Ethical animal encounters – make memories, not mistakes

The Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage

On Tuesday 3rd March 2020, people across the globe celebrated World Wildlife Day.

The day aims to raise awareness of the importance of wildlife to ecosystems, people, and places around the world. The theme for 2020 was “Sustaining all life on Earth”, which, according to the World Wildlife Day website, “encompasses all wild animal and plant species as key components of the world’s biodiversity.”

Africa is famed for its diverse range of plants and animals, and thousands of people flock to the continent every year to see these marvellous creatures first-hand on safari. Animal tourism has become an increasingly popular choice, especially with the rise of Instagram and other social media sites. However, the increase in demand has also led to a rise in the number of tour operators providing experiences that are potentially harmful to animal – and human – welfare.

In some instances, the increased popularity of animal tourism activities has had a positive impact, as awareness of the creature’s needs and behaviours become more well-known. At African Adventures, we work with experienced and responsible local tour operators who understand the importance of protecting wildlife, whilst ensuring that our volunteers have a breathtaking experience.  Regardless of where you’re going or who you’re travelling with, it is important to understand how you can interact with the local wildlife in a way that’s ethical, respectful, and upholds their welfare. We’ve broken down what you should look for to ensure you have fun, memorable, ethical animal encounters on your travels…

The reviews

In the age of the internet, you have a wealth of information at your fingertips. It’s so important to do your research when it comes to booking ethical animal encounters – what could appear as an idyllic sanctuary away from the dangers of poachers and predators may be hiding a darker secret. Reading reviews before booking is the simplest way to find out whether you’ll leave your encounter with a clear conscience.

Their behaviour

Remember – they’re called wild animals for a reason. Animals should naturally be wary around humans – it’s a basic instinct in order to protect themselves. Whilst it would be cool to cuddle a big cat, consider this – could you safely do so in the wild? If the answer isn’t glaringly obvious to you,  it should be. An example of this is the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand, which was thankfully shut down in 2016 after a lengthy battle with wildlife activists over the abuse and drugging of the animals for the sake of tourism.

You should also be aware of the harmful impacts of humanised behaviour on animal welfare. Circuses are a prime example of this: elephants aren’t natural performers, and lions aren’t often seen jumping through flaming hoops in the African savannah. When performances such as these are put on for tourists, the animals have likely been beaten into compliance. Similarly, if you spot a street performer with a dancing monkey,  consider the reason behind the creature’s co-operation – more often than not it is fear and a lifetime of abuse. Avoid funding these sorts of shows and performances to prevent fuelling the industry and causing further suffering.

As a rule, any encounter which involves washing, riding, petting, holding, or hugging a wild animal should be avoided. Ethical wild animal encounters would not allow this sort of interaction.

Safety first

A responsible tour provider will prioritise visitor safety alongside that of the animals, but you should always consider your own health and safety first before embarking on an animal encounter. There are always potential risks involved, which is why it’s important to do your research and ensure you book through a responsible, trusted provider. Also, consider the safety of the animals you’ll be interacting with – if they’re being put at risk for the sake of your entertainment, reconsider your choices.

A tortoise on Prison Island, one of the ethical animal encounters we offer as part of our adventure activities.
A tortoise on Prison Island in Zanzibar.

Don’t do it for the ‘gram               

Interacting with a wild animal could be a once-in-a-lifetime experience, so of course you’d want a photo to remember it by. However, you should never support the use of an animal as a ‘prop’ for your photo. This is another example of humanised behaviour, and it is likely that the animal was taken away from its mother as a baby and has been ‘modified’ so that it is no longer a danger to humans. This could include the removal of claws or teeth – an undoubtedly painful experience for the creature. You should also avoid any accommodation or restaurants who have captive wild animals on display.

Culture vs cruelty

When visiting another country, it’s natural to want to learn about and experience its culture to the fullest extent. However, as a responsible traveller, you should avoid activities where animal cruelty is encouraged for the sake of cultural traditions. There are plenty of other ways that you can experience the culture of a new country authentically. Remember, culture isn’t an excuse for cruelty.

Taking the above points into account should mean that you can take part in ethical animal encounters which respect the local wildlife, uphold the welfare of the animals, and leaves you with some unforgettable memories.