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Ethical Animal Tourism

Val Cairney December 15, 2023 62

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Ethical Animal Tourism

Hi everyone, and thanks for joining me on this episode of Val Talk’s Pets.

On this episode, I’m going to ask for a bit of indulgence as I go a wee bit away from talking strictly about pets. We are all animal lovers, right? So, I think this topic will be of interest as animal welfare is at stake, and we know that is extremely important.

As we move into the cold weather in many areas, the thought of taking a week or two to lay on a beach somewhere is very enticing and many, many people become tourists at resorts on these beautiful, sun-filled islands. Along with enjoying the beach is also part of the fun of participating in activities you would never get to do in your own country. And this is where my topic for this episode begins. The exploitation of animals for tourist money is quite rampant, from swimming with dolphins, taking photos with monkeys, tigers, and even dog sledding, finding ethical animal attractions that preserve and protect wildlife needs to become a bigger conversation as people visit areas for a sun-filled good time.
Someone who loves animals can be easily enticed to experience up and close a dolphin or be hugged by a monkey. But we have to look deeper to make sure that we are not part of the problem of animal exploitation, perpetuating it and increasing income for those who are using animals in an unethical and most often cruel way.

According to World Animal Protection, “Captive wildlife tourism often requires the removal of wild animals from their natural habitats, or separation from their families at an early age if captive bred and is linked to both legal and illegal wildlife trade. Furthermore, keeping wildlife in captivity for entertainment offers no genuine benefit to the conservation of the species.” The Canadian Automotive
Association CAA
magazine did an article on this subject and citing through World Animal Protection, stated that “around 110 million people visit wildlife attractions each year,…75% of these venues have a negative impact on wild animals. Think ostrich rides and shark baiting. Often, animals have been snatched out of their natural habitat to become “props” for tourists, which can cause long-term harm. The article continues to point out from a quote from Michele Hamers, wildlife campaign manager for World Animal Protection Canada, “Many wild animals that are used for the tourism industry have endured severe trauma, like being removed from their mother at an early age, facing inhumane training methods and cosmetic alterations such as removal of teeth or claws” I remember watching a program on this subject and people were taking selfies with baby tigers, who had been drugged so that people could indulge themselves.


Let’s take a look at dolphins for example in the Swim with dolphins programs often seen in Mexico and the Caribbean. The Swim with Dolphin programs have to first get dolphins. As shown in the Oscar award winning documentary, The Cove, the drive method is detailed graphically how dolphins are caught. In the book, Death at Sea World by David Kirby the capture process is also detailed.
Dolphins are often culled by fishermen who see them as threats to fish and or to provide meat to local markets. These dolphins are rounded up in horrific style to be slaughtered. According to Justin & Lauren Adventure & Kind Travel, “The secondary purpose of driver fisheries are to keep the youngest and most attractive animals to be sold to aquariums, marine theme parks, and Swim with the Dolphin programs. Out of the total amount of captured dolphins that are
spared, only 53% of them survive the first three months of captivity after being exposed to stressful situations, human illness and chemicals.” In addition, Justin and Lauren point out, “the Swim with the dolphin at SWTD excursions are often trained using cruel food deprivation techniques, forcing them to either perform tricks or starve.” And when it comes to swimming with wild dolphins the program
still creates stress for pods as they are targeted and can push the dolphins into situations with their natural predators. Basically swimming with dolphins in any situation is not ethical and is one of the big wildlife tourist grabs that creates cruelty to one of the most amazing creatures on earth. Lauren & Justin make some great suggestions for alternative dolphin adventures. They say booking with a reputable whale and dolphin watching tour is a better choice and to make sure the company follows the conservation rules set by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society.


Another animal that is used and abused are elephants. One of the most intelligent, communal animals on the planet are horribly chained with short chains, shackled with spiked ankle cuffs, forced to perform or forced to sit like a dog or with their trunk curled so tourists can have their photos taken sitting in the curve of their trunk or between their uplifted front legs. The National Geographic
article entitled Suffering unseen: The dark truth behind wildlife tourism
, points out, one elephant in Thailand for example paints for the tourists. However, a nail is stuck in her face to switch directions with her brush. Her paintings are sold to tourists.

The elephants learn to fear the bull hooks, long poles with sharp metal hook. They are chained on hard concrete floors for hours and then hauled out to Let tourists ride them. The article states, “the elephants give rides and perform tricks without harming people only because they’ve been “broken” as babies and
taught to fear the bull hook.” It continues to point out that many of these Elephants are about 4 years of age, toddlers by elephant standards. The bottom line is, never engage in elephant rides, sitting with elephants for photos or any proposition where there is a caretaker directing what the elephant does or just the plain fact that the elephant is in captivity. There is a 99.9 % chance it is being cruelly treated day after day after day, 24 hours a day.


As I briefly mentioned before, the majestic, endangered tiger is also on the list of exploited animals for tourism. The National Geographic investigators dug deep into the lives of captive wild animals and how they are used and abused for tourist money. On, several photos are posted of tigers tethered on a 2–3 foot chain on a concrete slab, so they cannot get up. Their tongues loll sideways out of their mouths indicating drugging, and tourists from all over the world, sit proudly behind these tigers, arms resting on their backs for their photos. Did they not notice the chain? Did they not notice the squinting eyes they can hardly keep open, or their tongues hanging out? Did it not occur to them that this is not natural? That tiger laying here in this manner must have had something done to it? As Geo states, “Most tourists who enjoy these encounters don’t know that the adult tigers may be declawed, drugged, or both. Or that there are always cubs for tourists to snuggle with because the cats are
speed bred, and the cubs are taken from their mothers just days after birth.” Monkeys from many different species are also treated horribly and cruelly. World Animal Protections said “it uncovered 290 macaques housed in venues offering shows in Thailand. Monkeys are trained to walk and behave more humanly at an early age. When they are not performing, they are often chained.” There are also, several undercover videos showing extraordinary beatings of monkeys of all kinds and ages.

Top 10 Cruellest Animal Tourism Practices

So, at this point, I’d like to go over the top 10 cruellest animal tourism practices as listed by from World Animal Protection, which dubs these attractions as “holiday horrors.”

Riding elephants

“With a process of training known as “the crush” elephants are made to submit into giving rides to tourists. This often involves restraining the baby elephants in small cages and tying them with ropes or chains and beating them with a bull hook.”

Taking tiger selfies

The tiger mistreatment I mentioned earlier is prevalent in Thailand, parts of Asia, Australia, Mexico, and Argentina.

Walking with lions

“According to World Animal Protection, lion cubs are bred and taken away from their mothers within a month to supply the growing lion tourism industry. When cubs grow too big they are used for relatively new walking-with-lions tourist experiences where handlers walk the lions on leads.

Visiting bear parks

“Bears are kept in often overcrowded pits, which can be a stressful situation. Bears are also forced to perform circus tricks.” And just another comment on bears. In the National Geographic article, it points out how bears are chained, standing in an upright position for indefinite periods of time to force them to strengthen their back legs to enable them to perform tricks standing up.

Holding Sea Turtles

Holding a sea turtle can cause stress to the animal and weaken its immune system, making it more susceptible to disease.”

Performing Dolphins

The United States was one of several countries to ban dolphins being taken from the wild for entertainment. The dolphins spend their lives in a small space, restrictive compared to their natural open-sea environment. Many dolphins also face stress-related illnesses and can suffer from heart
attacks and gastric ulcers.”

Dancing Monkeys

As mentioned before, monkeys are beaten and chained.

Touring Civet Cat Coffee Plantations

According to Wikipedia, “the Civet (si-vuht) is a small lean, mostly nocturnal mammal native to tropical Asia and Africa.” Historically, it has been the main species used in perfumery. The Civet has secretions from its perianal gland known as civetone. This was used in perfume production. To take it
one step further, the Civet is being used in the coffee industry. A coffee called Kopi Luwak or Civet coffee, “consists of partially digested coffee cherries, which have been eaten and defecated by the Asian Palm Civet. The cherries are fermented as they pass through the civet’s intestines and after being defecated with other fecal matter they are collected.” Of course this means that Asian palm civets are at danger now as they are being caught and traded for this purpose. The World Animal Protection report states, “While no cruelty is involved when pellets are collected in the wild, in an effort to produce more coffee, farmers have started catching the civet and feeding them berries. The force feeding often results in injuries,
disease and poor nutrition. Tourists can visit plantations, see the animals and taste the coffee.” And of course contributing to the continuation and rise of the cruelty to the civet with the opportunity to make more tourist money.

Charming Snakes and Kissing Cobras

“The practice has been seen on streets for hundreds of years. Cobras are captured in the wild and defanged, using metal pliers or their venom ducts are blocked which can cause painful infections.

Farming Crocodiles

“Crocodile farming involves keeping large numbers of crocodiles on farms and intensively breeding to supply the fashion industry with skins and also for meat.”

What To Look Out For

So, what do you need to look for if you are considering a wildlife excursion while on vacation? World Animal Protection lists these red flags:

“*Avoid venues where you can touch, hug, feed, take a selfie or closely interact with a wild animal (and yes, that includes swimming with dolphins) *If a “sanctuary” sells, breeds or makes animals perform tricks, it’s not an ethical operation.” *Be skeptical if operators “guarantee” an encounter with animals in the
wild, which could mean animals are baited. *Labels like “sanctuary” and “rescue centre” can be used by anyone, so people cannot rely on such descriptions.”

Dog Sledding Adventures

And the last operation I really can only touch on for the sake of awareness is dog sledding adventures.

This is an enormous topic and deserves its own episode, however in the interest of creating awareness so just one person will not participate, I will give the overview. It seems like such a fun thing to do. Have excited dogs out in the snow, doing what sled dogs have done for centuries, careening through the snow,
seeing the sights without gas fumes or crowds. But behind the scenes a very different picture is painted. In Ontario, Canada, an operation north of Toronto had 239 dogs seized by the provinces Animal Welfare Services in 2021

The dogs were found to be on insufficient lengths of tethers. living outside without sufficient insulation of doghouses, two dogs died of bacterial infection, and two others died of cancer. This particular facility
had been inspected 15 times in two years. The dogs being in distress required the facility to make changes, but they did not and hence the dogs were seized. There were more condition issues but the gist of the situation was that the dogs were not being properly cared for and were out on excursions.

Ontario is not the only province with this issue, Alberta and British Columbia have been implicated as well. A group called Direct Action Everywhere looked into two facilities in Alberta. They found “sled dogs
chained to poles and suffering in filthy conditions. Investigators looked at three different facilities and found “over 500 dogs chained to six-foot tethers for upwards of 23 hours a day during the off-season.

Upon further investigation, the group repeatedly found injured and malnourished dogs with a lack of access to food or water and inadequate conditions.” In The Plight of the Canadian Sled Dog article, it states, “Cruelty is well-documented in the dog sledding industry – and routinely ignored.
(Kennels) which run dog sled tours around Alberta during the winter season, hide the cruel mistreatment of their dogs behind pictures of smiling snow-covered huskies. The reality of the situation could not look more different. In the video (Liberation Lockdown Sled Dogs) the dogs stare desperately at onlookers, longing for attention with chains around their necks. It’s the cruel, cold nature of the animal exploitation business: maximize profits, not animal welfare. Mushers routinely push dogs beyond their physical limits, oftentimes crippling them for life. When dogs no longer prove useful, they are shot.”

Okay, everyone, I really wanted to get this information out to create awareness. Those that listen to my podcast are animal lovers, so it is our responsibility to get the word out and to not unknowingly participate.

And that leads me to my pet peeves section.

Pet Peeves

You know, it astounds me that in 2023 going into 2024, a time when humans are supposed to be more aware and more evolved with regards to our place on earth, animals are still being exploited, used and abused. I don’t understand how a person can take an amazing animal like an elephant and put a spiked chain on its foot, torturing it day in and day out and have absolutely no feeling as long as money goes in their pocket. These people disgust me, from puppy millers to wildlife exploiters, I just wish there was a way to have them feel what these animals feel.

The demand has got to be stanched. As stated many people do not realize the cruelty involved with many of the wildlife tourist adventures. We have got to get the word out, tell everyone you know that is visiting a country on holiday that offers these encounters, how cruel they are and make them aware that if these operators get hit in the pocket maybe they can be forced out of the trade. It’s heinous and it’s disgusting.

Now having said all that, the article in the CAA magazine states, “World Animal Protection provides tips on its website to help people determine if animal’s basic needs are being met by the operator or venue.” Here are some organizations pointed out by CAA that can help pick an adventure that is ethical., sponsored by Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration assists visitors to find whale-watching companies committed to responsible practices.

The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries which has accredited more than 200 sanctuaries, rescue facilities and rehabilitation centers-enables visitors to its website ( to search by animal and region.

World Wildlife Fund has teamed up with Natural Habitat Adventures on 90 plus conservation-based itineraries, searchable on its website (

So, there really is no excuse. There is no reason to participate in wildlife animal excursions that are built on the backs of hardship, cruelty, neglect, exploitation and greed. There are ethical, sustainable, respectful
adventures available if you just look. Now, we have to get the word out so travelers will know to look for ethical groups through proper channels.
Remember, the big no, no’s. If you can touch, hug, feed, take a selfie, closely interact, ride, or swim, with any wild animal your chances are just about 99.9% that these animals are being exploited, cruelly for the
monetary gain of a heartless, unethical, user. Research is readily available, get the word out because a lot of this travesty is happening due to ignorance, and it doesn’t need to be, because as I say, knowing is caring.

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Val Cairney

Hi everyone, and welcome to Val Talk’s Pets, the forum for pet parents and enthusiasts alike. So, I have been working in the pet industry now for almost 10 years and, on a daily basis, I handle a lot of issues and questions arising from pet parents. I am not a veterinarian but I do have certifications in Canine, Feline, Small Animal, Fish and Herptile and Avian Health and Nutrition from the University of California, Davis Extension, the Vet College.

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