maintained, clean and green the sanctuary appears. Also look out for any kind of shady, separate or small enclosure present within the sanctuaries.
Then, comes the most obvious factor of the sanctuary management, which is: setting up arrangements to let visitors go near the animals for selfies and photographs, or letting visitors pet or feed animals for a nominal “fee”. Real, dedicated sanctuaries would never let visitors go near the animals or feed them. Also, look for the number of baby animals. We all love to see baby animals, they are indeed very cute and adorable. But if you see a large number of baby animals in a sanctuary made available to the public, it is probably because the so called sanctuary is using illegal and unethical forced breeding, in order to attract more visitors. Real, responsible sanctuaries will keep in mind of several things, in order to protect the animals from panic and fear. Responsible sanctuaries will keep the crowd within the areas to a limited number.
So when you decide to go for a relaxing tour of the wildlife, make sure you keep these several points in mind, and choose the right kind of tour, the right behaviour. Treat animals just like you would treat another fellow human being. Our responsible behaviour today will be the foundation of an ecologically balanced world in future.