We need to talk about animal tourism!

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We’ve all seen them…the selfies on Instagram of tourists posing with docile-looking tigers or riding on the back of an elephant. And, we’ve all heard of Seaworld and other attractions that provide the opportunity to touch, ride or otherwise interact with animals.

But, are these attractions just harmless fun or is there something more sinister to be aware of?

First off, I will say that as a child I visited Seaworld and thought it was the best thing ever. I even pledged that one day I would become a dolphin trainer myself. I have also ridden horses along a beach in The Gambia in 40-degree heat and thought nothing of it. Once upon a time, I was ignorant to the harsh realities of how these animals are treated, until someone educated me.

We need to talk about animal tourism! - Orca Killer Whale

It’s true that we have a fascination with the many incredible animals on this planet. And that’s a good thing. I love animals and want nothing more than to cuddle a tiger or swim with dolphins. But would I do it if I knew the animals had been beaten, starved and taken from their mothers as soon as they were born? Absolutely not!

It makes me feel sick to think that travel companies profit from the cruel mistreatment of animals and I want no part in contributing to that problem.

Of course, if you ask companies up front, they will tell you as many lies as they need to get you through the gate. They will lyingly say that their animals are well-treated and fed regularly. They will tell you that the animals have plenty of space to roam around. But what goes on behind the scenes is an entirely different story.

Take, for example, the very popular practice of riding elephants. This business has boomed over the last few years with the increase in backpackers making their way across South-East Asia. While the elephants may seem happy to let you hop on their backs, it’s important to know the truth.

We need to talk about animal tourism! - Performing Dolphin

Elephants are often separated from their mothers as soon as they are born and are continually beaten into submission. Trainers use implements to inflict severe physical pain and deprive them of food and water to force the elephants to breaking point. And, if that’s not enough, these beautiful creatures are often kept in chains with limited space to move. Do you still think it’s cool to post that picture on Instagram?

I could go on all day about this, telling you in detail how tigers are treated at Thailand’s Tiger Kingdom or explaining how many of the performing dolphins are caught, but I think you get the picture.

Travel is amazing and it can widen your horizons and change how you see the world. But, the effects of irresponsible tourists are very real. And we all have our own part to play. If you’re an animal lover like me and want to see animals up close and personal, just please do your research first.

We need to talk about animal tourism!
Photo by Chaz McGregor on Unsplash

When deciding whether to support an attraction, ask yourself if the particular practice is against the animals nature. Would a wild elephant normally let you jump on its back? No! Would tigers let you stroke their face? Of course not! I’ll let you do the maths.

There are many companies, sanctuaries and centres that work towards rescuing animals that are endangered or have been mistreated. Support these instead. Do your research and spread awareness!

You can probably tell that this is a topic I am very passionate about. I think it’s extremely important to be aware of problems in the animal tourism industry and not be another ignorant tourist. So, if you have ever visited an attraction that exploits animals for entertainment and thought nothing of it, I hope you’ll take something from this post and consider boycotting them in the future.

Have your say on this issue. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Further reading: I recently came across an article from ‘World Animal Protection’ listing some of the world’s cruellest attractions. It makes for a very interesting, if not disturbing, read and really highlights the disgusting treatment of the animals in these places. 

All photos in this article were sourced from a free stock photography website. They were not taken by me and do not belong to me. 

22 thoughts on “We need to talk about animal tourism!

  1. Best blog yet 👍 well written and diplomatically put. I agree with you totally but the only thing I also think is that these poor people in 3rd world countries are just trying make a living by any means possible and it raises the question – for which greater good?

    I unfortunately don’t think I’m going to be able to afford to go to Berlin 🙁 Sorry to let you down. We’ll have to plan somewhere in the new year perhaps when I have my finances a bit more sorted! Xxx

    Sent from my iPhone


    1. Thanks Laur. I see your point but personally, I don’t think that justifies brutal and disgusting cruelty to a living thing, animal or human. This is just my viewpoint and I don’t want to be a part of any kind of cruelty. I want to raise awareness so people can use the facts to decide if they support it or not. It’s surprising the amount of people that don’t even ask the question of how these animals are treated, as I once didn’t. And I think it’s important to be aware of these things.

      Don’t worry about Berlin. Thank J and I will take a trip to Italia instead 🙂

  2. I agree completely! Whenever I see photos of people riding elephants or posing with tigers, my heart breaks a little! Sometimes people are just unaware, and other times people just don’t care, which is crazy to me. This is an issue I’d love to see brought up into conversation more often.

    1. It upsets me lots too! I tried to make a friend aware today and unfortunately she deleted my comment and didn’t reply. Makes me very sad that people make an informed decision to support these disgusting places 🙁

      1. Oh noooo that’s awful! I see some posts about well-informed bloggers riding elephants and I just never know what to say!! I mean, they know how awful it is, and I’m just absolutely dumbfounded how they support the activities!

  3. Ooooh, some really interesting thoughts here. I completely agree that voting with our tourist $$, as you suggest (well, I’m paraphrasing, but accurately I think), is the best way that we can protest and ultimately shut down inhumane practices. Plus, there are definitely ways that you can ethically support animal rehabilitation and conservation, with amazing experiences to boot – directing our $$ to those causes will leave the world a better place. Thank you for sharing your insight!!

  4. Thank you for this!! I know people are attracted to these experiences because they love the animals, but we need to get the word out that if you truly care for these creatures, you should NOT be exploiting them. As you said, there are so many options for ethically interacting with wildlife – it just takes a little research, which is well worth it!

    1. Yes! I would love to cuddle a tiger, who wouldn’t!? But not one that has been drugged, beaten and starved. Just no! It’s really important to spread awareness and get the word out 🙂 thanks for your comment x

  5. So important! When I was a kid I went to SeaWorld and swam with dolphins, but felt uncomfortable even then. Now I know better, but I still make mistakes. I went dolphin watching in Bali and was assured the tour did not harm the animals, but once we were out on the boats I realised I’d been lied to – boats full of tourists chasing pods of dolphins. The best we can do is learn from our experiences and share them with others so that they are better informed too. Thanks for sharing!

    1. It’s so difficult, isn’t it? Naturally, we want to see animals, because they are amazing, beautiful creatures. But it can be really tough to decide which experiences are ethical and which are destructive! I agree, learning from our experiences and sharing with others is the only way to help. Thanks for your comment 🙂

  6. 100% agree. The people that make me saddest are not those who don’t know better, but are saddened and reformed once advised of the realities behind their experience… but those who do know and don’t give a damn. What does it say for humanity if we cannot put being humane above our selfish pleasures?

    1. Those are my thoughts exactly. I was one blissfully unaware of the horrible truths in this industry, but as soon as I realised I was so upset that I had contributed and vowed never to support animal cruelty again. All we can do is try and spread awareness of the issues and hope people listen!

  7. This is such an important topic – thank you for helping to raise it’s profile. To me it feels like an important part of asking what is truly authentic about our travel experiences. It’s also a part of questioning and putting aside things which might feel a part of our heritage. In the UK, there’s still a lot of nostalgia for donkey rides along British beaches – and sometimes it’s hard to put aside the memories of previous generations and postcards of the past and remember that these animals deserve not to work in hot weather, on difficult surfaces and with heavy loads. When you put it that way, it can be easier to realise it may not be the kindest thing to participate in. It’s important to always try to look at things with a fresh, and questioning, pair of eyes.

    1. Yes! Anything which involves animals I tend to stay well clear of. Even if the trainers/keepers swear they look after the animals well, we just don’t know what goes on behind the scenes. It doesn’t take much effort to research an attraction online and it can make a small but significant difference if we spread the awareness on this topic! Thanks for your comment 🙂 x

  8. I’ve once been this ignorant child, unfortunately. Kids just don’t know it any better and sometimes adults neither. Education is key for everything. I’m now traveling with much greater awareness and I even do fundraising for a wildlife conservation NGO and I love it. I quit my normal 9-5 job to see the world and do some good for this planet. If everybody would do a little bit, that would already help a lot.

    1. That’s great! Well done you. So inspiring to hear your story of trying to do some good for the planet. You are completely right, if we all did a small amount it would make a huge difference overall. Well done and keep doing what you’re doing!

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