Guestpost: The do’s and don’ts of Wildlife Tourism

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.

Male photographer setting up his camera

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.

Wildlife tourism

male lion sleeping in the setting sun

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.

rhino's and buffalo's grazing

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”.

ideal tiger habitat consisting of dense foliage with a clearing and a stream
This picture shows the ideal location and habitat of animals like the tiger. While the dense forest foliage gives a great place for tigers as well as animals like the spotted deer and leopards to hide, the clearing and water stream gives the animals a quick source of water. In fact it makes for an ideal location for tourists to watch the animals in their natural behaviour without actually disturbing the animals, provided the tourists behave according to the guidelines and rules of the sanctuary.

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?

nilagai deer in natural habitat
A Nilagai deer stares across from its enclosure in the center, where many like it, including other deer species like the spotted deer and sambhar are tended to on a daily basis. As you can see, the enclosure is sprawling with a very much natural habitat. Sancturaies and Rehab centers must take a lot of care while constructing enclosures, as a badly done and congested enclosure paves the path to unfortunate accidents and mental stress to the animals.

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.

Asian elephant at the WRRC
During my work at the WRRC, the area is an ideal place for systematic and careful rehab for a variety of animal species ranging from wild foxes, crocodiles to great mammals like the Asiatic elephant. The elephants are a major focus point of this center, working closely with legitimate and well known conservation groups like AROCHA. This gentle giant, an Asiatic Elephant was found grazing as myself and my associates made our way across the mountainous terrain surrounding the Rehab center.

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.


2 thoughts on “Guestpost: The do’s and don’ts of Wildlife Tourism

  1. A good article, I haven’t been to any of those places, but I can imagine how easy it is to find yourself on a tour visiting the lovely sanctuary that ‘looks after rescued, orphaned’ cute baby animals.


  2. Yes ma’am, absolutely. These kind of places which pretends to take care of animals, yet only explpit poor animals for money, are widespread, easy to find, and they are pretty good at masking the ghastly work. But as a counter to it, thankfully, now a days, people too are getting more aware compared to past, and they many people now does background check before indulging in any wildlife tourism. It is completely upto us, as responsible people to do our part and avoid getting into such dubious “wildlife tourism”. And I am proud to inform you that we are slowly coming around.😊😊😊
    Thank you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.