6 Animal Experiences You Really Should Avoid on Holiday
As Angkor Wat bans elephant rides, we look through the animal activities that should set alarm bells ringing
24 November 2019
In a long-awaited coup for animal rights activists, Cambodia have banned elephant rides at the temple complex of Angkor Wat.
The practice has been under fire for decades, but the death of an elephant in 2016, and a change.org petition have helped bring the matter to a head. The animals are now being relocated to a nearby forest.
The news has been almost universally welcomed. “With very few exceptions, wildlife belongs in the wild,” says Krissy Roe, head of values at travel company Responsible Travel. “The key is to do your research – and ask whether an activity is natural. Most people have good intentions, but, for example, a simple cold can kill a baby orangutan.”
There is a delusion among tourists that they can tell if an animal is unhappy. “They didn’t seem miserable,” is a common refrain, or instead, “I don’t think my animal was sad.” In reality, well-intentioned tourists can do just as much damage as uncaring ones.
Here are a few animal experiences – from the rainforest to the aquarium – that should be avoided at all costs…
#1 Elephant rides
From the maharajahs in their palaces to Hannibal crossing the Alps, the elephant ride is historic, majestic, and entirely barbaric.
A standard-bearer for animal cruelty in tourism, many steeds have been bullied into docility, kept in squalid conditions, and chained when not in use, while even the more ‘ethical’ treks serve to strengthen an industry that may kidnap wild elephants for profit.
“As long as the demand remains, endangered elephants will continue to be taken from the wild,” says Roe, “and chains and other unethical training methods will continue to be used.”
#2 Tiger experiences
Consider the cautionary tale of the Tiger Temple, a tourist hub in Thailand that once allowed visitors to approach, stroke, and take its tigers for walks. If this sounds counter-intuitive – it is. Tigers are among the world’s least tamable animals, and if one is letting you shake its declawed paw, something has gone wrong.
A police raid on the property subsequently discovered 40 tiger cub corpses stowed in a freezer. Do not pet tigers; do not take selfies with tigers; in fact don’t endorse tiger captivity at all. The only tigers you can ethically approach are the wild ones that will probably rip your head off.
#3 Unscrupulous turtle tours
Turtle tourism is not always wrong, but without rigorous regulation, tourists risk touching the turtles, or disturbing their crucial first journey from sand to sea. Six out of seven species are endangered, so it doesn’t take much to do lasting harm.
“Strict guidelines must be followed,” says Roe. “There must be no interference in the nesting process, and numbers of tourists must be tightly controlled to avoid causing distress to the turtles. It’s important to do your research.”
#4 Captive whales or dolphins
One of tourism’s more high-profile cruelties, thanks mostly to the 2013 documentary Blackfish, these large, intelligent cetaceans are extremely ill-suited to captivity.
Compared to the 100 square kilometre territories they roam in the wild, their plastic bottomed tanks might as well be shoe-boxes, and there’s nothing fun or spontaneous for dolphins about plastic hoops and beach balls.
“They have restricted space, a limited social environment, overwhelming noise and behavioural restrictions,” says Roe, “it is morally and ethically wrong, and should be stopped.”
#5 Lion experiences
It was not so long ago that a big cat butchered for tourism was a global social media scandal, but Cecil the Lion was merely the tip of the iceberg.
Used as props for snap-happy tourists – much like their stripey cousins – some facilities have been known to take cubs from their mothers at a young age and brutally ‘train’ the aggression out of them, before selling them on to canned hunting ranches when their purpose has been served,
#6 Ostrich rides
You may not have come across the concept of ostrich riding, but now that you have, you can file it next to bear-baiting and cock-fighting as absolutely, entirely, and demonstrably not OK. Even if an ostrich wanted to carry you (it doesn’t), the birds just aren’t built to carry the weight of a human and could suffer irreparable damage.