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An Ape Alliance Guide to Wildlife Tourism Featured


Samstag, 26 Oktober 2019 10:22 General News
Orca Show at Loro Parque, Tenerife Orca Show at Loro Parque, Tenerife Ian Redmond

Wildlife tourism is a life changing experience for many people, but it is difficult to know whether you are helping or harming the animals involved. When used correctly, wildlife tourism can be an effective way to help with the conservation of endangered species through providing income and incentive to local communities. Wildlife tourism currently makes up around 20-40% of the entire tourism industry’s annual value of 1.5 trillion USD, according to the World Tourism Organization, and this value is only set to increase.

This issue is confused even more with many operations calling themselves ‘sanctuaries’ and ‘rescues’, and telling visitors they are helping conservation efforts. A particularly worrying investigation shows that a self-claiming sanctuary in Thailand called ‘Elephant EcoValley’ provide a seemingly natural bathing experience for Western tourists, but then the same elephants are transferred to a neighbouring village to perform tricks for different tourists.

Operations like ‘Elephant EcoValley’ can seem ethical, but in order to submit to tourists or handlers washing them, wild animals have to go through years of being beaten to ‘break their spirit’. Many of these places claim to be sanctuaries for ex-riding elephants, but if people keep visiting these places then the demand for ‘broken’ elephants will always be there.

These deliberately confusing marketing techniques mean it can be difficult to tell which wildlife experiences are ethical. If you are considering any activity involving animals, make sure to ask yourself these questions below.

 

1. Do you get the opportunity to touch the animals?

Taking a selfie holding, riding, or washing an exotic animal is an exciting prospect, but if you knew what these selfies are funding then you wouldn’t be so keen to brag about it on social media. A study by World Animal Protection exposed the horrible conditions that sloths and other South American wildlife were subjected to behind the scenes of tourist selfies.

Orangutan photoprops,  Safariworld, Thailand. Ian Redmond. 

These animals are taken illegally from the wild and kept in tiny boxes, with claws and teeth removed. Snakes go blind from camera flashes, and sloths quickly die from the stress of being handled. Wildlife officials in the Amazon have even said they are reluctant to confiscate the animals as that means more will be taken from the forest to replace them.

Captive tigers are heavily sedated and have their claws and teeth painfully removed in order to make them safe for tourists to stroke and take selfies with.

2. Do they have lots of baby animals?

Everyone loves baby animals. Lots of organisations use this to their advantage to attract tourists. Unfortunately, baby animals grow up, and when they are no longer cute enough they are used for canned hunting, sold to roadside zoos or harvested for traditional ‘medicines’. The baby animals are often taken from their mothers too early and presented as orphans to tourists or volunteers. The mothers are kept in cruel conditions and forced to continuously breed, and when they can no longer do this they are killed, and their bones or pelts are sold.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Young orangutan being used as a photo-prop with canine teeth removed, A'Famosa Resort, Malaysia. Ian Redmond.

3. Do the guides explain and enforce strict rules before your tour?

Good examples of sensible rules include not touching animals, keeping a safe distance and wearing face masks around our close relatives such as great apes. Most protected areas have guidelines about how many vehicles or boats can surround an animal at one time, and it is a good sign if your guide mentions and sticks to these rules. Overcrowding wild animals can cause them stress and stop their normal hunting and breeding behaviours. If members of your group do not stick to the rules, the guides should strictly enforce them.

4. Can the animals freely engage in their natural behaviours?

Ask yourself ‘would this animal be doing this in the wild?’. For example, a wild elephant would not let you ride on its back, wash it in a river, and it certainly would not ride a bicycle for a crowd. In a National Geographic interview of Elephant trainers, they described the process that makes an elephant submit to these behaviours. “When a baby is about two years old mahouts tie its mother to a tree and slowly drag the baby away. Once separated, the baby is confined. To teach an elephant to sit we tie up the front legs. One mahout will use a bullhook at the back. The other will pull a rope on the front legs. To train the elephant, you need to use the bullhook so the elephant will know.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 Left: Elephant show, A'Famosa Resort, Malaysia. Right: Is this conservation? A'Famosa Resort, Malaysia. Ian Redmond. 

You also need to be aware of this point with wild animals. In the Amazon region, swimming with pink river dolphins is advertised as part of many tours. Guides lure in dolphins with baitfish and are surrounded and stroked by tourists. The concentration of food causes the dolphins to fight each other, leading them to become badly scratched and bruised. Feeding wild animals, especially whilst they are being harassed by tourists, often causes them to alter their behaviour as they associate humans with food. This can lead to them becoming dangerous to humans and having to be ‘put down’.

 5. If in captivity, are the animals well cared for and appear healthy?

It is safest to avoid attractions involving captive animals, due to the dangers listed above. If you do decide to see captive animals, for example in a zoo, make sure they’re in good conditions. This is often an easy one to spot: if the animals are too thin or appear sick, then this is a red flag. Look at their enclosure, does it have enrichment, is it reasonably clean and do they have enough space, as well as a place to escape from the crowds?

Orca Show at Loro Parque, Tenerife. Ian Redmond.

It is never a good idea to see some animals in captivity, for example cetaceans (whales and dolphins) as a tank simply cannot provide them with the necessary space. This causes them severe suffering, which can be hard to see as some species have a permanent ‘smile’. Often these animals are forced to perform in shows, which is also obviously unnatural behaviour. 

 

Many places with poor animal welfare have overwhelmingly positive reviews on sites like TripAdvisor, so be wary of this and keep in mind the questions you should ask yourself when researching organisations. However, sometimes the poor practices are exposed in the few one- or two-star reviews, so it always good to check these before booking.

If you are worried that an organisation isn’t following any of these rules, what should you do? Obviously, the best thing to do is to do your research and not visit in the first place, as these places won’t continue to run without demand from tourists. However, if you accidentally find yourself somewhere that is not following these protocols then what should you do? It is good to leave as soon as possible, and if you feel comfortable doing so, tell the organisers why. If they get enough complaints, they may change their practices. If not, make sure to leave negative reviews explaining the situation on TripAdvisor and other sites, and complain to travel sites advertising these experiences. This is important as it will to warn other travellers.

Supporting ethical wildlife interactions signals to the market that they are valued, and slowly cuts off the market for cruel wildlife tourism. If you make sure to ask yourself all of these questions beforehand, don’t be put off engaging in positive wildlife tourism! It can be a great way to incentivise conservation efforts by providing income and raising awareness about issues the animals face.

 

 

Article by Ape Alliance coordinator Iona Haines. 

 

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