Travel is an opportunity to experience different cultures, meet new people, taste weird and wonderful foods and – for many – get close to wildlife you may have only seen in books or David Attenborough documentaries.

Lately there’s been a rise in animal-related incidents around the world, and it doesn’t sit well with us. We’re seeing things on social media and the news that bring the welfare of wild animals into question: tiger selfies in Thailand, yoga on elephants in Malaysia (really, it’s a thing), someone holding a sea turtle up to the camera in the Caymans. Sadly, tourism can be one of the main contributors to animal cruelty.

What Intrepid are doing

We actively discourage the participation of Intrepid passengers in any activities that exploit wild or domestic/working animals. In 2014, we banned elephant rides on all our trips, and we don’t permit any activities that allow passengers to pet or walk with wild animals, such as lion walks in South Africa. We believe that wild animals should be viewed – with no contact or interaction – doing what they do best: living in the wild.

We believe animal welfare should be measured against the Five Domains – universally accepted pillars established to protect animals living under human control.

These are: 

  • Nutrition – factors that involve the animal’s access to sufficient, balanced, varied and clean food and water.
  • Environment – factors that enable comfort through temperature, substrate, space, air, odour, noise and predictability.
  • Health – factors that enable good health through absence of disease, injury, impairment and good fitness level.
  • Behaviour – factors that provide varied, novel and engaging environmental challenges through sensory inputs, exploration, foraging, bonding, playing, retreating and others.
  • Mental State – by presenting positive situations in the previous four functional domains, the mental state of the animal should benefit from predominantly positive states, such as pleasure, comfort or vitality, while reducing negative states such as fear, frustration, hunger, pain or boredom.

We accept that the welfare of wild animals is compromised in captivity, and captivity is only acceptable when it is in the animal’s best interests and the highest possible standards of care are given to that creature.

In 2012, the Intrepid Group supported an extensive research project into the welfare of captive elephants, in conjunction with World Animal Protection. In a nutshell, elephants are wild animals – they are NOT domesticated, no matter how many pachyderms you might see on YouTube painting pictures, kicking balls and playing the piano (again, this is really a thing). Elephants that are used by tourist operators are captive; they are often restrained and subjected to cruel and painful ‘breaking’ processes. You can read more about elephant welfare and our policy here

Horses, donkeys and camels are considered domestic or working animals. These are the only animal rides that are offered as an included activity on Intrepid trips, and only when the wellbeing of the animals has been previously established. General things to look out for:

  • When riding donkeys or camels during our trips, helmets are generally not available to travellers. We therefore need to ensure that only slow moving and even-tempered animals are provided by the operator.
  • Riders should choose an animal that is appropriate to their size.
  • Animals should not carry more than half their body weight, and less in hot conditions or on steep declines. If extreme temperatures are experienced, animals should not be ridden.

As a general guide, look out for the following before riding or walking with  domestic/working animals:

  • The animals should look well fed.
  • Their coats should be in good condition and without sores (check near the mouth, shoulders, spine and belly, as these areas are typically in constant contact with harnessing equipment). Wounds may also be hidden under a saddle or harness. It is NEVER acceptable to use wild animals for riding.
  • The animal’s eyes should be clear, bright and alert.
  • Handlers should not use physical force (including hitting or beating with crops, sticks or hands) to control or manoeuvre the animal. 
  • Passengers should never feed the animals.
  • Check your donkey or horse for ‘firing’, where the animal’s legs are burnt with red-hot metal. Practitioners believe this ‘traditional healing’ method will make the animal ‘strong’.
  • Never overload a horse-drawn carriage.
  • Never ride with more than one person on the back of a horse or donkey.
  • Consider your own weight when riding – aim to choose an animal appropriate to your own size and weight.
  • Praise owners whose animals are in good condition.

Currently, thousands of lions and other predators are being bred in terrible conditions across Africa for use in cub petting, lion walking and other interactive wildlife activities. We don't go to any of these venues on our trips, and we ask all of our travellers to refrain from visiting places that exploit animals or use them for any forms of entertainment. While they may appear fun and educational (some even claim to be working in the name of conservation), they are unnatural and stressful for the animals involved.

Most travellers have no idea that this is going on. The 2015 documentary 'Blood Lions’ brought the horrors of predator breeding to the world’s attention. Intrepid have joined forces with the team at Blood Lions by signing their 'Born to Live Wild' pledge. The pledge is a promise to never knowingly work with operators offering lion walks, cub petting or other interactive wildlife activities that contribute to the cycle of breeding and exploitation of lions in Africa. It’s also a promise to raise awareness of these industries among our travellers and the broader community. You can read the full pledge here

At Intrepid, we’re all for zero contact, zero interaction experiences with wildlife. Wild animals should be viewed in the wild, right? Observe nature as it occurs naturally, not by how it responds to your presence. Don’t call out to animals, whistle or try to get their attention – noise disturbs them and stresses them out – just let them do their thing. Drivers and guides must never use their vehicles to get an animal to move, or drive off-road to get closer to the action.

In some parts of the world, you may meet local people who have taken animals from the wild so tourists can pay to have their photos taken with them. We advise our groups NOT to participate in this activity – it’s not known how these animals are treated. Are they drugged? Are they fed properly? Are they kept in inadequate conditions? Bottom line, unless it’s a purring cat or a waggy-tailed dog, walk away – the profile pic isn’t worth it.

We also discourage people from visiting venues that offer animal shows, ‘selfie’ opportunities or direct interaction with wild animals. The animals involved in these activities are sometimes taken from the wild, bred in intensive conditions, taken prematurely from their mothers as babies, and submitted to cruel physical and psychological conditioning to make them compliant and perform on cue. Visiting these venues perpetuates a cycle of animal cruelty.

Along with exotic fruits, brightly coloured ponchos and cheap trinkets, many markets around the world sell wild animal products – skins, horns, butterflies, turtle shell, ivory and more. This is an illegal trade, and we firmly discourage all passengers from making these purchases. The animals used to produce these products generally suffer significantly.

This also extends to food products, such as Turtle Soup, Shark Fin Soup and Snake Whiskey. We also advise against travellers purchasing ‘medicinal’ products made from wild animal derivatives, such as bear bile, tiger wine and lion bone wine, which also fuels wildlife farming and perpetuates the illegal wildlife trade.

The Intrepid Group should only visit facilities involving wild animals in captivity if the rationale for the sanctuary operation is in the best interests of the animals involved (i.e. only visiting animal sanctuaries and/or rescue centres operating with the highest animal welfare and conservation standards possible).

Genuine sanctuaries do not buy or sell wild animals, do not use the animals for interactions with travellers, such as in performances/shows, and they don’t breed wild animals – unless they are part of an official recognised breeding programme in which the animals involved are being responsibly released back in to the wild. Sanctuaries should also be keeping the animals in conditions that meet their species’ specific needs. Activities such as walking with the lions and petting wildlife are not permitted on any Intrepid Group trips.

For more information on Intrepid’s Animal Welfare Guidelines, read the full document here.

For more information on Intrepid's wildlife pledge, read the full document here

Special thanks to World Animal Protection for their guidance in creating these guidelines. World Animal Protection is an international non-profit animal welfare organisation that has been in operation for over 30 years. Their vision is a world where animal welfare matters and animal cruelty has ended.

Download our Animal Welfare policy toolkit

We've created this toolkit in conjunction with World Animal Protection, with the hope that it will help the tourism industry rebuild more ethically during the COVID-caused travel shutdowns. This resource includes tips on how to draft and implement more animal-friendly practices within a tourism organisation, as well as an editable policy template for businesses to get started on their journey.

Download the toolkit

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