SPCA New Zealand
Advice & welfare

Be an animal-friendly traveler – the hidden cruelty of animal tourism

More and more Kiwis are choosing exotic destinations for their winter holidays. However, before you book to escape the winter gloom, it is important to take a careful look at the travel itinerary you are considering to make sure the attractions and entertainment on offer do not involve abuse of animals.

Some common travelling ‘experiences’ involve cruelty to animals. For example, a common tourist attraction is interacting with lion cubs. As you would expect, these animals become more difficult to handle when they get older and so are they are often passed on to the ‘canned hunting’ industry, in which they are put into a fenced area and killed by hunters. Other travelling experiences involving animal cruelty include walking or interacting with tigers and lions, cub petting, elephant rides, or visiting venues with captive cetaceans like dolphins or orcas.

It is not just wild animals that can suffer as a result of being used for tourist entertainment; camels, horses, donkeys and other animals offered for tourist rides may be overworked, suffer inadequate care and live and work in poor conditions.

Ironically, many tourists who love animals unwittingly contribute to this animal cruelty, because they are unaware of hidden animal abuses at the ‘attractions’ they visit.

To make sure you avoid this, stay away from any attractions offering close interaction with wild animals, even if it is marketed as a sanctuary or charity and claims to provide rides or interactions to fund rescue and conservation work. Other than for the purpose of veterinary treatment or research, no genuine conservation organisation would allow close general public interaction with wild animals. World Animal Protection warns that many of the animals involved will have been cruelly trained, be physically restrained by chains or ropes, be living a life of unnatural isolation, and not have basic shelter. The animals may have been removed from their mothers too early and raised by hand; harshly trained, de-clawed, or have had their teeth filed or removed to control their natural behaviour. The public sees none of this cruelty.

Unfortunately, tourism demand is the main contributor causing this abuse. In 2015 a study conducted by Oxford University revealed that up to four million tourists who visit non-zoo attractions involving wildlife, are likely to be contributing to large-scale animal welfare abuses and declines in species’ conservation status. These ranged from snake charming, bear dancing, and macaque shows to large established attractions like dolphin and tiger interactions. The study also found that the tourists are typically unaware of their impacts, leaving positive feedback for attractions with even the poorest welfare standards and financially supporting practices that have a negative impact on animal welfare.

We are convinced that most New Zealanders would be shocked and distressed to realise the reality of animal abuses behind the places they may be supporting as visitors.

It is perfectly possible, with some research and careful holiday planning, for tourists to enjoy wildlife-related trips which do not involve exploitation of animals.

The organisation World Animal Protection has produced  “Your Guide to Being Animal Friendly on Holiday” to help tourists plan for an animal-friendly overseas trip. It includes a checklist for before you book, including researching the venues you intend to visit, checking if animal encounters are offered, and asking questions of your tour operator or travel agent, including whether they have an animal welfare policy.

We, along with World Animal Protection and many other animal welfare organisations, urge all tourists and tour operators worldwide to not take part in any rides or performances involving wild animals, including elephants, and not to pose for photos with wild animals. Also we hope that travel retailers and online providers slowly become more conscious about this issue and start to ban cruel activities from their portfolio.

So don’t forget to do your research before you travel. Ask your travel agent questions and look into the visits offered. Do they allow animal interactions? Do they employ local people? Where does the money go to that they make from visitors? There are some really good organisations doing genuine conservation work and contributing significantly to local communities.

World Animal Sanctuary Protection (WASP) International is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing accurate information on ethical animal sanctuaries worldwide – including those which provide volunteer/work experience programmes. Please check out their website for more information.

As well as being aware of what attractions you visit, it’s also important to think about what souvenirs you buy. The World Wildlife Fund cites ‘wildlife trade’ as the second biggest threat to species after habitat destruction, noting that every year, hundreds of millions of plants and animals are caught or harvested from the wild, including for tourist curiosity – much of it illegal.

The only way we can prevent animal tourism abuses from happening, is to reduce demand for them.

You can protect wild animals from the cruelty of tourist entertainment by taking action on your own holidays and by sharing this message with friends and family. Please alert them what the activities actually mean for the animals and guide them towards the right information to plan their animal friendly holiday.

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