Tourist attractions for animals are popular across the United States. But many are dangerous and ignore the welfare of the animals. A new study on alligator wrestling tourist attractions breaks myths of conservation and animal welfare.

PLOS One published the findings of three authors on the negative effects of tourist attractions, specifically alligators. Casey Riordan, a graduate of New York University’s inaugural Animal Studies program and author of the study was interested in studying how alligators are affected by tourism.

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“When it comes to wildlife tourism, the public has started to learn that wild animal attractions like elephant rides and tiger petting can be inhumane,” Riordan told PEOPLE. “But barely anyone pays attention to animals like alligators that are experiencing inhumane treatment right in our backyards.”

So the authors studied common alligator tourism practices and their impacts on animals, using videos at different tourist attractions. “Our results show systemic welfare harm: 11 venues housed adult alligators together with conspecifics, 96% of alligator wrestling performances facilitated direct contact in the form of physical restraint by one or more human wrestlers, and as many as 96% of the videos did not show a suitable water or waterside features for captive alligators. Furthermore, 12% of performances showed wrestlers flipping alligators onto their backs while 16% showed wrestlers tying alligators’ jaws shut, both of which are known to be acute stressors,” the authors wrote.

Source: Swaggerjack Productions/YouTube

Just under half the videos mentioned environmental conservation and much of the video commentary included misleading or contradictory information on conservation, a big rationale given by many zoos and tourist attractions.

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“We are hoping people do their research and think twice about the wildlife tourism attractions that they support,” Riordan said. “If you are going to an alligator tourism attraction just check on how the animals are treated. If something doesn’t look right, or if the alligator isn’t experiencing life as it would in the wild — if they are being forced to do something that is very unnatural, like being wrestled — definitely avoid that.”

There a number of ways that we can help to bring an end to cruelty towards wild animals held captive in zoos and support legitimate sanctuaries. Here are a few suggestions:

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Check out more on sanctuaries versus tourist attractions.

And more about how zoos harm society:

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