This post is something that is incredibly close to my heart, wildlife tourism something I feel passionate about and I have educated myself on over the years and now want to help educate others that may not be aware, or realise the issue with what they part take in. I watched an amazing documentary on BBC one recently called Saving Africa’s Elephant, I thought I knew large amounts regarding the Ivory trade, but this documentary really opened my eyes to just how incredibly massive this issue was. This show was on the BBC at prime time, meaning these issues are starting to be targeted to a broader audience, I do believe (hope) that we will start to see the start of the change for the species that are targets of wildlife crime and with that tourism, it takes ripple of small changes to create a big wave. Just last week, Trip advisor announced they would not be selling tickets or tours to any unethical animal experiences, a company as large as Trip Advisor making this stand is such a positive message.
As people who travel frequently, we can be at the forefront of those change, avoiding these exploitations and most importantly not condemning the people who want to take part in them or have done, but educating them as to why they should not support these industries. I honestly believe the success of this industry to due to a lack of knowledge, if people knew the horrors they would not take part, but generally, people just see the opportunity to get up close to their favourite or cute animal. Anyone can be a keyboard warrior, but that does not make someone listen, as in most things in life, educating on the subject is key.
Again, I do not believe that all the people behind and exploiting these animals are evil (although some may be are), it is simply a way of life for them, a way to survive and provide for their family, particularly in the case of Elephant riding a lot of these types of Mahouts are brought up with this, it is all they know. The animals bring in the tourists, the tourists bring in the money, it is a vicious cycle at the cost of the animal’s freedom.
There are a catastrophic number of ways animals are used in tourism, from the well known Elephant riding to swimming with the Whale Sharks in Oslob, Slow Loris selfies, Lion walks in South Africa, Snake charming, to even the unthinkable live Turtles being sold inside keychains in China. Unethical animal tourism is happening all over the world on so many different levels, I only very recently found out about Civet coffee plantations tours in Indonesia – A single cup of civet coffee or Kopi Luwak fetches up to £60. Civets love to eat coffee cherries and Kopi Luwak coffee is made from the beans within the cherries that the civets excrete in pellets. When the pellets are collected from civets in the wild, no cruelty is involved. But in an attempt to produce more civet coffee, farmers have started catching the civets and keeping them in small, crowded barren cages. Caged civets are encouraged to gorge on an unbalanced diet of coffee cherries. There is now a growing civet coffee plantation tourism industry in Indonesia where tourists visit caged civet cats and sample the coffee. This is causing more and more civets to be caged and abused.
If something does not seem or feel right, then it most likely isn’t. We need to stop seeing these species the same way as we see our domestic pets at home, yes most species can be ‘domesticated’ but we need to think about the process they are going through to reach this stage to tolerate being constantly pushed in front of cameras and have unknown people touching them. Please do not believe the people who are running these attractions when they tell you the animals are happy, they will say whatever they can to get you to put your hand in your wallet.
While I believe the majority of us are now probably avoiding or ignoring these ‘experiences’, can we now take the next step to actively and positively educate the people who yet know better, the people who maybe just see the amazing photo opportunity? The people that maybe once they understand, will then go on to tell the next people they meet.
There are some incredible opportunities available out there for animal lovers, opportunities that are responsible and are actively supporting a better life for the animals. From visiting or volunteering at sanctuaries of animals rescued from the tourist trade to scuba diving to jungle treks and safaris, these are the experiences that need to be shared on social media, not the selfies with the terrified gibbon in human clothes.
The awesome team at G Adventures have just launched the Jane Goodall collection (this post is not sponsored), a collection of tours wildlife-focused tours endorsed by world-renowned primatologist, Dr Jane Goodall. Designed to bring you into close, larger-than-life contact with the world’s animals, while at the same time, respecting their freedom. Not only are G Adventures part of the mission to support wildlife they are also empowering local communities, showing them a different way of life.
I have also recently started my series entitled ‘Volunteering with animals in…’ so far featuring Thailand and Africa, this is something I plan to continue to highlight centres all over the world, in an attempt to get people to think of different ways they can plan their travels. Every centre that is featured in these posts will have been one I have visited my or by someone I know and therefore will be somewhere I am 100% happy to recommend.
This is a huge global issue that will not end quickly or easily, but I do believe it will end if we all start using our voices for the unfortunate species that do not have their own. The more awareness that is created, the fewer people will contribute to this trade, changes will start to happen. As people who travel frequently, I believe we have a big part to play in ending wildlife tourism, to help raise awareness to the people who are unaware of the horrors that are happening in the name of tourism.