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What does sustainable travel mean to you? 

For some, it’s the reduction of single use plastics. For others, it’s about offsetting their carbon footprint when flying. While others focus on ethical animal encounters.

As dog owners and lovers of all animals, big and small, the latter has really hit home with us.  

We’re not going to tell you we’re animal tourism experts. We’re not. We’ve made mistakes. We haven’t known all the facts. We’ve been ignorant.

But something we do know is that if you’re new to any form of sustainable travel (like we are) then changing your entire lifestyle isn’t going to be easy. But that’s okay. Doing just one thing well – or at all – is enough. 

And once you’ve tackled that challenge, it won’t be long before you’re onto the next one.

Animal Tourism

Our Sustainable Travel Challenge in 2019/20

Our challenge this year has been to learn more about animal tourism. 

What’s good? What’s bad? What’s ethical? What’s unethical? Is everything black and white? Are there any grey areas? When it involves animals’ lives and wellbeing, should there even be any grey areas at all? And how do we know what’s right and wrong anyway? 

A lot of it is based on research and listening to the companies that live and breathe animal welfare. A lot of it is also common sense. If a bear is performing tricks for you and an audience then it’s wrong. If an animal is obviously being mistreated then it’s a no brainer.

As a general rule, animal experiences are more ethical when you’re kept at a distance. It doesn’t make as good an Instagram shot, but when it’s an animal’s life versus a photo, I know which one I would pick every single time.

Five Personal Experiences With Animal Tourism

Although our travel blog is a useful resource, it’s also personal to us. It’s our baby. Our pride and joy. 

Which is why we always like to touch on our personal experiences when sharing travel tips and inspiration with you. It’s how we’ve learned about issues in the world – and we often can’t wait to share our thoughts with you.

So with that in mind, here are five experiences we’ve had with animal tourism recently and what we’ve learned. 

This will be difficult for us to write at times and difficult for you to read at times. But we hope this information helps to educate you about a few issues we’ve seen across the world… and that what we say starts a discussion. 

Because the first step should always be to talk about it.

1. Horse-drawn carts on the Gili Islands

Before we visited the Gili Islands, we were aware that the only way to get around (besides on foot and by bike) is with horse-drawn carts. 

We knew we wouldn’t use the service because we were staying on Gili Meno, which takes just 45 minutes to walk the whole way around, so we were fine on foot. 

But – BOY! – am I glad we didn’t have to use them. 

Sadly, all of the horses we saw on Gili Meno looked tired and malnourished. And it isn’t just us worried about this either!  

There’s an article by the PETA about the Gili Island horses and they say: 

“If you’re travelling to the Gili Islands, please refuse to take carriage rides, and remember to leave reviews highlighting the cruelty on a variety of travel websites. When tourists stop contributing to this cycle of abuse, authorities will be forced to replace horse-drawn carriages with alternative means of transport. Please also let your friends and family know about the plight of these horses – the more people who know, the better our chances of ending the cruelty.” 

Horses like this are supposed to live for 20-30 years, but that same article claims the ones on the Gili Islands live for just 1-3 years on average.

2. Touching turtles when diving near Gili Meno

During that same trip to Gili Meno, we tried scuba diving for the first time to see Green Sea and Hawksbill Turtles, which was an incredible experience.

The company we used had good reviews and we definitely couldn’t fault them throughout our experience. 

They made it a habit to say to us a few times during our induction that they don’t allow us to touch the turtles, corals or any marine life. Sadly, they also told us that some dive schools and tour companies actually encourage this (particularly touching the turtles!) 

Turtles in Bali

As with most wild animal encounters, we should always keep our distance from the animals and quietly observe them from afar. 

If you go diving or snorkelling near the Gili Islands and are encouraged to touch the marine life, then you should report that dive school or tour company to the local tourism board so they can take necessary action.

But why shouldn’t you touch the turtles? Their shells have a layer of mucus to protect them from harmful bacteria. By touching the turtles, you’ll not only break this protection and let bad bacteria in, but you could also transmit bacteria from your hand to the unprotected turtle too, making it unwell.

So don’t do it! And report companies encouraging this behaviour.

3. Monkey and Snake Photo Opportunities in Morocco

We’ve talked about the monkeys and snakes in Morocco before, particularly those found in tourist hotspots like Marrakech. Grabbing photos with these animals is sadly a very popular tourist activity so it warrants talking about again.

Please, I repeat PLEASE, avoid the snake charmers and monkey handlers at all costs!

The snakes are caught illegally and only last a few days because their mouths are sewn shut. Without food or water, they don’t last very long at all and then the merchants are off to catch more snakes. 

While the monkeys are kept in small cages, often working from a young age, and are whipped and kept in chains to keep them from misbehaving. 

You may find yourself thrown into a situation where a merchant places a monkey or snake on your shoulders without your permission. Just remember that it’s okay to just walk away. 

If this happens enough, then maybe we can stop this cruelty to animals once and for all.

4. Bali Monkey Selfies

Something that has cropped up again and again this year, and something we witnessed first hand during our Bali honeymoon, is tourists taking “selfies” with the monkeys in Ubud’s Sacred Monkey Forest.

Although we couldn’t see any mistreatment of the monkeys during our time there, it was tough to watch these selfies being taken without saying something. It’s important to remember that these monkeys are WILD animals.

Bali Monkey at Ubud Monkey Forest.jpg

They’re well fed and do seem to be tame around people but still fight each other and can attack if provoked.

When Scott and I visited, we made sure to keep our distance and watch the monkeys from afar. We had no issues, and I hope that if you’re reading this, you’ll refrain from trying to get a monkey selfie during your own visit.

5. The Singapore Night Safari

It’s not all doom and gloom!

We warned you that this blog post would be difficult to read but we do want to end on a positive note.

We were very impressed with the Night Safari in Singapore. It’s the world’s first nocturnal wildlife park and is home to over 900 animals from 100 different species with 41% of those being endangered. 

The Night Safari has single-handedly bred threatened species, such as Malayan tigers, Asian elephants, fishing cats, Malayan tapirs and Asian lions to name just a few, to help prevent total extinction.

It’s managed by Wildlife Reserves Singapore (WRS), which is on a mission to “provide meaningful and memorable wildlife experiences with a focus on protecting biodiversity in Singapore and the region.”

We were most impressed by their desire to keep the lights low in order to mimic moonlight, so as not to change any of the animals’ sleeping habits or behaviours. This might seem like a little detail but it makes all the difference when it comes to this type of animal tourism.

Leopards inside Singapore Night Safari

Final Thoughts

Scott and I will be the first to admit that we have a lot to learn about animal tourism. We’re keen to make that our goal across this year and into next. 

Which is why when Yellow Zebra Safaris asked us to put pen to paper to talk about our experiences with sustainable travel for their Blogger Competition to win a Kenyan safari, we instantly knew this was something we wanted to get involved with.

This is a company we think we could learn a lot from when it comes to ethical animal encounters and we’re interested in hearing more about how they approach ethical safaris and conservation support.

Talking about issues with animal tourism is important. It’s the only way we’ll learn and stop cruelty once and for all. We’re blessed that we have our blog as a platform with which to spread the word about the good, the bad and the downright cruel… no matter how hard it might be to talk about. 

Because we owe it to the animals who don’t have a voice.

Further Reading

If anything we’ve said has hit home with you, then listed below are five websites that we’ve found particularly helpful when learning about the truth behind animal tourism:

Over to you now… what are some of your experiences with animal tourism; good or bad? 

We think it’s important to get a discussion going and to learn from each other, so we’d love for you to leave your thoughts and experiences in the comments below…

Learn something new today? Share the truth now!

2 thoughts on “The Brutal Truth About Animal Tourism

  1. Grace says:

    My worst experience with animal tourism was in Russia, about 10 years ago. We went to a circus and there was literally a dancing bear. They also had a tiny tiger cub on a chain for photos with tourists.

    The worst bit was when they started juggling kittens D: The poor things then had to walk a tightrope standing only on their front paws!

    If we had known, I’m sure none of us would have gone in! It’s good to raise awareness of these things x

    1. Thanks for sharing this Grace.
      I can’t imagine what I would have done in this situation; it sounds absolutely horrific.
      I’m sorry you had to see that but I do hope that experiences like this are on their way out 🙁

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