Sustainable travel has been one of my main focuses as a traveler over the past few years, and I’m always looking for new ways to make the world better on my journeys. Most of this means activities with other humans and learning to be respectful of other cultures, but it can also mean thinking about animals and how we are affecting other creatures through tourism. It fascinated me to learn that Thailand is home to 10 percent of the world’s animal species, and I’ve been considering how tours to see them can help and hurt.
But one of the hardest things I’ve found as a traveler is knowing exactly which types of tours are ethical. Any activity involving animals tends to be in captivity or on very guided expeditions that can sometimes be a bit iffy depending on the location in the world and the quality of the tour company. These tours can foster education and encourage donations to help endangered species, while unethical tour companies tend to use the money for other purposes.
The problem is, it’s not always easy to tell the difference. And often, by the time you are able to tell, you’ve already paid the tour company. Animals can appear fine only to be drugged so tourists can more easily see them, or they aren’t receiving the proper care they need. One of the latest tours that has been mentioned lately in the travel blog world is Tiger Kingdom. Some claim that the animals are abused there, while others do not notice and mention that the tigers seemed to be in good condition.
So how do you choose a tour that you know you can trust? Most likely you’re going to want to do a little bit of research beforehand. While it might kill your last-minute choice to go to a zoo, it can make you feel a lot better if you find out that you would be patronizing a place that you don’t feel comfortable with. TripAdvisor, blogs, and social media are great ways to get an idea if other travelers have had a positive experience overall and whether the animals seemed happy and healthy.
Also, contacting the organization and asking a few questions beforehand can help you to decide, as well. Where did the animals come from? What kind of facilities are they located? How much or little do you interact with them on the tour? These questions can help you to find out any information you can’t online.
An even harder call can be how you choose a way to volunteer with animals. You want to make sure that your funds are going back to the program, and not to extraneous people or through a shady pipeline. For volunteering, I would highly recommend looking into companies like G Adventures or Visit.Org, who are known for vetting their tours and keeping animal health and care as an important part of their success. Choosing companies that have a good reputation can help you make a decision on finding the right tour.
Regardless, there are certain no-brainers that we can all follow, such as don’t touch wild animals and treat them kindly. Take care of the area by not throwing trash in enclosures that they live in and don’t harass them. These seem like little things, but you would be surprised how many people sometimes forget these guidelines when they are traveling.
Seeing animals can be a life-changing part of a trip, and it doesn’t always have to be harmful to them. Before you head to an attraction based around animals, take some time and do some research about whether the place is known for being ethical or not.
Have you ever experienced unethical animal care on your travels? Where?