Vacations are a time to relax and let the worries of our day-to-day lives slip away, and the anticipation of visiting a warm, sunny beach or traveling abroad makes us count down the days in anticipation of our exotic escape. As we work to make our vacation the best it can be, we look for memorable and unique experiences, and for some people, that includes participation in controversial activities involving animals.
Elephant trekking, swimming with dolphins, and opportunities to take selfies with exotic animals are offered at resorts and even some wildlife parks, giving people the chance to get up close and personal with wild animals. People are willing to pay a lot for these opportunities that are promoted as part of the ultimate vacation experience, but it’s the animals who pay the ultimate price.
Behind the staged photos and interactive experiences, animals are suffering just so humans can have a few moments of fun. Stolen from the wild at a young age or bred in captivity, the animals used for these exotic excursions and adventures are robbed of their freedom and subjected to a life of cruelty and neglect in the name of entertainment.
A Sad Life of Suffering and Cruelty
Elephant trekking involves small groups of tourists riding elephants through rivers or difficult terrain as part of a sightseeing experience. It’s promoted as a fun and unique way for people to experience wildlife and nature, but many are unaware of the cruelty that lies behind these so-called adventures. The elephants used for these excursions are forced to endure hours of carrying heavy loads under the scorching sun, placing them in danger of heat exhaustion and dehydration. But that isn’t even the worst part.
Trekking elephants are put through a horrific “crush” training process, where they’re beaten repeatedly in an effort to make them submissive and easier to control. In addition to enduring horrific beatings, these intelligent and social animals are confined to a life in shackles and deprived of the ability to roam and socialize. When they become frustrated and “act out” as a result of this stressful environment, they’re beaten even more as punishment.
A report recently released by World Animal Protection reveals the sad truth behind captive animals used for tourist entertainment in Asia. Their investigation of 2,923 elephants revealed that 77 percent of the animals being used for tourism in Thailand, Sri Lanka, India, Laos, and Cambodia were being mistreated and living in substandard conditions. Thailand’s entertainment industry is by far the largest, with the number of elephants being used for tourism increasing from 1,688 in 2010, to 2,198 in 2016. The venues bring in thousands of dollars and the industry seems to keep growing despite an increased number of people who find it inhumane or unacceptable to ride elephants for entertainment.
Swimming and Selfies Are No Fun for the Animals Involved
A chance to have close encounters with marine life sounds like a dream come true for marine animal enthusiasts. A friendly, playful, and intelligent species, wild dolphins spend their days swimming in pods and travel more than 40 miles a day. But life is much different for dolphins used in “swim-with-dolphins” experiences for tourists. Instead of spending their days swimming freely, they’re confined to concrete pools or “sea pens” that provide a fraction of what they’d have in the wild.
This confinement causes stress, which is only exacerbated by being constantly forced to perform or train. A day filled with posing for staged photos and pulling humans through the water places physical and mental strain on them, and having to endure these conditions day after day can eventually result in the dolphins suffering from a form of psychosis that can result in them attacking trainers or participants.
Working to Stop the Promotion of Cruel Practices
In 2016, travel website TripAdvisor stopped selling tickets to tourism activities that involved the use of wild animals, including elephant rides, cub and tiger petting, and swimming with dolphins. The change came after countless petitions and protests that urged the site to stop promoting inhumane activities that are tied to animal cruelty.
Even social media sites are working to spread awareness about the abusive animal attraction industry. Instagram recently added a pop-up message when people click on hashtags that are associated with wild exotic animal selfies and rides, as well as sales. The message warns users that the content they’re searching for is “associated with posts that encourage harmful behavior to animals or the environment.” Users can still proceed to view the posts, or they can click on a “learn more” button that brings them to a website about animal exploitation. These efforts are a step in the right direction, but the biggest impact comes from choosing ethics over entertainment.
Ending This Cruel Industry Starts with You
Animal excursions and experiences are only profitable if people continue to pay for them. And while people might find these activities fun and memorable, they do nothing but contribute to animal suffering.
Participating in wild animal experiences should always be done with caution. Sadly, there are pseudo-sanctuaries and wildlife parks that claim to be focused on conversation and habitat protection when they’re actually not. When choosing your vacation adventures, steer clear of places that offer the opportunity to interact with animals through feeding, holding, petting, riding, or taking posed photos. Also, avoid any attraction or experience where animals are caged, tethered, or confined in some other manner.
If you want to experience wild animals, there are plenty of alternatives that provide a memorable experience without promoting cruelty. Choose vacation excursions that involve enjoying animals in their natural habitat or a reputable wildlife preserve, where they have the freedom to live as nature intended, not be confined and forced to exist solely for our enjoyment. To help people make more ethical choices, World Wildlife Fund has a list of guided adventures created by those focused on true conservation that protects wildlife and their habitats.
Lead image source: smerikal/flickr