Into the wild: Ethical Wildlife tourism

Wildlife tourism

This summer, maybe you’ll take the opportunity of a wildlife observation at the destination you are traveling to.

Whether it is whale watching or turtle watching, wildlife tourism organized via a tour operator or independently, is an increasingly popular form of travel.

However, some travel experiences where animals can be observed might hide abusive practices.

These methods are sometimes not very detectable, and 80% of travelers are unaware that they have already visited a company that encourages the abuse and/or theft of wild animals.

Today we dive into the practices to be wary of, and we give you some keys to make animal tourism and ethics work together;

Being conscious of the abuse

During your travels, you may have come across dressed up monkeys for circuses in Sri Lanka, dancing bears in Turkey, Greece or India or Elephants you can ride on, most commonly in Thailand.

A study showed that 80% of travellers were not aware that the “tourist attraction” they visited was actually abusing animals… it’s not always easy to recognize, if you have not done your research before leaving.

The truth behind the most expensive coffee in the world

most expensive coffee in the world


Travelers who visit Bali’s dream beaches often choose a day to discover the Indonesian island.

The interior of the island is full of breathtaking landscapes, terraced rice fields and a multitude of unsettled spots.

A day of discovering Bali on the land side, often includes a coffee break for tourists to discover Luwak Coffee.

This coffee, which also exists in Thailand, China, and Vietnam, is renowned for its outstanding taste and is one of the most expensive coffees in the world.

This unique coffee is made from berries partially digested by the Asian civet and then harvested in its excrement.

Initially, this coffee only existed in small quantities, because it had to be harvested in the wild.

With the tourism boom and the financial attractiveness of this beverage, Luwak coffee has generated frightening intensive methods.

Capture, battery retention, forced feeding, and isolation on the program to make it short.

On an excursion with a “poop coffee” tasting at the end, you are pretty sure that your coffee will come from this kind of practice.

Even if you don’t see any cages (you’d instead find a selfie spot in front of the rice fields or a swing), or if you see an animal that looks perfectly relaxed in a basket.

Good practice: a visit to skip and a “holiday souvenir” to banish from your suitcases.

Ride a bike, not an elephant

sustainable travel and wildlife

© Holiable

What we need to be conscious about is that they are taken from their mothers when babies and forced through a training process known as the crush.

Which is, as you can imagine, painful and physically restraining and has lifetime psychological impacts on the elephants. When not performing or used for rides most elephants are kept in chains, unable to socially interact with one another.

The take-home message on elephants to us is pretty simple.

If you are not in the mood to do a trek or a walk in the Jungle with your feet, just do something else, but please do not ride an elephant.

Our TIPS for eco-friendly Elephant Observation in Asia :

Being an eco-friendly and mindful traveller starts by being informed when you leave.

It is possible to observe elephants in south east asia in places that have sustainable practices.

World Protection Organization and many other organizations are working on the ground to educate businesses using elephants for tourism entertainment, and finding sustainable alternative approaches that are better for animals but still bring them a stable revenue.

They are generally qualified as sanctuaries.

Yet again, you still need to verify before you visit.

For example, the World Protection Organization, considers that bathing the elephants, is not a natural and ethical practice and does not encourage visiting sanctuaries who still offer that activity.

If you’re used to booking through a travel operator, rather than planning your trip alone, the World Protection Organization has listed over 200 travel agencies that have committed not to sell cruel elephant entertainment.

Keep your distance

wildlife selfies

We’re all aware there’s a new trend around. You know the “selfie with an animal” kind of stuff. Of course the most buzzing selfie is with a wild animal (we’re not talking about #catsofinstagram).

But we need to be conscious, that this trend has led to unethical practices.

All around the world some tourist venues, use captive animals to allow tourists to get their best shot.

  • In Asia, for example, tiger cubs are separated from their mothers at an early stage, so that they’re easy to take a selfie with.
  • Same thing, happens in South Africa, where some so called camps allow their visitors to cuddle or walk with lion cubs.
  • It’s also the case on some Carribean Islands with elephants, or in Eastern Europe with bears

The Pledge against wildlife selfies initiated by  the World Animal Protection Organization and that you can still sign, led to the creation of a warning page on Instagram end of 2017 that is still functioning at the time we are updating this article.

Avoid the latest trend

However, the race for likes seems to continue and is generating new trends that are not responsible, both on the tourism establishment side and on the traveller side.

In Japan, the otter cafés, aka the café where you have a drink in a kawaï place and can make a selfie with an otter caught in the wild, have become super trendy.

We won’t show you a screenshot to prove it, but we’ll just tell you that encouraging this kind of practice by going there is obviously not eco-friendly.

No more than the equivalent concept with hedgehogs….

The eco-friendly practice:

Basically, there’s no good animal selfie. If you can cuddle the animal, put it in your arms, if it is restrained or you can feed it, then you’re doing it all wrong.

Take only memories

A final point to be conscious about when you are doing your trip is that there are rules and restrictions on what we could call “wildlife souvenirs”.

We’re not just talking about elephant tusks or bear bile, but on the coast, or at the market you could accidentally run into jewellery made from corals, sea turtle products and shells.

Consider not encouraging the trade of any endangered species or wild fauna.  

Our tip

If you’re unaware of what is allowed or not, you can download the beware buyer guide from wwf.

Animal abuse also exists for the observation of marine animals, such as dolphins, belugas, turtles, sloths or swimming with sharks.

If you want to go further on the subjet, National Geographic has written a indepth article on the excesses of animal tourism, worth reading. 

Eco-friendly wildlife tourism, the good practices

ecthical wildlife tourism

If you want to observe an animal, the best place to be is in the wild.

In their natural habitat, animals are free behaving. The benefit for you is to see them as they really are.

Safaris in Africa, Whale Watching, Bird watching safaris,Snorkeling…For all these activities, The further you stay from the animal, the more likely you are to see them behave normally and not go away. And the more you respect their environment and health.

For ‘basic” experiences, like snorkeling, it is pretty easy to respect those principles on your own

Eco-friendly practices for divers:

  • Do not touch corals, which are fragile and threatened, with your hands or palms
  • Stay away from large marine mammals and watch them without moving too much
  • Find out about marine protected areas, accessible or restricted zones and access regulations
  • Observe as much as possible, take as many pictures as you want, but don’t collect anything

For a more “expert” observation such as safari or whale watching, contact recognized professionals who respect good practices, such as those described by the British Association of Travel Agents

During an eco-friendly safari in South Africa, you will quickly realize that the guest in the Busch is you and that the challenge is not to tick a list of animals to see.  That’s what we shared, as a feeling about our stay at an ecocamp in the greater kruger park.

If you book with a certified and responsible company, in addition to an authentic experience you support the conservation and sustainable management of animal tourism

Yes wildlife tourism can be ethical and it has positive impacts on both the environment and the local economy.

With sustainably managed wildlife tourism practices, not only do you make sure that the tours you are taking are considering the wildlife protection, but also do you favour local employment.

With the effect of locals being more conscious and eager to protect their environment and the wildlife they have in their area, as it is a source of revenue.

So when you book an organized exploration, make sure you do it with an operator that has sustainable practices all the way and employs locals and professionals. You’ll have the additional benefit of living a more authentic experience.

Holiable is an eco-friendly travel planner helping you find sustainable hotels, green restaurants and ethical tourism activities around the world. Holiable was developed to share experiences, advice and reviews on sustainable travel, making it easier to prepare your next eco-friendly holiday.
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