Millions of people travel each year. That number is growing as more destinations become accessible. Animal tourism experiences, such as swimming with dolphins or taking a tiger selfie, are frequently included in travel plans. This is because they offer the opportunity to do something unique and local to the destination. However, the ethical nature of these encounters is frequently murky at best.
If you intend to see wildlife on your journey, as a traveller, it's your job to ensure that your trip is ethical. This is a difficult subject to broach because we aren't always aware that an encounter will be unethical. With flowery phrases and promises of a better tomorrow, people seeking tourism dollars often claim to be working to protect wildlife.
What is Wildlife Tourism
So what exactly is wildlife tourism? The answer quite simply is any form of tourism that involves animals or animals as entertainment. Some of the typical activities that would be labelled animal tourism include wildlife tourism such as safaris, whale watching, bat walks and so on. The common feature here is that the tourist views the animals in their natural habitat.
However, there are other kinds of animal tourism where animal serves as entertainment. Here's we are thinking of things like elephant riding, photography such as tiger selfies and so on. Then we have visits to see animals in captivity at zoos and wildlife parks and performing animals such as dolphins performing tricks, snake charming, etc. Last, but not least, is hunting.
Why is animal tourism bad for animals?
Tourists partaking in activities such as tiger selfies and paying money to institutions that allow unethical tourism is probably contributing to severe animal welfare abuse and even conservation status decreases, according to a study conducted by the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit. For a start, many institutions that employ animals for entertainment and monetary gain do not prioritize the wellbeing of the animals.
Similarly, while many zoos and wildlife parks take the best care they can of their charges and contribute widely to conservation breeding efforts, there are others that do not. They may even have acquired their charges under dubious circumstances and keep them in less than stellar conditions. While training regimes for those animals performing for tourist entertainment can be harsh and cruel.
Is Ethical Animal Tourism Possible?
The short answer is yes, it is, but it's not easy or straightforward. What we, as tourists spending our tourist dollars, should focus on is minimizing harm, education, and reducing the negative impact of tourism on wildlife. Ethical animal tourism is all about being aware of your impact. You need to think about the whole picture and your effect on it.
Just thinking about this kind of thing and being more aware of your impact is a step in the right direction. However, it's hard to make responsible decisions about your animal interactions. But there is help at hand. For example, the charity ForTigers.org publishes a welfare-based guide to the tiger tourist facilities in Thailand, helping tourists choose the most welfare-friendly sites.
Why you should support ethical animal tourism
Ethical animal tourism can have a number of positive benefits. In the case of wildlife tourism, these benefits can be felt by the wildlife, their habitats and the local human populations as outlined in more detail below. Captive animals can also benefit from ethical animal tourism if tourists make more responsible decisions and only spend their tourist dollars at welfare-friendly venues.
Some positive impacts of Wildlife Tourism
While there are some horror stories of animal abuse in the animal tourism industry, it's not all doom and gloom. In particular, wildlife tourism can have a lot of positive benefits. A prime example involves engaging local populations in the fight against poaching. Tourists pay to watch wildlife like mountain gorillas in the Congo, and locals benefit from protecting those animals.
Restoration of wildlife populations
Conservation is the main benefit of ethical animal tourism. Thanks to tourist dollars habitats, and the species that depend on them, are more likely to be preserved if the local human inhabitants stand to gain. However, there are many cases of tourist-friendly animals whose populations are under the threat of extinction. Breeding and population restoration is other benefits of ethical tourism.
That's because it is a common practice for many zoos and wildlife parks to participate in conservation breeding programs. In some cases, these animals may even be rehabilitated into their natural wild habitats, helping to prevent the extinction of critically endangered species, In addition, around the world, there are grassroots organizations working to protect all wildlife, but especially the endangered species.
Final thoughts on ethical animal tourism
The key to taking part in ethical animal tourism is education. Organizations like ForTigers.org work to educate both the tourist on what to look for, from an animal welfare point of view, when visiting captive animal facilities and the facilities themselves on how to provide the best care to their animal charges. As a tourist, you need to do your own research.