We have all heard the horror stories involving elephant rides, drugged-out tigers, fake conservation farms, rodeos and heartbreaking stories of orcas killing their trainers or trying to commit suicide in front of tourists. Despite these stories, so many of us continue to do business with venues and event companies that take animals out of the wild and put them front and centre of their attractions. Why? A study from Oxford University in 2015 that reviewed the impacts of the wildlife tourism industry on a global scale found at least four million tourists who visit tourist attractions involving wildlife are likely to be contributing to large-scale animal welfare abuses. Growing awareness of how animals are treated in captivity is on the up – this is a good thing. More and more tourists are avoiding facilities that do not promote animal welfare, and public outcry has seen the closure of several major attractions around the world, including Tiger Temple in Thailand, and SeaWorld shutting down its orca breeding programme. Many facilities still operate under the guise of only taking animals from the wild when they are in danger or need rehabilitating, and instead have their own breeding programmes. By operating their own breeding programmes, these facilities are still in the business of using animals for entertainment and containing them in environments that are unnatural to their species. Acceptance waning The concept of animal attractions as entertainment is starting to dissipate, and as a business that organises events, destinations and activities for clients, you don’t want to be on the wrong side of that fight. It is becoming increasingly possible and easy to enjoy animals without contributing to animal cruelty. Look for properly organised expeditions, reputable conservation facilities and zoos and aquariums who do real conservation care. A handful of activities that involve animals including ecotourism and sanctuaries can have a positive impact on conservation values and animal welfare. Unfortunately, most other worldwide wildlife tourism activities such as elephant rides, streetdancing monkeys and dolphin interactions have the opposite effect. Your customers will appreciate you knowing the difference. What can you do to help? Do your research. It’s hard to know what goes on behind closed doors, but look for sanctuaries and conservation operators whose main purpose is animal welfare, rather than an attraction. Every well-meaning person wants to believe the marketing speak from animal attractions. But it is important to ask the right questions. It’s all about education. There are thousands of good examples of wildlife tourism around the world. Do your research and avoid facilities or venues that promote animal interaction as the main attraction.
Getting up close and personal with exotic animals can be a dream come true for animal lovers. Elephants, monkeys, tigers, lions, orcas, dolphins – they are amazing, beautiful creatures, and the chance to see them in real life can be a huge drawcard when planning a trip. Unfortunately, a quick trip down the rabbit hole will reveal a not-so-rosy life for many of the animals that are used for entertainment in the tourism industry.