From elephant riding to selfies with monkeys, we’ve all seen the social media posts of vacationing friends visiting animal attractions.
But for some of us, after that first shot of amazement (‘she’s cuddling a tiger!’), followed by pangs of jealousy (‘will I ever get to do that?’), another emotion sometimes creeps in – distaste.
And now, a new study from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU), commissioned by the World Animal Protection, is seeking to highlight the cruelest examples of wildlife tourism.
According to the organization, three out of four attractions involving animals involve some type of abuse or conservation concern. But how many of the 110 million people a year who visit them realize this?
Philip Mansbridge, UK Director of IFAW, said: ‘Wild animals belong in the wild and when going on holiday we urge tourists to think carefully about the activities they choose to ensure their trip does not support the cruel exploitation of animals.’
He added: ‘Wild animals are unpredictable and forced interaction with tourists usually involves stress and suffering to the animal as well as putting humans at risk of injury or even death, as sadly we have seen in Thailand this week. The best way to have an unforgettable wildlife experience is not seeing an animal in a cage or being forced to perform at a show, but by choosing a responsible wildlife watching trip.’
Below, we list the 10 cruelest examples of wildlife tourism, according to the study.
1 Riding elephants
Last week, an elephant engaged in riding humans trampled a British tourist to death. The animal’s handler reportedly attempted to control it with a speared hook. The Thai safari camp in question has since been accused of cruelty. It’s certainly a chilling industry: to make elephants submit to giving rides, they are taken from their mothers when babies and forced through a horrific training process known as ‘the crush’.
2 Taking tiger selfies
Come on: tigers aren’t made for this earth to be your photo prop. The creatures are often kept in filthy enclosures after being illegally poached and trafficked. They are handled and hugged by tourists and typically kept chained or in small cages with concrete floors.
3 Visiting bear parks
Bears are kept in sterile barren ‘pits’ with minimal – if any – behavioral enrichment. These pits are severely overcrowded. Bears are mainly solitary in the wild so this overcrowding can also lead to infighting and nasty injuries.
4 Walking with lions
Lions are typically bred and taken from their mothers within a month of birth. According to Kate Nustedt, Director of Wildlife at World Animal Protection: ‘We need to stop the demand for elephant rides and shows, hugs and selfies with tigers and lions by exposing the hidden suffering behind wildlife attractions.’
5 Holding sea turtles
The world’s last remaining sea turtle farm that acts as a tourist attraction is in the Cayman Islands. Here, tourists can hold turtles and even eat them during their visit.
6 Performing dolphins
Dolphins are often chased by high-speed boats before being hauled on board or caught in nets. For many, the stress is too much to take and they die during transportation to their intended destinations.
7 Dancing monkeys
Young macaques are trained aggressively and painfully, to make them walk, behave and appear more human. They are often dressed up to look like geishas and repeatedly forced to dance and perform tricks for groups of tourists.
8 Touring civet cat coffee plantations
A single cup of civet coffee or Kopi Luwak fetches a lot of money. Civets love to eat coffee cherries and Kopi Luwak coffee is made from the beans within the cherries that the civets excrete in pellets. In an attempt to produce more civet coffee, farmers have started catching the civets and keeping them in small, crowded barren cages. Caged civets are encouraged to gorge on an unbalanced diet of coffee cherries. This unnatural captivity and forced feeding results in injuries, disease, stress and self-mutilation.
9 Charming snakes and kissing cobras
Performing cobras are usually captured from the wild, then they are de-fanged with metal pliers and their venom ducts are either blocked or removed – often with unsanitized equipment. This often results in painful infections, and can kill the cobras.
10 Farming crocodiles
Crocodile farming involves large numbers of crocodiles being kept on farms and intensively bred – mainly to supply the fashion industry with their skins, but also for their meat. These farms are also now a more common wildlife tourism experience. People come to see the crocodiles then eat them in on-site restaurants. The conditions on the farms are often appalling.