"If we can get people excited about animals, then by crikey, it makes it a heck of a lot easier to save them."
Animal tourism can be a touchy subject for many people, myself included.
With many wildlife attractions pulling in millions of tourists every year and practicing brutal animal cruelty behind the scenes, it's important to raise awareness and learn to differentiate the ethical from the abusive.
Our rule of thumb is this: if you can hug it, ride it, take a selfie with it, or watch it perform a stupid human trick, take your money elsewhere.
Start by reading up on which attractions are abusive. This is an informative article and a great website to look around.
We can make a difference in the animal tourism industry
"You know what I like about people? Their dogs."
I've always been very much in love with animals and wildlife. In high school I wanted to major in Ethology (the study of animal behavior) and move to Africa to work with lions. I drove my mom (and my vet) crazy bringing home hurt or hungry animals every other day.
I've always been passionate about travel, and the thing I'm always most excited about when visiting other places is learning about and seeing their wildlife. And I mean all kinds of wildlife...I think I took more pictures of stray cats in Greece than the Parthenon.
Don't worry, I brought them my leftovers from every meal.
The first step we can take in putting an end to the suffering of tourist attraction animals is to spend our money elsewhere, like a charity! I like what Nomadic Matt has to say: "vote with your dollars". The great thing about seeing animals in their natural habitat is that it's often free, and while voluntourism or paying for ethical animal trips can be expensive, you can feel confident that your money is helping rather than hurting animals.
Sure, I am envious that so many of my Facebook friends have cuddled up to a dolphin, that looks incredible! But there are a lot of alternatives that don't put an animal's welfare at risk. Don't get me wrong, I'm not judging my Facebook friends. The issue is not with the tourists but with general awareness surrounding the issue. There aren't enough sites, blogs, activists, and honest and ethical animal tourism practices. So, when your resort asks if you want to go play with dolphins, you say yes. I get it!
Best practices for ethical wildlife travel and animal tourism
The key is keeping wildlife in the wild.
1. Take a responsible safari - World Safaris is known to be one of America's most responsible and ethical wildlife tourism companies with a multitude of change-making trips in Africa, the Americas, and Australia.
2. Visit and volunteer places that are concerned solely with rescue and rehabilitation - Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand is a rehabilitation center where your visits and volunteering help the elephants.
3. Stick to natural habitats, natural parks, and reservations - Check out this list by WWF and NatHab.
4. Volunteer - Do a google search and you will find thousands of options for volunteering to help animals all over the world. I encourage you not to forget about the cats and dogs that are suffering all over North America and the world, so check out volunteering for humansociety.org.
5. Visit a luxury wildlife lodge (do your research first) - Playa Cativo Lodge is a luxury beachfront rainforest lodge surrounded by protected areas of rainforest where you are likely to see sloths, monkeys, toucans, and more all living in their unspoiled habitat.
6. The most important practice of all? Follow the rules and be reasonable. If there's a red line you're not supposed to cross, don't cross it, it's there for a reason. For the love of animals, give them their space and take the experts seriously - don't worry, your pictures will still be good.
I want to add a disclaimer because I know offering advice about animal welfare in any capacity can be controversial: I am not an expert, I am just someone who loves animals. I want to do my part in embracing my passion for wildlife and travel by endorsing ethical travel practices. No hate, no judgment, no assumptions. Let's just all convene over a love for animals.