How to be an animal-friendly traveller

Monkey hug in Japan

“One main factor in the upward trend of animal life has been the power of wandering”, said mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead.

It certainly adds up to us at Intrepid, that experiencing animals you may have never seen before, in new environments, is part of the very essence of travelling. However, with the amazing opportunity that this presents, comes an obligation to act in a responsible way to best ensure the welfare of the animals.

Our friends at Intrepid’s partner, World Animal Protection (formerly the World Society for the Protection of Animals) explain more: 

“For so many people, travelling is a time when they have had the most memorable animal experiences – both positive and negative. Seeing wild animals in their natural habitat is a wonderful experience to be treasured. No doubt, as you read this, you may recall how an animal encounter has enriched your travel experience.

However, people are often unaware of the dark side that lurks behind some animal experiences. Animal cruelty can be a by-product of tourism. Animal circuses, bullfights, marine park programmes and poor welfare zoos are all examples of animal exploitation in the name of ‘entertainment’.

We are all responsible for ensuring that our actions abroad do not contribute to animal suffering. Here are some straightforward tips on how to make a difference to the way animals are treated all over the world:

– Don’t accept culture as an excuse for cruelty. Cockfights, bullfights and the use of animals in religious or other festivals can all be considered part of a local culture, but culture is no excuse for causing pain and suffering.

– It is best to view wildlife where it belongs – in the wild. Many zoos keep animals in poor conditions with their basic needs denied. If you decide to visit a zoo, ask whether it adheres to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Code of Ethics before you enter.

– Captivity cannot meet the welfare needs of marine mammals such as dolphins and whales. Facilities displaying captive marine mammals and activities like swimming with captive dolphins should be avoided – they may appear fun and educational but are unnatural and stressful for the animals involved.

– Don’t be tempted to try the local cuisine if it includes wild animals. Avoid food items that are produced through cruel practices, such as foie gras, or involve inhumane killing, such as bushmeat.

– Never purchase souvenirs made from animals, such as fur, ivory, rhino horn and turtle shell products.

– Don’t pay to have your picture taken posing with a wild animal. Many of these animals have been taken from the wild and their mothers killed. They may be drugged, harshly trained or have had their teeth removed to ensure they ‘behave’ around tourists.

– It is possible to find ethical and humane equine (horse and donkey) and camel rides, where the animal’s welfare is protected. However, please avoid any ride that gives you cause for concern about the animal’s treatment. At a minimum, check that animals have access to shade, water and rest and that the weight of the human is suitably proportionate to the size of the animal, for example, not a large person on a small donkey.

– Compassionate travellers should avoid riding wild animals such as elephants for entertainment, because these animals are often captured from the wild, inadequately cared for and usually trained using inappropriate and cruel methods.

Both World Animal Protection and Intrepid believe in responsible travel. We recognise that people impact and are impacted by their travel experiences and we want those experiences to be positive for all travellers and the animals that they encounter along the way.

A simple rule of thumb is to always show respect – for the people, the culture, the environment and the animals, in every destination.”

Find out more about being a Responsible Traveller.

Get more information on elephant welfare and your travels and find out why Intrepid no longer includes elephant rides.

And just to prove that we can make good choices for animals, an ethical foie gras is possible – check out this beautiful clip from the wonderfully responsible travellers, Daniel and Mirra of The Perennial Plate – A Time for Foie.

Photo in Japan by Jonathon Ng.

About the author'
Jane Crouch - Jane is a responsible business guru who writes about all aspects of how travel can bring positive environmental, social and economic benefits. Informed through travel on seven continents, leading Intrepid trips through SE Asia, work in outdoor education, energy conservation, international development, philanthropy and climate change action, plus a big love of walking, mountains and world music.

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Sadly the tourist industry has much to answer for ~ it panders to humans base instincts and so called tourists attractions flourish. America leads the way but South Africa is not far behind when it comes to animal abuse and exploitation in the provision of “entertainments”. And sadly tour companies support these attractions. Many Garden route tours in SA overnight in Oudtshoorn ~ the self proclaimed Ostrich Farming capital in South Africa. Here for a fee you could sit or even ride / race on an Ostrich ! The official Tourism web site even promotes this opportunity But Chandler in Arizona has developed the activity into an annual event; it has been running now for over 25 years. All done to generate tourist $’s'

. I was in Tuscany last summer and I visited Chianti, Siena, Florence and San Gimigano.
I slept in a farmhouse in Colle Val di Elsa with pool and a beautiful garden
The farmhouse’s name was Pieve di San Martino.The apartments are clean and well and tastefully furnished.From the terrace you can enjoy a wonderful landscape in Chianti.'
Sandra Johnson / Reply

I’ve been recently learning about captured marine animals, and that the facilities like tourist attractions, cannot properly care for them in captivity. I agree and I understand that. The part that is confusing me now, is that, I have always strongly believed that humans who get to actually view and/or interact with wild animals, do form a bond or connection, and this makes humans want to help, save and protect these animals. Soooo, how can we accomplish this with marine animals if none can be seen or interacted with, in some way? Most of us are not ever going to be able to witness the beauty of them in their natural habitat.
In the past, I’ve taken my family to swim with the dolphins and interact with marine life at tourist attractions. Now that I’m learning about the mistreatment and inadequate living conditions of these animals, we decided NOT to go to visit any of these places this year. We just skipped them because we don’t want to contribute to the terrible situation these marine animals endure. But it still made us sad. We loved seeing marine life up close. I think we’re doing the right thing but it feels like such a loss too. What do you think?'

Hi Sandra,
Thanks for expressing your experience and dilemma. I think we are still very fortunate that we can see animals in the wild, living ‘naturally’ and that whether its these experiences or even watching a phenomenal David Attenborough type doco, it should adequately inspire us to want to do our best to protect wildlife living in the wild, rather than us feeling we need to ‘sacrifice’ a few for these up-close experiences. There is still a lot of wildlife in zoos to be seen up close, and plenty of locations around the globe where we can see whales migrating, and dolphins frolicking at fairly close range, without us adversely impacting their natural behaviours – that’s the best inspiration for me, seeing them free… or even just knowing they are out there!

Kind regards, Jane Crouch (Responsible Business Communications Specialist)'

Hi Lee, I’ve found the best way to psychologically deal with a lot of the injustice and distressing stuff you might see, is get behind supporting effective organisations that are doing positive work in the communities to address the issues. Its not always apparent who those organisations are, but a global organisation like WSPA has enormous networks of member agencies who are working at a local level through their staff who understand all the cultural and structural issues and can bring about change – education and help with alternative livelihoods is often key. A great example has been how WSPA has helped resource local welfare agencies in India in an area near the Taj Mahal, and supported them to stamp out the practice of dancing bears. The bears have been rescued and are cared for in sanctuaries, and the locals now have learnt to respect the bears & have taken on other means of earning a living.'

Very good advice, but not near enough. “Avoid food items that are produced through cruel practices, such as foie gras, or involve inhumane killing, such as bushmeat.” While those examples are of horrible things done to animalsfor food, people must learn that ALL meat comes from cruel practices. Nearly ALL meat all over the world now comes from factory farms or CAFO’s… please look it up if you don’t know what they are. The babies on factory farms are torn from their mothers just as the article says happens to captured wild animals…it’s no different for them!
PLEASE, let’s respect all feeling creatures, not just the furry pets or awesome, revered ones like elephants. They all suffer when exploited by humans, regardless of why.'

I want to travel, but I am worried about seeing such distressing things as youve mentioned above. especially when there is nothing I can do to change the situation of the animal involved. How do you deal with this?

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