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In numerous countries it’s common practise to use animals as a form of entertainment. You can ride elephants in Thailand, watch dancing monkeys in Indonesia, swim with dolphins in Spain and take selfies with tiger cubs in the United States. Or what about strolls with lions, visits to bear pits, cuddles with sea turtles, caged civets at coffee plantations, crocodile farms and snake charming?

That’s why we we’ve made this guide, including key facts about animal tourism and information on how to distinguish unethical from ethical animal tourism. We also hand you useful things you can do when it comes to animal entertainment. 

The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.
– Mahatma Gandhi.

Elephant safari

Key facts about animal tourism*

  • More than half a million animals are living in captivity for entertainment purposes, but these are only just the registered animals.
  • Around 110 million tourists pay for cruel animal entertainment without knowing how harmful it is.
  • TripAdvisor has 50.000 reviews regarding touristic entertainment including animals and 80% of the visitors rate them positively.
  • 75% of all adult animals in captivity have been taken directly from the wild.
  • 16.000 elephants live in captivity worldwide, which is a quarter of the total number on this planet.
  • In the United States, five to tenthousand tigers are living in captivity, which is more than the amount of tigers living in the wild.

*These facts are based on information provided by World Animal Protection.


How can you recognize (un)ethical animal attractions?

The simple definition of unethical animal tourism is as follows: any situation where people exploit animals for entertainment/tourism purposes and therefore their own financial gain.

Facilities that financially gain from animal exploitation do everything in their power to make their animal entertainment seem ethical, or they market it as some sort of cultural experience. That’s why tourists actually feel like they’re doing good by paying for this kind of entertainment. Most tourists would simply not pay for activities that include maltreated or malnourished animals, but the problem is they don’t know what’s happening behind the scenes. 

Animal tourism

That’s why you should use three simple guidelines when it comes to animal tourism. One: any activity that includes animals that should be living in the wild, is a no-go. Two: all animals that act in an unnatural way during the entertainment (such as nocturnal animals posing for selfies during the day), is a no-go as well. Three: ask yourself who is benefitting from the activity. Is it the animals or the facility?

The goal of ethical animal tourism is to ensure the fair treatment of animals above all else. This can be done by observing the animals in their natural habitat, instead of seeing them behind bars. By spotting animals in the wild, the awareness about animal conservation and protection can also increase. 

Animal Tourism
Animal tourism

The do’s regarding animal tourism

We’ll now list some of the things you can do to either enjoy animals in an ethical way or contribute to the conservation and protection of animals.

1. Enjoy animals in their natural habitat. Go on a safari or a boat trip and watch the animals from a distance. National parks are also a great place to go animal spotting. But keep in mind: never disturb, touch or feed them.

2. Do your research. When you’re considering enganging in an activity including animals, go online. Read reviews from fellow travellers, look at photos from the facility to see the living conditions, find out about the facility itself and see what kind of animal activities they’re offering. Use the guidelines from this article and your common sense to judge whether the facility is ethical.

3. See whether you can contribute to (local) nature and animal conservancy projects, either by donating money or volunteering. In this way, you help change animals’ lives in a positive way. For example, we donated money to a care clinic for street dogs in Sri Lanka, where they feed malnourished dogs and give medical assistance to injured dogs. 

TIP: Another way to impact millions of animal lives in a positive way, is by switching to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle. Read our blog about useful travel apps for vegetarians/vegans here

Sri Lanka
Unawatuna Sri Lanka

4. Realise that you are the market. By abstaining from any form of unethical animal tourism, you’re depriving these facilities from the funds they use for continuing their business. This will hopefully make them shift to ethical ways of making a living.

5. In addition to number 4, make sure the money you spend goes to the locals. If you abstain from spending money on large international tour companies, your money will end up in the right place and hopefully remove the need to create unethical animal attractions.

6. Last but not least: tell your friends, families and travel buddies about your findings. As we mentioned earlier, many tourists are unaware of the harm that most animal attractions inflict. By sharing your knowledge, you can help them make better choices in the future. And hopefully they’ll tell others as well!

Elephant safari

Finally, it’s important to realize that everyone makes mistakes. A decision regarding unethical animal attractions was probably made in good belief at the time, but with the knowledge you have know seems wrong. That’s fine. We visited SeaWorld Orlando some years ago, simply because back then we weren’t aware of the harm the facility inflicted. Now, we would make a totally different decision. Therefore, the most important thing to do is to stop contributing to animal entertainment now and spread the word about it.

If you have any questions regarding (un)ethical animal tourism, please drop a comment in the comment section below!

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