Last month, I was ecstatic to hear that TripAdvisor, one of the world's largest travel websites, and its ticket sales company, Viator, had decided that they will no longer sell tickets to hundreds of tourist attractions that are widely accepted as harmful to the wild animals involved.
The decision, the first of its kind by a leading travel booking site, came after a study, published by Oxford's Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) in collaboration with World Animal Protection, raised concerns about certain wildlife tourist attractions including elephant rides, swimming-with-dolphin experiences and the petting of endangered species like tigers.
This is exciting because unfortunately, although this issue has resonated with more than 558,000 people across the world, working out which wildlife tourist attractions are ethical, is not an easy task. It is often very difficult to tell the difference between attractions that have an overall positive impact on wild animals and those that cause a great deal of unnecessary suffering.
Sadly, there are also a number of unscrupulous wildlife tourist attractions so fixated on making a profit that they are prepared to use clever marketing - something as simple as using the words "conservation" or "welfare" on their websites, when they are far from beneficial to any wild animal in their care.
To complicate things even further, there are also certain mind-sets that we, as tourists, adopt whilst in 'holiday mode' that can make us even more susceptible to these ploys. In recognition of this fact, here are a few important things to consider before you spend your hard-earned tourist cash:
- 'Ignorance is Bliss' - When we are on holiday many of us want to simply switch off, relax and just go with the flow. Often, researching tourist attractions is the last thing on our mind. However, if you care about wild animals, it is important to find out all you can before you book, to ensure you are not unwittingly taking part in an activity that could be harmful to the animals.
- 'Following the Leader' - On holiday we are also typically surrounded by and actively seek out the unfamiliar. In these types of situations, it can be tempting to take cues from others, like tour guides and other tourists, with regards to what holiday activities are okay to take part in. However, remember that just because an activity is offered to or is popular among tourists, this does not necessarily mean adequate animal welfare regulations are in place.
- 'When in Rome' - We often want to fully experience local culture and take part in traditions. Unfortunately, this may cause us to temporarily put some of our own ethical values 'on hold' and, as a result, we may visit attractions that we would usually avoid. Although local culture should of course be respected, it should never be used as an excuse for animal cruelty.
Given just how difficult it is to be an ethical wildlife tourist, I am encouraged to hear that a new much needed, source of information for tourists is being created by TripAdvisor, using information provided by expert wildlife organizations like World Animal Protection and WildCRU. Once up and running, this "education portal" should be our go-to, before we book any wildlife tourist attractions.
In the meantime, don't be afraid to ask questions about wildlife tourist activities. Attractions with genuine benefits will be happy to talk about them and give you further details. Be an ethical tourist and do your research before you travel.
For more information about responsible wildlife tourism please click here.