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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.
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.
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.
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.