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Eco-Tourism or Eco-Exploitations? 5 tips to ensure your wildlife encounters abroad remain ethical

When travelling abroad there’s not many experiences that would match the feeling of encountering a wild animal. Let's be honest, who hasn’t thought about riding an elephant or feeding a tiger? But you might want to think twice about taking part in these activities... To make sure these animals behave, they are put through a series of potentially unethical treatments which could result in mental or physical injury. Now, this isn't to say that you can't have a fun experience with wild animals, but it is important to make sure that you do it in an ethical way and ensure the animals are unharmed. Here are our top 5 tips to ensure that your animal encounters abroad remain ethical:

See but don’t touch

Being able to touch an animal as part of a “wildlife experience” is generally a bit of a red flag. You wouldn’t be able to stroke a tiger or a bear if you encountered them in the wild so it is likely these animals have undergone unnatural or unethical “training”.  

Let’s take elephant rides for example.  For most the idea of riding an elephant sounds like an exhilarating experience, however, the process that may go into preparing the animal for this activity could leave you questioning whether the experience is worth it. Elephants in the wild are highly unlikely to let a human ride them therefore, it is likely they undergo certain unethical training methods or treatment in order to “break them in”.  Also, the conditions they are kept in may not be suitable for the elephants needs or not remotely mimic their natural habitat.

Now is this to say you can't have a life-changing experience with your favourite animal? Of course not! There are many elephant sanctuaries around the world where you can participate in activities that are less likely to make them feel pressured or threatened. Some registered sanctuaries take in injured or older elephants and tourists are able to help with the day-to-day care and spend time feeding and washing the animals. Other places will allow you to book to drive beside an elephant at a safe distance and watch them go about their day in their natural habitat.

Sanctuaries make sure that the animal’s well-being is always the top priority and is a much more ethical way to encounter a wild animal whilst still giving you an unforgettable experience. There are also plenty of eco-friendly safaris where you can safely view wild animals in their natural habitat.

Do your research

So, you have decided that you want to visit an animal sanctuary and participate in an ethical experience with wild animals. Perfect. But how do you know if these sanctuaries are run correctly or just posing as an ethical experience to attract tourism? Well luckily there are a few different ways to tell the difference.  For a start, don't just rely on trip advisor or google reviews – four- or five-star reviews will usually reflect their experience and not how the place is run. It is beneficial to read the comments of the reviews and check the one- and two-star ratings as this is where you are likely to see if anyone has any unethical or dissatisfying experiences.

Another way to research the treatment of animals is to look at the photos on social media or the location tag. Photos are a great way to tell if animals are being treated properly in a sanctuary. if the animals are chain and not able to roam freely or their enclosure doesn’t mimic what they would be used to in the wild it is worth digging a bit deeper into the practises of the organisation. The photos you do want to look for are examples of animals being able to exist in their natural habitat where people can visit and experience from a distance that doesn’t bother the animals.

Animals don’t have Instagram

Animals don't have Instagram, and no we aren't talking about the guy down the road who made an Instagram account for his poodle. What we mean by this is that animals may not want to be a part of your selfie and it is up to us to respect that decision.  Firstly, it is important to bear in mind that you can be putting yourself in danger trying to get that perfect snap; particularly if you are turning your back on a wild animal and not paying full attention to your surroundings. Secondly, selfies may seem harmless to us but for wild animals it may be quite the opposite.  Luring an animal away from its natural habitat for a photo could potentially cause them harm, but also the flash of the camera or the sound of the shutter could scare the animal putting them, you and anyone you are with in danger.

While we’re discussing selfies with animals, it should be noted that photos with tigers, bears and other animals could be deemed as unethical. Although the experience may be advertised as humane, it may not be at the animals’ best interests. In some cases, these animals may have been sedated to ensure they remain calm during photographs with tourists.

There are of course more ethical ways to capture a photo of a wild animal because after all, who wouldn’t want to capture that incredible moment? The best way to do this is to take the photo from a safe distance where the animal won't notice. This can be done through the use of a long-range lens and using a camera with a quiet shutter sound. When doing this it is important to not destroy or alter the surrounding habitat and to be cautious about making your presence known to the animal.

Respect their house

When visiting a wild animal’s natural habitat, it is important to remember that it is their home and it must be treated with respect. This means not altering the habitat, avoiding any dens or nests and overall trying to avoid disturbing the environment.

You also want to keep your rubbish on your person and avoid littering at all costs. We’ve all seen David Attenborough where animals have sadly died because they have ingested or become tangled in litter. So, as we like to say – make sure you leave nothing but a footprint.    

Keep your food to yourself

Now you might think that you are being kind and helpful by feeding a wild animal, but the likelihood is, you might be doing more harm than good. In most cases, it is better to avoid feeding any kind of food to a wild animal. Most wild animals have specific diets, so eating human food can lead to various health issues.


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