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Bali is beautiful, there is no doubt about it, I would even go as far as saying certain parts (Ubud and Gili T) are some of my favourite in South East Asia. However, alongside Thailand, I would say it is the place I have seen the most unethical animal encounters – sadly the Bali animals are not always dealt the best hand. In fact, recent articles have dubbed Bali as one of the world’s worst countries for animal cruelty.
It is important to me that I always show both sides to my travel experiences, the incredible side plus the sides that are far from perfect. Wildlife tourism is something close to my heart and something I wish to continue to shed light on to ensure other people know what to avoid as well. Also on the flipside, to show the ethical way to see some of the incredible wildlife that lives in Bali.
Bali Animals: What encounters to do and what to avoid
Unethical animals in Bali to avoid
Horse and Cart rides in Gili T
On the island of Gili Trawangan off the coast of Bali, there are no cars or motorbikes, unfortunately, this means local people have found another way to transport tourists. Horses and carriages are used to transport people to various hotels and resorts, sadly, the horses are not kept in the best conditions and there are currently no regulations on how the horses are used.
The horses are used on a constant cycle throughout the day carrying heavy of loads of tourists and their bags, this is terrible enough without factoring in the Indonesian heat which they are forced to work in. Alongside exhaustion and dehydration, the horses often have various sores from badly fitted carriages, spinal and muscular pain from uneven loading or excessive weight as well as eye problems.
This cruel practice is currently thriving on Gili T because tourists do not want to carry their own bags to their hotels in the heat. Please think about the continuous strain the horses are put under if you are visiting the Gili Islands.
Thankfully over the past few years, the fight against elephant riding has been on the up. More people are becoming aware of the horrors behind the elephants used for tourist rides and in turn we have started to see a change in this industry. Unfortunately, I did find Bali to be a bit behind in this movement and found many elephants still being used for riding and if not riding they were being used circus-like shows.
Frustratingly, it is not uncommon for these places in Bali to call themselves ‘elephant sanctuaries’ and with the lack of regulations, it is completely okay for them to do this even though they are not. This often leads to the confusion of tourists believing their money is going to a good place. As a good rule avoid any elephant exhibit which allows riding and excessive interaction as well as anywhere which uses elephants in shows, during these shows the elephants will be doing tricks such as painting, playing football, etc.
Other related posts you may find helpful:
Lion cub selfies: Is your like worth more than their life?
Wildlife Tourism: Being a responsible traveller
Civet coffee plantations
Out of all the Bali animals I saw being treated cruelly, I think the Civet coffee plantations upset me the most, one of the main reasons is the lack of awareness of the cruelty around it.
The truth behind Civet coffee plantations tours in Bali – A single cup of civet coffee (or Kopi Luwak as it is sometimes known) 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 Bali where tourists visit caged civet cats and sample the coffee. This is causing more and more civets to be caged and abused.
Annoyingly, tourists are often taken to these plantations unknowingly when they book a Bali day trip with a taxi company. The taxi drivers often were on commission for taking the tourists there, which happened to us when we used a taxi company to take us the rice fields. If this does happen to you, you just need to refuse to go in or inform your taxi driver at the start that you do not want to visit the coffee plantations.
Swimming with dolphins
Swimming with dolphins in Bali has become a popular tourist attraction over the past decade. The interactions are often in sectioned off ‘sea pens’ at the edge of the ocean and tourists will be sold packages which include swimming and interacting with the captive dolphins.
It is often claimed that the dolphins in ‘sea pens’ are rescued from circuses or from entanglement in fishing nets, sometimes awaiting rehabilitation to the wild. The reality is that these dolphins are caught from the wild to supply a lucrative trade.
Tourists have often spun stories in an attempt to make you believe that dolphins love to perform. This is not true. Trainers often force the dolphins to do tricks by withholding food and by isolating them. For social animals, isolation is a very cruel punishment.
Orangutan and primate selfies
Primate selfies have long been a thing across South East Asia, cute monkeys dressed in various outfits are placed on the shoulders of tourists and in exchange for a small fee you can have a photo. The primates are often taken from their mothers at a young age and spend their lives being forced into the hands of loud tourists and subject to continuous noise and bright lights.
Disturbingly, young Orangutans are now being reported in the tourist hotspots of Bali as well. Alongside being forced into unnatural interactions often they will have their teeth filed down or removed in order to prevent any accidents with the tourists interacting with them.
Apes and Primates, like many of the animals in Bali, are highly intelligent with complex needs, most of which are not met when they are used in the street tourist trades. They often live unfulfilled short lives and often abandoned when they no longer have a use.
Looking for more wildlife experiences across the world? Or interested in wildlife tourism in general? Have a listen to my podcast series ‘ The Wildlife Tourist‘.
The Wildlife Tourist is a podcast for animal lovers. On each episode, we discuss a different destination popular for seeing wildlife or different ways you can interact with animals abroad.
The Wildlife Tourist only features ethical and responsible wildlife tourism and has a big focus on preserving the planet we call home.
Ethical ways to see animals in Bali
Snorkelling and Diving
The marine life around Bali is incredible, it is without a doubt the best place I have ever dived or snorkelled. In the Gili Islands, in particular, we saw multiple turtles when snorkelling just off of the beach, and many of the local restaurants will rent snorkels and masks if you are dining with them. If you are not staying on the islands and are staying in the main area of Bali, such as Kuta or Sanur, you can book one-day snorkelling trips which will include all equipment as well.
If you are a scuba diver or are thinking about gaining your scuba diving qualification, again Bali is an amazing place to do this, and there are so many dive schools. Always be sure to ask for recommendations and look at reviews before choosing your dive school, I personally recommend and used Blue Marlin Dive School.
If you are planning on spending time in the water in Bali be respectful to marine life. Please do chase the turtles or try to touch them, do not pick up the starfish for a photo, etc. The marine life is fragile and it is important we protect it, over tourism has its consequences of course, but if we act sensibly we can make our footprint as minimal as possible.
For further information check out my post on swimming with turtles in Bali: Where to go snorkelling in Gili Trawangan
Buy before you go to Bali:
Reef-Safe Sunscreen: Help preserve that reef by wearing reef-safe biodegradable sunscreen when you go swimming or snorkelling. Many sunscreens are not reef safe and contain chemicals which are harmful to the reefs and the creatures which live in them. Reef-safe suncream is formulated to be safe to the oceans. Some places such as Mexico and Hawaii will not let you in the ocean without a reef-safe sunscreen, and if you are on an organised tour will check, so invest in a decent, safe suncream.
Turtle conservation sites
If you do have an interest in marine life you can visit and support turtle conservation centres in Bali. In particular, the Turtle Conservation And Education Center in Serangan has a very good reputation and as well as the turtles they also support the local community in terms of education and teaching valuable life skills. If you are travelling and spending a longer amount of time in Bali, you can also undertake a volunteer placement here where you can have more involvement with turtle releases and the care of the turtles currently in the centre.
Monkey Forest of Ubud
In Ubud, you can visit the Sacred Monkey Forest Sanctuary which is home to over 700 Balinese Long Tailed Monkeys, here the monkeys free roam around the 12.5 hectares of forest which also has multiple temples dotted throughout. When you have the visit you have the opportunity to walk through the forest and interact with the monkeys if they choose to interact with you.
A word of warning, the monkeys have become very used to people being in the forest and they will jump on you, at times this can be quite scary. Be sure to follow the rules inside the forest, this is for your protection as well as for the monkeys.
Aside from the monkeys, I found the forest to be a really beautiful part of Ubud, therefore I would allocate around half a day to spend walking around the area.
Take a trip over to Borneo
Okay, this one is not Bali, but the truth is you are not going to see Orangutans ethically in Bali. If you are still in the stages of planning your trip to Indonesia, I would 100% recommend incorporating a trip to Borneo to see the Orangutans in the wild.
We visited the Tanjung Puting National Park in Indonesian Borneo, here we booked a 3-day Orangutan boat trip – honestly, it was a life-changing trip which I would recommend to anyone. You will spend 3 days observing the Orangutan in the wild, as well as have the opportunity to see other animals such as the Proboscis Monkeys. I have also recorded a podcast episode on our experience in Borneo.
Still planning your trip to Bali?
The perfect 2 week itinerary for Indonesia
Bali Animals: What can you do?
Educate: Spread the word
Research has shown that platforms such as Trip Advisor don’t do enough to combat the abuse, with 8 out of 10 people leaving positive reviews for places that treat animals badly. This is evidently true as these acts of cruelty are still thriving in Bali. Therefore, take things into your own hands by educating people you know who are visiting Bali soon, even if they do not mention visiting any of these encounters, bring it up just in case.
Often people do not visit these places because they are being ignorant, it is often because they are unaware of the horrors which are happening to these animals. Therefore by educating and spreading the message, we can do our bit to help.
Use your social media channels to share the ethical animal experiences you have, then in the caption share a bit about how you should not be seeing Bali’s animals. In my opinion, at present Instagram are not doing enough to stop the promotion of animal cruelty on their platform, therefore it is important that everyone else is sharing the truth.
Support Bali’s animal charities
One of the main charities supporting Bali’s animals is the Bali Animal Welfare Association, with their work supporting both domestic and wild animals. They have various shops dotted throughout Bali, if you see one, pop in to purchase something or just leave a donation, all funds go back into supporting their various campaigns.
While in the stores, if the people working in them are not too busy, talk to them. Make them aware of the cruelty you have seen, chances are they are most likely aware and are trying to do something, but there could be a chance they are not aware of a certain case.
Animal cruelty is a big issue at present in Bali and with the tourists funding it will not slow down. These industries work on supply and demand, therefore if the interest dries up the cruelty will eventually stop. Please do not get swept up in the holiday mentally and believe that because everyone else is doing it that it must be okay.
If something does not feel right, it most likely is not. Do your research and stand strong in your beliefs. The animals of Bali will thank you for it.
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