Love animals? Then forget circuses, dolphin swims, and elephant rides, and choose more compassionate activities instead.
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Our group of vegan animal lovers was so excited.
Here we were, far from home in a beautifully verdant setting in rural Thailand, waiting our chance to meet some of the residents at non-profit wildlife sanctuary. The distinct hoot of howler monkeys billowed across the lush landscape, and the tropical sun was partially obscured by thick, fluffy clouds. Was that a trumpeting of an elephant?! This was going to be good.
Then our guide had to go and break the spell.
Turns out--no surprise to some of us--that the elephants, bears, monkeys, and other wild animals who have found refuge at Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT) share tragic stories of brutal exploitation by humans--including their captors, keepers, and tourists who keep the devastating traditions alive by seeking out wild-animal encounters when traveling abroad.
Boonmee, the first pachyderm we met, had a rough start in life. The 55-year-old found her way into slavery the way so many elephants in South East Asia do: caught in a jungle trap laid by human predators when she was two years old. While her mother cried and paced and frantically tried to rescue her, she sat in her underground hole, her fate already determined.
Her captors tortured her daily--a strategy intended to break her spirit. When she was completely shattered (and blinded in one eye by a bullhook), her mahout--the human assigned to be her keeper--showed her the tiniest bit of kindness. The gesture is part of an elaborate act designed to win the trust of a creature who has been stripped of everything: her family, her right to a natural life in the forest, and a life free of pain and suffering. Eventually, Boonmee became a tourist attraction, a Disneyland-style ride for tourists eager to tell their friends back home about their "wildlife experience."
In October 2016--after an animal organization circulated a petition asking people to boycott TripAdvisor for earning money from animal exploitation--the popular travel website made a surprise move and publicly announced that it (and its partner site Viator) would no longer reap financial rewards through animal exploitation by selling tickets to animal attractions.
If you want to help animals and do your part to prevent animal suffering at home and abroad, steer clear of activities, spectacles, and paid interaction with wildlife. These might include:
Swimming with the dolphins
why: causes psychological distress to marine mammals.
why: perpetuates a system of animal slavery and abuse.
why: animals are stolen from the wild, de-fanged and de-clawed, and made to perform unnatural acts
why: infant animals are stolen from their parents and forced to live their lives on a chain, for the amusement of tourists.
What can an animal-loving traveler do instead? There are options! We recommend:
- Visit or volunteer at an animal sanctuary
- Hike, bike, or walk with a guide into forests and observe wildlife on their terms
- Learn to snorkel or SCUBA and explore the seas without paying a middleman
For a list of sanctuaries and refuges around the globe that welcome volunteers, drop us a line!