How to be an animal-friendly traveller

Carmel Molloy of WSPA Australia

“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.

Carmel Molloy, CEO of WSPA Australia, explains more:  “I will never forget a holiday that I had to India, where I saw an elephant restrained by its owner and forced to bow down to tourists by kneeling every few minutes on a concrete floor. You could see that this repetitive action was causing him pain, yet people flocked round, seemingly unaware of the daily torment that this wild animal faced. People paid money to see it happen again and again. Wild animals should be protected, not used, abused, farmed or sold.

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 an experience that I treasure and I’m sure every person reading this could 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 WSPA 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.

My simple rule of thumb is to always show respect – for the people, the culture, the environment and the animals, in every country that I visit.”

Find out more about being a Responsible Traveller.

Get more information on elephant welfare and your travels.

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.

About the author

Jane Crouch - Jane is currently Intrepid Travel's Responsible Business Communications Specialist and writes about all aspects of how travel can bring positive environmental, social and economic benefits. Informed through travel on 7 continents, leading Intrepid trips through SE Asia, work in outdoor education, energy conservation, international development, travellers philanthropy and climate change action, plus a big love of walking, mountains and world music.

3 comments

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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