How to be a wildlife-friendly traveller

An adventure with a wildlife focus can be the trip of a lifetime for many travellers. Whether it’s witnessing wildebeest stampede during a safari in Africa or watching a gorilla exhale just metres from you in the Ugandan jungle, encountering wildlife up-close is one of the most thrilling experiences a traveller can have.

Intrepid travellers are known for their caring and responsible approach to travel, especially when it comes to visiting animals in the wild. So learning to become a wildlife friendly traveller is easy, and we want to pass on some very simple tips to ensure your next wildlife adventure is 100% animal friendly.

Protection of Asian elephants in Thailand

In Thailand, elephant issues have long been an area of concern for responsible travellers, and for many years have been used to give elephant rides to tourists, or perform human-like behavior such as kicking footballs or creating paintings using their trunks. In 2010-2011, we supported World Animal Protection in their extensive research into wildlife in captivity, and as a result we made the decision to cease all activities offering elephant rides on our trips.

The film below was made on a recent visit to two of Thailand’s elephant centres that are leading the way in the rescue and rehabilitation of Thailand’s elephant population. Animals in captivity are always a compromise, but some animals have been damaged and distressed to a point where it becomes impossible to release them back into the wild. Additionally, their habitats have become seriously depleted, so a return to their original environment is also not possible.

The elephants in the video above have been rescued from entertainment venues, have been injured from overwork, poor conditions or landmines, or were orphaned when their parents were illegally poached or killed, and as a result, they are conditioned to human contact. The centres in the film facilitate a safe and controlled environment for visitors to pat and stroke the elephants whilst they are being rehabilitated. However, Intrepid Travel does not advocate any physical contact with animals in the wild.



Tips for being an animal-friendly traveller

Here are a few easy things to remember on your travels to make sure the wildlife you meet is as happy you are:

Things to avoid when souvenir shopping

1. Ivory - Most responsible travellers would never knowingly purchase ivory products, as they are aware of the brutal poaching that occurs when animals are killed for their tusks. However, many items such as ivory necklaces, bracelets, chopsticks and other ornaments remain popular tourist souvenirs. So always check that what you’re buying is not made from ivory.

2. Sea shells – Although it can be tempting to purchase jewellery that’s been hand crafted from sea shells, many of these shells get taken from the sea while still inhabited with live creatures. Coral items are also often used in ornaments, and this damages the eco-systems of the reefs that they grow on..

3. Turtle or Tortoise shell – Anything made from these creatures should be avoided. Bekko (the shell of the endangered hawksbill turtle) has been used for many years to make ornaments and accessories such as combs, spectacles and bangles, and is commonly sold in Asia. The purchase and sale of these items is highly illegal.

4. Snake products – Many tourists are tempted by the cliché rite of passage of drinking snake blood or eating the still-beating-heart of a snake while travelling through Asia. But the continued demand for snakes to support this has led to diminished wild snake populations in many places. Likewise, the activity of snake charming was banned in India in the 1970’s due the inhumane treatment of the snakes – so ensure you aren’t supporting these practices.

5. Wild meat delicacies - Although they may sound tempting on a menu, many wild animal meats are not sustainably farmed, and can put severe pressure on the wild population. You might come across items labeled as ‘deer’ or ‘wild meat’, but these could include Samba deer, monitor lizards and monkeys.


The 5 questions to ask when visiting wildlife

When visiting an animal sanctuary or conservation park, people generally take it for granted that the wildlife is safe and nurtured in this environment. And although many places offer genuine refuge and protection, some establishments may be exploiting the animals while labeling it ‘conservation’. So how can you tell if a wildlife experience is exploitative? The questions below are a helpful way to help you judge if the centre you’re visiting is ethical in its treatment of animals:

1. Do the animals have sufficient food and water? Take a quick look around and check that the animals have access to fresh water and food. Under the sun all day, they may be exposed to heat stress, exhaustion and dehydration. Some animals, like elephants and monkeys, are also used to entertain tourists, and can be subjected to long hours with limited access to water.

2. Do the animals have a safe rest area? Scan the animal enclosures and see if there is adequate shelter from the elements and enough space for them to rest.

3. Are the animals suffering? Look at the animals to see if they are in any visible pain or discomfort – they may be suffering from having teeth pulled or claws clipped, or a lack of veterinary care.

4. Are the animals ‘performing’? Some animals are forced to behave in ways that are totally unnatural in order to entertain tourists. They may also originate from complex social structures that have been disrupted by captivity, and this can cause much distress to the animal.

5. Are the animals in distress? Many animals suffer stress and trauma as a result of the conditions they’re kept in and exposure to cruel training methods, so look out for animals that are distressed, in pain or withdrawn.


How to view animals responsibly in the wild

1. Refrain from feeding the animals – Wild animals have evolved to survive on their natural diets, and anything that humans add in can disrupt their food chain, or cause them to rely on unsustainable food sources.

2. Move slowly and casually – Don’t startle them and avoid sudden movements. Be as unobtrusive as you can, and keep noise to an absolute minimum.

3. Keep your distance – If you’re in a safari vehicle, make sure you stay inside when wild animals are in close proximity. Always remain a safe distance away in order to be as unthreatening as possible.

4. Minimise flashlights when night-viewing – If you’re out on a night-viewing trip, make sure you keep flashlight use to a minimum, and never shine lights directly into an animal’s eyes or illuminate prey.

5. Take your litter home – All litter is a potential hazard for animals in the wild – wrappers, plastics and cigarette butts can be digested making the animals sick, so ensure you leave nothing behind.



Passionate about animal protection?

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