Ethical Traveller: 8 Tourist Activities to Avoid in Order to Stop Animal Abuse

Ethical Traveller: 8 Tourist Activities to Avoid in Order to Stop Animal Abuse
Studies have shown that carrying people on their backs is harmful to these gentle giants, Photo Credit: Cocos Bounty / Shutterstock
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From elephant rides to dolphin spotting, your holiday plans could be resulting in much suffering for animals. We've put together a checklist of things you should not be doing if you are an ethical traveller

Manisha Nainani
February 02 , 2022
10 Min Read

Taking a step back, let’s think about the first time we saw any wild animal; It was either a zoo or a circus or joy rides. We keep on introducing our children to wild animals confined in a caged environment and teach them that it is an act of love to be around animals like that and ride them. Our awe for these animals might have begun from our love for Dumbo, Finding Dory or the adventurous Life of Pi, but humans have always wanted to be closer to these magnificent creatures of the wild.

However, before we book our tickets for any such tourist attraction, we need to learn and teach our next generation from a younger age itself that all animals have a designated place in the ecosystem and letting them stay as is, would be the truest form of love we can show towards them. It is best to avoid joy rides, selfies with sloths or tigers, or elephant baths, we tend to make them a part of our travel bucket list. Here is a list of things to avoid doing as a tourist or while travelling if we want to save these creatures from cruelty and extinction.

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Say No to Elephant Rides and Baths 

The most common and highest-selling tourist attraction in Thailand, Sri Lanka and India is elephant rides. However, experts suggest that elephants have severe spine issues as their backs are not suitable to carry humans or seats. In an interview in 2016 with The Dodo, president of Elephant Aid International, Carol Buckley, explained elephants have jagged bony protrusions that rise upwards from their spine instead of smooth, circular spinal discs which makes it painful and difficult for them to carry tourists.

This report highlights shocking abuse of elephants at tourist sites. 

A report by National Geographic in 2016 showcased the plight of temple elephants during a festival in Kerala where the animals are compelled to walk three times around the temple before being taken in front of the altar or in front of the temple, to bow down. Three or four males are already perched atop elephants as well as a large plaque is placed on them when they bow down. The report also suggested that the elephants' delicate spines bear a total weight of roughly 500 pounds.

Next time you are in Goa, check if the spice plantation you are visiting has elephants, because several reports have stated that these gentle giants are not being looked after well. Similarly, many temple elephants suffer cruelty and this issue has been highlighted in several reports, studies and documentaries. Check out the documentary Gods in Shackles which is all about the treatment of temple elephants. 

Given all this, it is heartening to note that the protests against animal abuse in tourism has led to some positive results - like travel and tour company Thomas Cook have stopping the promotion of elephant rides and shows. 

Check If It's Really 'Animal-Friendly'

As the tourists have become aware over time, many tour providers have started marketing their tours as animal friendly. However, plenty of these are mere changes in name while continuing the same harmful practices to make the animals tame enough to let people feed, walk around, touch or bathe them. Reports by organisations like PETA and World Animal Protection have highlighted how wlephant rides, tiger cub selfies, dolphin shows and other wild animal circus-style performances are all big business for travel companies, allowing them to rake in profits from tourists. In fact, World Animal Protection has brought our a report, Tracking the Travel Industry, which exposes the companies that promote animal cruelty through the tours and excursions they sell, and those that are winning for wildlife, such as Airbnb, which scored the highest. They have ranked Airbnb, Tripadvisor, Expedia and other world leading travel companies for their commitment to animal welfare, in our new report – the first of its kind. More about it here.

Don't Get Up Close and Personal

The Cayman Islands are home to the world's last remaining sea turtle farm that serves as a tourist attraction. During their stay, visitors can hold turtles and even eat them. Sea turtles at the Cayman Turtle Farm suffer from stress and sickness. When they are handled, they often become agitated, and tourists have been known to drop them, resulting in serious injuries. As mentioned by The Smithsonian in a 2018 article, there are seven species of sea turtles left today, with the majority of them categorised as vulnerable to extinct on the IUCN Red List. These ancient reptiles, which have existed since the time of the dinosaurs, may be extinct unless we take action to save them.

Using Animals as Photo Props

Tourists in Pattaya, Thailand

Talking about the wild animals, it was reported by The Smithsonian in 2017 that tigers have become the newest prey to the selfie trend by tourists whereby these animals were drugged so they stay calm while tourists take photos. The drugging of animals for selfies doesn’t stop at tigers, but extends to lion cubs and sloths so that humans can hold and pat them. Research by the US National Library of Medicine suggests that sloths used for selfies are handled in ways that are likely to jeopardise their welfare, with their heads and limbs manipulated for poses. They also act in ways that could reflect fear and tension.

Read more about the impact of selfie tourism on animals in this report of a detailed study. The report says that the use of wild animals as photo props is prevalent across the globe and is widely recognised to represent a potential animal welfare concern. However, detailed information regarding the specific impacts of such activity on wild animal behaviour is currently lacking. 

Nowadays, you will often find camels in spaces like the beaches of Odisha. They are brought for propping tourist activities. But this is not something you may want to encoutage. This report outlines the reasons very well: In India, camels are native to Rajasthan and Gujarat; their physiology is suited to a dry desert climate (hot day, cool night) because they can go for long periods without drinking water and their padded feet are suited to soft desert sands. Camels therefore find it difficult to walk long distances and adjust to humid climatic conditions since they are desert animals.

Check That Animal Product Before You Buy

Many tourism sites like Jaisalmer in Rajasthan which promote camel rides also sell products made out of camel leather. Upon asking how the leather is obtained, it is suggested that it comes from the naturally dead camels. However, what these sellers don’t let the tourists know is that out of all the camels owned, those unfit for giving rides are killed to obtain leather. These products are not limited to camel leather, many animal and reptile skins, horns, spiders, and butterflies, turtle shells, seashells, and coral, ivory, and some traditional medicines are among this list and should be avoided while visiting any such places. Read more about it here.

A PETA investigation conducted across the world from Texas to Zimbabwe, documented the appalling conditions in which animals are raised and/or killed for “luxury” Birkin bags, belts, and watchbands. Alligators are packed in dank pools and crocodiles are crowded in barren concrete pits for months or even years before finally being slaughtered for their skins.


Avoid Staying in Farms or Hotels That Involve Wild Animals

We are talking about cafes, resorts and hotels curated in such a manner that their most important selling feature is the wildlife surrounding them. Not only do these restaurants keep animals in an abusive environment to make them human friendly, but also serve exquisites made out of these animals. Some of the most popular examples are bushmeat, foie gras, tiger wine, shark fin, whale or turtle meat, snake blood and civet coffee. A report by PETA revealed the poor living conditions of these creatures. A PETA Asia investigator visited civet coffee farms in Indonesia and the Philippines, two of the world’s top producers of kopi luwak. Undercover footage from these farms—some of which falsely advertise their coffee as “wild-sourced”—shows sick, depressed civets suffering from infections and exhibiting signs of zoochosis, a stress–induced neurotic condition that causes captive animals to spin, pace, and bob their heads in constant frantic displays of frustration.

Say a No to Crocodile Farms

Crocodiles have long been raised for their skin and meat. Tourists are allowed to visit overcrowded and unsanitary facilities where reptiles are held, and even sit down for a meal afterwards. Crocodiles are kept under high-stress situations and lack food, water and space, whereby they either fight each other off to death or become vulnerable to infection and diseases like septicemia. Check this report here.

Swimming With Dolphins

One of the oldest forms of animal tourism has been around dolphins, be it the dolphin shows in Singapore or chasing Gangetic dolphins in India. However, dolphins in captivity live in spaces that are considered too tiny for them. They drink water that has been treated with harsh chemicals like chlorine, which can irritate the skin and eyes. They are also susceptible to sunburn, stomach ulcers, and other stress-related disorders. Even when not kept in captivity, there has been a shift in their natural behaviours. In research mapped by ScienceFriday in 2018, it was found that dolphins are changing their calls due to boat noises.

This report says that over 3,000 dolphins are currently trapped in cruel captive conditions at tourist entertainment venues around the world. They can live for over 50 years in a deeply miserable cycle of suffering, all to profit the multibillion-dollar dolphin tourism industry

An alternative to watch dolphins and whales without impacting them could be land watching as it has essentially little impact on the animals. Many locations across the world have spectacular cliff-top or shore-based view-points where resident groups of coastal dolphins, porpoises, or killer whales can be seen, or where migratory species such as right, humpback, or grey whales pass close to the coast, providing spectacular views as well as safety to these marine animals.

Meanwhile, it is assuring to see that people are protesting against plans to set up dolphinariums in the country. 


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