From elephant riding to taking selfies with a monkey the RSPCA gives advice on some of the 'tourist attractions' to avoid whilst travelling
Travelling to different places around the globe is an enriching and fascinating experience but many tourists can find themselves taking part in animal-related activities they wouldn’t dream of doing back home.
With more and more students opting for gap years and round-the-world trips, and off-the-beaten-track destinations becoming much more accessible for holiday-goers and honeymooners, there is a boom in the number of people travelling abroad.
Over the years RSPCA International has received hundreds of complaints from tourists, who have seen animals cruelly exploited. The choices people make while travelling can help the RSPCA make a significant difference to animals all over the world.
Here are some dos and don’ts to help you navigate some of the cruel entertainment practices which tourists may come across whilst travelling. Thank you to the RSPCA for these tips.
Selfies with a monkey - Photographers asking for money may walk around the streets or on the beach offering pictures with a baby chimp or monkey. They may look cute but these animals are usually taken illegally as babies from the wild to be used by photographers. Often their parents may have even been killed in order to steal the baby.
Cindy was rescued from life as a photographers prop in Spain. She is now living happily at Monkey World Ape Rescue Centre in Dorset.
Animal souvenirs - Many markets and stalls may sell caged birds and other small animals. Snake or scorpion wine may well be made from an animal stolen from the wild and drowned in alcohol. If you’re concerned it might be real - it probably is. It is generally illegal to import wildlife products such as ivory, tortoise shell, coral and animal skins into the UK without appropriate permits which are rarely provided in tourist shops. Save yourself some money and ditch the cruel souvenirs altogether.
Cuddling big cats - Lions and tigers are wild animals and if they allow you to get close to them it will usually be because they have been sedated with drugs to make them easier to handle. This is often the case with snakes, chimps and monkeys too, who could be left out in the sun all day without food or water, whilst tourists take pictures with them.
Riding elephants - Elephant riding plays a huge part in many tourist attractions and activities in Asia but the animals can be kept in horrible conditions when they are not ferrying tourists around. The number of elephants in Thailand has increased by just under a third in five years from 2010, according to a World Animal Protection report, as more and more tour operators offer riding experiences. Elephants are often illegally captured for sale to the tourism industry. Once babies are stolen from the wild they are beaten until they become compliant. ‘Breaking techniques’ see them chained and tortured until their spirit is broken and they will submit. When riding, bullhooks are often used to keep them in check which can also cause severe suffering.
Getting in the saddle - Avoid riding donkeys, horses, or camels if you suspect any form of cruelty. It’s easy to think that these animals are used to carrying heavier loads but they may be working very long hours without food or water in the heat so that their owners can make as much money from tourists as they can.
Running with bulls - In Spain, Portugal, Mexico and France there are local festivals where locals and visitors run with bulls, and other fiestas which involve considerable animal suffering. Stay away from bullfighting at all costs. This is big business in Spain and elsewhere, and the money from tourists helps this cruelty to continue.
Catching waves with a dolphin - Swimming with dolphins may seem like a fantastic idea but in reality they often have restrictive space and can find swimming with people all day very stressful. Marine mammal facilities where dolphins and whales are kept in captivity often use animals taken from the wild. Captivity cannot provide for their needs and they can live shortened lives.
Pack your binoculars and snorkel - You may not need to look very far to see wildlife like exotic birds and fish without straying far from your sunlounger.
Get to know nature - It’s possible to see some amazing wild animals in their natural habitat. Give them the respect they deserve by watching at a safe distance, for example at a nature reserve, and quiz tour operators about what codes of conduct they abide by to ensure animals aren’t negatively affected by tourists.
Volunteer - There are conservation projects around the globe which aim to preserve and promote animals and their habitats. You may want to research the possibility of a volunteering trip ensuring that it is for an ethical and effective organisation.
Get active - Find a walking or jogging route and put on your trainers. Wildlife is often more active in the morning and evening when it’s cooler, the perfect time to take a hike.
Grab a camera - Animals which seem exotic to us may be pretty common in another country and give a great opportunity to capture some amazing memories on film - at a safe distance. You might be lucky enough to see a Black Bear or a Grizzly in Canada, a wallaby or kangaroo bouncing in the wild in Australia or exotic birds swooping past in Mauritius.
Ask questions - Don’t be afraid to ask how animals are being cared for, where meat in your dinner comes from and if it is endangered. Any reputable business should be able to give you satisfactory answers.
Give a little - There are ways that you can help animals in other countries by donating to a local animal welfare charity or a stray dogs or cats initiative which provides veterinary care and neutering.
Speak out - If you see animals being treated cruelly whilst travelling abroad then speak out. You can try to contact a local animal protection organisation or shelter whilst you are there. When you return write to the national tourism authority or embassy of that country in the UK and let them know about your concerns.
Paul Littlefair, head of the international department at the RSPCA said: “Riding an elephant, swimming with dolphins, cuddling a tiger cub, or taking a picture with a monkey may seem like a once-in-a-lifetime experience but all of these can have very serious animal welfare and safety risks for tourists.
“We work in many countries throughout the world to prevent animal cruelty and tourism can also play a big part in tackling this.If there is a demand for activities like these and money to be made then cruel practices will continue.
“It’s important to research the activities you are taking part in first and if you are in any doubt, look for ethical alternatives.”
For more information on the international work of the RSPCA visit, https://www.rspca.org.uk/whatwedo/endcruelty/international