Nearly all travelers love the thrill of getting up close and personal with animals – and the wilder they are, the better. However, what they often don’t consider is how these animals are treated in order to make animal encounters, such as elephant rides and photo ops with tigers, a reality.
The ethics of wildlife experiences is one of the many controversial issues covered in National Geographic magazine’s feature story “Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism.”
It’s not easy to figure out how to humanely observe animals, but one way you can assess the way a facility treats its animals is by referring to the standards recognized internationally in the “five freedoms” which were inspired by the U.K. in 1965. Here are some tips for how to go about viewing wildlife on your next venture.
Research ahead of time to discover what facilities seem to care for their animals ethically. Just because a zoo has a high rating on TripAdvisor doesn’t mean that it’s humane. Read reviews to see if the animals have been well-fed and have access to clean water at all times.
When you’re at the facility, keep your eyes open and look around you to see what the space provides. Do the animals seem comfortable and happy? Are their environments appropriate? Do they have ample space, somewhere to get away from the crowds, and a comfortable resting area?
Watch out for buzzwords like “sanctuary” and “rescue,” especially if a facility is making these sorts of claims while also offering extensive interaction to large volumes of people. Most likely, it’s not true!
Some things will be hard not to notice, like visibly injured animals or ones that have been cajoled into participating in entertaining activities that could be potentially harmful. Any time an animal that is meant to be wild is giving rides to the tourist is chained, or anything else unnatural to it, it’s just not right. Also, simply observe whether or not their enclosures are kept up and cleaned.
Do your part in treating the animals with dignity. Large crowds and unnatural noises cause them distress, so be cautious and considerate while you are around them, especially those ones that have experienced some sort of trauma.
Do your best to encourage and participate in experiences that take place in an animal’s natural environment.
It takes each of us to change the industry of global wildlife tourism. Every one of us that makes a conscious decision to only support facilities that treat their animals ethically helps to transform the industry for the better.