Ethical Ways to See Exotic Animals

Swimming with dolphins, cuddling with a lion cub, riding an elephant.

While these are all great opportunities for an Instagram-worthy picture, they aren’t always fair to the animals involved.

The ethical treatment of wildlife has been the subject of debate for quite some time now, and rightfully so. Many tourist attractions around the world mistreat animals to make money, often by abusing or neglecting them. If you’d like to experience wildlife up-close without contributing to this nasty cycle of inhumane treatment, keep these things in mind.

Steer clear of attractions where animals perform unnatural tricks.  

If a wild animal is riding a bike, dancing, or performing any other sort of human trick, it probably went through a lot of harsh training first. Bullhooks, whips, chains, electric prods, and even starvation are all common methods used to train animals to perform. Before you buy a ticket to the circus, keep in mind what your purchase is costing the animals.

Keep a respectful distance.  

While you may be eager to get as close as possible to the animals for a good picture or a chance to touch them, it’s important to keep a respectful distance at all times. Getting too close poses a risk for both you and the animal. They may see you as a threat and react negatively to your presence, and you could risk their wellbeing. There are many animals, ranging from birds to mammals, that could be rejected by their parents after being touched by a human.

Skip the selfies.

In an age where Facebook likes trump all else, it’s tempting to pose for a selfie with a monkey or have your photo taken while cuddling a tiger cub. Unfortunately, the picture isn’t always worth what the animal has to go through. Many wild animals that are used for photos are bred in captivity or bought illegally. When they grow and are no longer small or cute enough to pose for pictures, they’re often auctioned off or killed. Skip the selfie to avoid supporting these methods.

Only visit animal sanctuaries that are actually sanctuaries.

After the scandal surrounding Thailand’s Tiger Temple—a popular tourist attraction cited for animal abuse—it became evident that not all animal sanctuaries are actually places of safety and refugee. Before you plan a trip to one, make sure you do your research. WASP International (short for World Animal Sanctuary Protections) provides a comprehensive list of sanctuaries they deem to be ethical. Those on the list enforce certain sets of rules that prohibit things like captive breeding, physical contact from visitors, and removal of animals from the wild that aren’t in need of rescue. At these ethical sanctuaries around the world, you can see a range of wild animals up-close without compromising their welfare.

Ultimately, seeing wildlife the ethical way comes down to proper research. If you’re unsure of whether or not the reserve you want to visit or the tour you want to take is ethical, look for their animal welfare policy. If you can’t find it or it isn’t clear, this could likely mean they mistreat the animals. Search for another opportunity where it’s easy to see that the animals’ wellbeing comes above all else.

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About The Author

A lover of travel, Caroline Housel has spent a lot of time studying and working abroad. Her favorite destinations include London, Amsterdam, and anywhere in France.

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