Last year I visited Thailand, in the same way I did ten years ago: as a backpacker. But this time I didn’t just hang out with other travelers and enjoy the beautiful beaches.
This time, I went to Thailand with the purpose of visiting wildlife tourist attractions. I needed to see again with my own eyes what elephants, tigers, and other wild animals endure every day in the name of tourist entertainment.
Although I was prepared to see the cruelty, witnessing it with my own eyes still left me with an incredibly sad feeling. At the same time, it strengthened my belief that our Wildlife – Not entertainers campaign can make a real change for these animals.
If They had Known…
The travelers at the elephant camps didn’t appear to see any harm in riding the elephants.
But would they feel the same way if they had known about the brutal taming process that the elephant went through as a baby to make her submit to having people ride on her back?
What if they had realized that after they finished their ride, the elephant would continue to carry thousands and thousands of other tourists up that same path they had just taken, day in, day out for the rest of her life? What if they knew that after that long, hot day she would be shackled, unable to roam freely or to socially interact with other elephants?
If they had known, would they still have taken the elephant ride?
The Cruelty Behind Tiger Selfies
Similar questions arose when I visited a tiger park and observed the other visitors. Instead of paying an entry fee, they paid for a photo opportunity. The price varied depending on the size of the tiger: small cubs and big tigers being the most expensive.
Like elephant rides, getting a photo with a tiger is another popular item on many travelers’ bucket lists. But would they still think it was cool to post their tiger selfies on social media if they had known that the tiger was taken from his mother so shortly after his birth? Or if they had known that he is abused in order to keep him docile? Or if they had recognized that a small barren cage is a horrific place for a wild animal to live out his life?
If they had known about all this cruelty, would they still have wanted to take a tiger selfie?
Fortunately, most people who know about the cruelties would want to stay clear of wildlife tourist attractions like these. This is why I’m convinced, even more so after witnessing the animal suffering with my own eyes, that we can help end this cruel wildlife entertainment industry by spreading awareness. We have to open people’s eyes. Our movement is growing by the day, and we have already achieved great positive change for wild animals.
Moving the World to Protect Wildlife
We work with travel companies across the globe to help them offer more responsible, ethical trips and to raise awareness among their customers. Over 100 have already made a commitment to stop offering and promoting venues that offer elephant rides and shows, and that number is increasing rapidly.
Individuals like you and me can help end the cruel wildlife entertainment industry, too. Together we have convinced Thomas Cook Group, one of the largest global tour operators, to end its support of elephant entertainment. Over 250,000 people from all over the world have already joined us to take action and raise awareness.
What You can Do
Join our movement to protect wild animals – and keep an eye out for our upcoming actions that you can be a part of to help protect wildlife.
Whenever you hear someone talking about how they want to see wildlife, tell them how they can do so in a responsible way, by watching wild animals in the wild or at a genuine wildlife sanctuary.
Have you visited a wildlife venue where you could either ride, hold or have a selfie with a wild animal? Please leave a review on TripAdvisor to tell others that cruelty is involved, so they should not go.
This post originally appeared on World Animal Protection’s blog.