Animal Tourism: What's Right And What's Wrong

There’s nothing more exciting than seeing a wild animal for the first time in reality instead of on TV, although David Attenborough is almost good enough. You take as many pictures as you can but it will never fully capture the moment when you see it with your own eyes.

Unfortunately, some people have noticed how much others are willing to chase this feeling and started to put a price tag on it. Nature has become a commodity. There have been calculations suggesting that between 20% and 40% of the tourism GDP is made up of attraction which negatively impact the wildlife.

Up to 560,000 wild animals are reported to be currently used and abused as part of the global tourism industry, but the actual number is creeping into the millions.


Which Animals Are Affected By Tourism?

Big cats, elephants and whales are amongst the many species which are exploited for tourism, however every animal from dolphins and turtles to apes and bears are used to entertain crowds and make money.

Elephant rides have recently been exposed in the news as psychologically and physically damaging to the animals. 3/4 elephants in south-east Asia’s popular tourist destinations are made to give people rides and The Guardian calculated that upwards of 12.8 million tourists have been on or plan on going on elephant rides in Thailand. Yet, the deeply unethical nature makes it hard to believe so many people would consider it. Did you know that 77% of those captive elephants are tied up with chains that are less than three metres long night and day? Most elephants are taken from the wild solely for this purpose then beaten and caged in a torturous practice called ‘the crush’ until they submit to the human owners of these “sanctuaries”.


black and white image of elephants


And it’s not just these gentle giants who are being abused for entertainment. Big cats like cheetahs, tigers and lions are sometimes drugged to be complacent for tourists to take pictures with them, or bred in cages behind the scenes so there were always some cute cubs to cuddle. For instance, the Tiger Temple in Bangkok keeps their tigers in cages and makes them perform. It was revealed that the mothers and cubs are separated as soon the babies can survive on their own, which forces the female back into heat. This is so that two litters are born each year, rather than once every two years as it happens in the wild, thus generating more profit and keeping up with the demand from tourists. They have even been known to participate and facilitate the black market sales of tigers.


close up of a tiger


The king of animal tourism is, of course, SeaWorld. Anyone who has watched the 2013 documentary Blackfish knows exactly what we’re talking about. Orca whales are highly intelligent and sociable creatures so when they’re separated and put into tanks which are too small for them to swim in, it has an extremely negative impact on their wellbeing. They miscarry, die prematurely, develop arthritis, as well as becoming extremely depressed and isolated. Hundreds of thousands of families still flock to the park to sit in the Splash Zone as these giants perform tricks for them.


two killer whales in the wild


It’s all boils down to the fact that animals are continually exploited and abused by humans for money. Of course, we’re fascinated by these incredible creatures but surely our amusement shouldn’t come at the cost of another creature’s life?


Is there good animal tourism?

Yes, positive animal tourism is out there! In fact, 25% of wildlife attraction positively impact the welfare of the animals that are involved. There are amazing safari experiences which allow you to enter genuine habitats in the wild and see creatures in their natural state. You can also take trips of whale and dolphin watching boats which promote sustainability and respect for the sea. However, please be careful when booking any of these experiences though, as some advertise to be sustainable when in reality, they’re as bad as any of the others. Before you hand over any money, do your research.


How can I spot bad animal tourism?

  • Are the animals out of their natural habitats, such as a whale not in the ocean or a tiger out of the jungle?

  • Are the animals kept in cages?

  • Are the animals tied with chains or ropes which restrict their movement in any way, even if it means they can stand but not walk around?

  • Are they made to behave unnaturally, for instance being trained, performing or doing tricks?

  • Are wild animals sleepy and docile?

  • Do they display any outbursts of aggressive behaviour, directed towards the staff members in particular?

  • Are the offspring separate from their mother? Or are you not even able to see the mother?

These are things which you can recognise immediately but we truly believe that the only way you can make an informed decision is if you do your research.


What should I research?

First of all, look into the place you’re planning on visiting. More and more so-called sanctuaries are being exposed but there is still an astronomical number of illegal or immoral practices taking place all over the world. If you do some digging, you’ll find articles, reviews and pictures from people who’ve already been. TripAdvisor promised that they wouldn’t promote any attractions which are known to exploit animals for entertainment. We do the same.

Research the animal’s characteristics in the wild. A David Attenborough or National Geographic documentary is a good place to start. This means you’ll know if the way they’re behaving is natural or not. If you see an animal acting in a way that contradicts what’s normal for them, you can be fairly certain that they have been physically or psychology beaten into submission.


TransferTravel’s promise

We do not allow listings which support negative animal tourism to be posted in the TransferTravel marketplace. We do not support an industry which capitalises on animal’s pain.


Where can I find more information?

This a very bare-bones approach to responsible animal tourism and we have barely scratched the surface. If you’re looking for more information about how you can help and how to avoid these attractions:

Every day new problems are arising in the industry and places are being exposed for their poor practices. If you are not sure or can’t find any research about somewhere you’re thinking of visiting, don’t visit it. It’s better to not risk putting your money in the hands of animal abusers.


  • Sustainable destinations
Posted 21 December 2018

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