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Beyond the selfie: the thoughtful approach to respecting wildlife on holiday

Beyond the selfie: the thoughtful approach to respecting wildlife on holiday

Avoid activities related to exploitation or cruelty to animals while on holiday

Sponsored: Are you planning to travel abroad this summer? Perhaps you fancy a wildlife safari or would like to see animals on holiday? It’s harder than you think to avoid inadvertently disrupting the local ecosystem, people or animals.

The key is to educate yourself and extensively research in advance so you can make conscious choices when you arrive. You may not have wifi in a particular country so pre-plan before you leave home.

Here are four easy tips for travel planning. For more information visit the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) website…

1 Support the local economy

Think local. If you are like me and want to bring home a few souvenirs for your family, buy from local crafters. You will support the people who need the money most and also provide your loved ones with a unique one-of-a-kind gift. Of course, it is not all about shopping. Why not arrange to visit or volunteer at a reputable animal sanctuary or wildlife rehabilitation facility and learn about projects that rescue animals and conserve habitat? If you like what you see, consider donating before you leave to ensure these facilities can continue to carry out their important work.

2 Think about animal welfare

Avoid activities related to exploitation or cruelty to animals like elephant-backed safaris or animal petting. It may seem obvious we should not directly interact with wildlife, but sometimes we get a bit too relaxed on vacation and forget some of these basic principles. It can be really tempting to snap selfies when you find yourself in the vicinity of a stunning creature. Resist the temptation.

You do not want to disrupt their behaviour or encourage your friends to get too close to wild animals either. Instead, point the camera away from you and capture the animals in their habitat so you can appreciate them again once you are back at home and feel good knowing you did not interfere with nature.

Not convinced? Read this National Geographic article about the recent dolphin selfie incident in Argentina. This story is particularly tragic as the seemingly innocent act of taking selfies led to the baby dolphin’s death.

Exotic cuisine is another hot topic, given some ingredients come from endangered species or involve extreme animal cruelty to deliver it to your plate. Three prominent menu items to watch out for are whale meat (offered in Iceland, Japan and Norway where commercial whaling still takes place), shark fin soup and bushmeat. Killing whales is inherently cruel and eating their meat can be toxic for humans. Look for restaurants without whale meat on their menus and support them instead. And consider going on a responsible whale watching trip. These amazing creatures are best experienced in their natural habitat – not on your dinner plate.

Approximately 100 million sharks are killed every year just for soup. Tragically, their fins are sliced off and they are thrown back in the ocean to slowly die in agony, no longer able to swim. If you have an adventurous palate and want to try something exciting, avoid ordering meat from wild animals like primates, crocodiles or pangolins. The highly commercialised bushmeat trade is devastating animal populations, particularly great apes and is causing the spread of deadly diseases from animals to people.

3 Choose ecotourism

If you are looking to have the least possible impact on the environment, make sure the tours and lodges you select are legitimate and not just greenwashing. Take a detailed look at their websites before booking. Are they supporting the local community? Employing local people? Sourcing local food? Using water, paper and other resources carefully? Or are they exploiting wildlife?

4 Report endangered species products

Report any suspicious or offensive items to your server, restaurant manager, local police, tour operator, hotel staff, tourism authorities and especially your friends and social network. A quick review on a travel site can prevent many visitors from having the same experience. Or accidentally undermining conservation efforts with their tourism dollars. If enough people tell a vendor they prefer to buy sustainable, animal-friendly products, it can make a big difference. Remember, if we don’t buy, they don’t die.

We are all becoming more mindful consumers and are unlikely to knowingly purchase wildlife products. But it is not always obvious. Here are a few items to avoid purchasing:

Belts, boots, handbags, wallets and other products made from alligators, turtles, big cats and snakes

Traditional medicines that claim to contain rhino horn, tiger bone, bear bile or other animal derivatives

Carvings, bracelets and other items made from ivory, elephant hair, shells or coral

Kerry Branon is an animal lover, environmentalist and filmmaker. She has helped support the mission of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to rescue and protect animals around the world for the past 14 years. She lives on Cape Cod with her spouse Lisa, their four-year-old daughter Isabella, cat Oliver and dogs Edie and Kinana.

This is one of a series of articles on Gay Star News in partnership with IFAW. The aim is to raise awareness of animal welfare within the global LGBTI community. To find out more about IFAW’s work to protect animals around the world and how you can help, click here.