Updated: Dec 20, 2022
Some wildlife tourism can have a negative impact on animals, such as animal shows, zoos, selfies, and animal rides. Seeing wildlife up close is a special experience when travelling, but it is important to make sure that the animals are safe and healthy, and it is important for us to visit with respect and not simply for entertainment.
Why Avoid Most Wildlife Tourism?
Wildlife tourism most often involve taking the animals from their natural habitats and force them to behave in a certain way. Tourist attractions uses animals for entertainment purposes, whether that's something as simple as taking a selfie with an animal or even a dolphin performing. Workers and handlers ten to use cruel punishments with animals to force them to interact with humans, such as using violence, separating them from their companions, or even keeping them in confined spaces.
This is problematic to the ecosystem, because it might include giving them food outside of their natural/normal diet, cutting down trees and clearing forests to make room/space for enclosures, or even bringing a lot of tourists to natural areas which tends to ruin them. This is upsetting the natural biological balance and causes damage to these habitats.
4 Things to Avoid + Better Alternatives
1. Zoos & Aquariums
There are many animals that live in zoos and aquariums, and you will hear a lot of arguments about how these are good for conservation purposes such as helping preserve threatened species. In reality, it is hard to say that the benefits outweigh the negatives, and there are many reasons to avoid visiting zoos and aquariums:
Wild animals shouldn't be in captivity: If wild animals who are suppose to be living and roaming freely in the wild are kept in captivity, then they will get unhappy and will be depressed (Yes animals can get depression). For example, dolphins should be swimming in the ocean but instead they are forced to live in a small pools (When I say small I am not referring to just its size, I am referring to how small it is in comparison to the ocean) and are also forces to perform, this is not replicating their natural habitats.
Animals are forced to perform: To make animals perform the way that they do, they need to be trained, the trainers most of the time treat them cruelly. Most of these animals are forced away from their mothers when they are born, they are chained or being used violently. If the zoo or the aquarium has an animal performance show, then this is a red flag.
It upsets their natural rhythm: Let's take lions and tigers as an example here, they are normally living in the wild where they are active in the morning or even at night, now what happens when we put them in zoos, they are put in a confined or a small area, zoos are open all day long, people watch them, and their natural rhythm and biology has to change. This will cause them stress.
Animals can get into depression: As I mentioned above, yes animals can get depression, there are some animals that commit suicide in captivity. Most animals are smart and they can suffer from mental health problems, and some can even go as far as self-mutilation.
Alternatives to Zoos & Aquariums
Instead of visiting a zoo, how about visiting an ethical wildlife sanctuary, but make sure to do your research first before visiting. Instead of visiting an aquarium, how about snorkling instead, or you can even volunteer for a charity like Sea Turtle Conservancy in Costa Rica where they focus on education, research and preservation of sea life. You can also participate in a beach clean up to make oceans a better and safe place to sea life. You can also get your PADI diving certificate so you can see life underwater, you can get your certificate from countries such as Egypt or Thailand.
2. Riding Animals
Riding animals is not ethical at all, this is a way for people to make money while exploiting animals for entertainment purposes. Being from Egypt, you get to see camel rides near the Pyramids, even though these creatures have been used for transportation for centuries, but now they are used to entertain tourists and earn money. For example, why take a camel ride while visiting the Pyramids when it is easily done on foot?
Donkey rides is another issue, the donkeys are tied up in extreme hot weather conditions, without water and with the owner hitting them consistently. They are cared for badly which cause terrible sores all over their bodies. Horse carriage is also another form of riding animals, again the horse are mistreated and beaten, and there is a huge negative impact on their health from being kept in traffic with toxic fumes. When it comes to horse back riding, be aware of the horse's body condition and the way the owner/carer is treating them, when they are excessively whopped, it is not a good thing!
Riding elephants is another popular thing especially in Asia, it is important to remember that these animals are suppose to be living freely in the wild. Despite this, humans think that they are calm and human-loving creatures, to get them to this stated, they are given drugs, or similar to lions and tigers, they are taken from their mothers at birth and kept in confined spaces and chained in order to allow them to interact with humans.
Alternatives to Riding Animals
If you are riding animals solely for the purpose of entertainment, then this is a red flag! Also, if animal riding can be replaces with walking or taking a form of transportation, then it should be a no as well. Remember, the less money you put into these things, the more likely they are to diminish.
3. Wildlife Experiences
Wildlife experiences can include walking with lions, feeding crocodiles, or even diving with sharks. These experiences can cause a lot of issues when it comes to upsetting the ecosystem. You have crocodile farms that gives you the opportunity to feed them or even take selfies with them, shark diving is another thing, but in order for the sharks to be lured to the cages, they put minced fish into the ocean to lure them, and this not only upset the ecosystem but it can lead sharks to associate humans for food which will then result in them being aggressive toward humans. Walking with lions is another issue, again if you are in the wild you will not be approaching them, but because they are on drugs and chained, you are able to do so, and they are also kept in cruel conditions.
Ethical Alternatives to Wildlife Experiences
Take part in tours that doesn't impact the lives of the animals, and gives you the opportunity to be respectful. An example would be going on a safari trip with trained guides where you are able to observe the animals quietly from a distance.
4. Wildlife Sanctuaries
So, I mentioned wildlife sanctuaries as being an ethical alternative to zoos, but let's be real, most sanctuaries are not even ethical. If you find a sanctuary that gives you the opportunity to interact with the animals, then it is not ethical and it should be avoided. Sanctuaries will go as far as using words such as "Roaming Freely", "Wildlife Protection", or "Conservation" but still it doesn't mean that they are ethical, they are just making you feel good about yourself. You would find sanctuaries that claim to save animals such as elephants, but then they would still offer you the opportunity to ride them!
There are other activities such as tiger selfies which are very popular in Asia, now if you were in the wild, you wouldn't approach a tiger or a lion, right? In order for you to take a selfie with these amazing creatures, they are given drugs for you to be able to calmly interact with them in these sanctuaries. Again, these tigers are separated from their mothers at birth, and are chained and kept in small and confined spaces for them to be trained so that you can interact with them.
Alternatives to Wildlife Sanctuaries
The alternative here is to find sanctuaries that are actually ethical, and even though it might be hard, but do your research and you will find many. Make sure that it works in conservation and doesn't allow you to interact with the animals in any way. You can even chose an experience in the wild such as a safari trip or a canoe ride where you can be lucky and see the animals in their natural habitat.
What Can We Do to Improve Wildlife Tourism?
We should do our best to protect our wildlife because we are lucky to have incredible wildlife on our planet. We now live in an age where there is a lot of ethical alternatives to wildlife tourism, which allows us to protect and preserve animals while still observing. These alternatives can be ethical sanctuaries that for example rehabilitate injured elephants and then releasing them into the wild afterwards where they belong.
Raising awareness of the danger of wildlife tourism is important since most people are not even aware of it, doing something as simple as recommending a documentary to a friend will help, you can also sign a petition or even take part in some type of volunteer work or taking part in tree plantation scheme.