Responsible Travel Challenge: Ethical Animal Encounters




With every new year comes the momentum to challenge ourselves to be bigger and better. Whether your resolutions consist of new fitness goals, committing to a healthier diet, taking the first step towards a big life change, or finally visiting a destination on your bucket list, setting intentions and determining the steps to reach your aspirations is a wonderful thing to do. 


Need an idea as to what to resolve this year? I implore you to become a more responsible traveler in 2018. After all, it is our duty as citizens of the world to take care of our planet and all living creatures. 2017 saw major strides in responsible travel as it was declared the year of International Year of Sustainable Tourism for Development by the United Nations. Let's continue the momentum and do our part to make the world a better, cleaner, safer space which each step of our journey. 



To help you become a more responsible traveler in 2018 I am launching a monthly challenge that will focus on an ethical change you can make to your travel style that will benefit the communities you visit and ultimately our precious planet. Around the beginning of each month in 2018, I'll release a new detailed guide with specific tips on how to be a more responsible traveler. Adhere to these suggestions to make an impact with your 2018 New Year's resolution.



JANUARY RESPONSIBLE TRAVEL CHALLENGE: BE KIND TO ANIMALS






Cruelty-free animal experiences will likely become one of the top travel trends of 2018. Even Instagram is on board to crack down on irresponsible animal interactions through a newly implemented alert system that meant to fight animal abuse. Other social media platforms will likely follow suit. Dating app Tinder was ahead of the movement and urged users not to showcase tiger selfies as their profile pictures in response to a PETA letter which demanded they ban the photos all together. 

Instead, they suggested users show potential romantic partners how much they care about the planet by using pictures that show them planting trees#NoTigerSelfies is a social media movement we can seriously get behind.  The January Responsible Travel Challenge is to only have ethical animal encounters. Here are a few ideas of ethical animal encounters to have around the globe.

75% of wildlife tourist attractions have a negative impact on wild animals according to World Animal Protection. They have a fantastic guide for animal-friendly travel. Some of the most obvious exploitive animal experiences to avoid are those where animals are held captive–yes, even zoos. 

Stay far away from any place that is promoting animal shows such as crocodile wrestling, snake charming, dancing bears or monkeys, and so on. If a company is promoting "ethical" animal experiences with photos of people holding animals avoid falling into that tourist trap, there's nothing ethical about cuddling a sloth. No wild animals should be accustomed to interaction with humans and often have to be physically broken down to become domesticated. 



The exception is the sanctuaries and nonprofits that rescue captive animals in hopes to rehabilitate them and re-release them into the wild. Sadly, more often than not an animal cannot readapt to its natural settings after relying on humans for food and shelter. Still, only trained employees that have established relationships with the animals should be allowed to physically touch the animals. 

Responsible travelers shouldn't manhandle baby sea turtles at a hatchery, hold a koala bear at a conservatory, or swim with any aquatic life that are being chased and circled by boats or fed by humans.



I am not perfect and have partaken in animal tourism that I now regret. I've become much more aware the last two years and am conscious to only seek out wildlife viewing opportunities that prioritize the safety of the animals. 


I will never ride an animal again, not even a horse. The sanctuary for rescued reptiles in Florida that I have visited in the past for airboat rides through the Everglades puts on a crocodile show even though they're meant to be rehabilitating the animals. I've held exotic birds for photos as a child without thinking twice that they were likely captured and clipped. 

I've ridden camels in Morocco and snapped selfies with them. I rode an elephant bareback in 2015 at Chai Lai Orchid, an ecolodge that employs former sex slaves and rescues captive elephants, but allows guests to ride, bathe, and feed elephants. I thought it was a lesser of two evils at the time. 

There are endless ethical opportunities to see elephants in Southeast Asia, please refer to this guide when vetting whether an elephant experience you're considering is harming or helping the majestic creatures. I'm eager to swim with whale sharks and have all of these 15 ethical wildlife experiences.

The opportunity to learn about indigenous wildlife in ethical ways are endless around the globe from sanctuaries, reserves, conservation centers, and shelters. These are the only places where animals should ever be kept in captivity, and ideally for limited periods of time as they are rehabilitated then released in the wild. 

Otherwise, animals belong in their natural habitats far from the humans that endanger them. Keep in mind that no matter how domesticated a wild animal may be they are still wild animals and can seriously injure you. Animals are not photo props for Instagram posts.





I loved learning about European brown bears at the Libearty Sanctuary in Romania, tracking one-horned rhinos in Nepal's Chitwan National Park, seeing a rare tusked male Asian elephant in the wild at Sri Lanka's Udawalawe National Park, swimming with wild sea turtles in Redang Island, Malaysia, spotting the various endangered wildlife species of Malaysian Borneo in Kuching and Sandakan such as orangutans, proboscis monkeys, pygmy elephants, and sun bears. Each of these experiences was transformative, educational, and made no negative impact on the animals I was fortunate enough to see. 



Book highly vetted animal experiences that support the well-being of animals and promote conservation. Look for places that prioritize care for the animals. Score through tagged photos on social media to see if an establishment keeps animals in small cages, in chains, or promotes interaction with humans. Always skip these places. 

Instead, opt for those that are recreated a creature's natural environment in a large fenced area. Try to avoid places that manually feed animals but instead leave food out for animals to find on their own. One of the hardest skills for an animal to regain after being captive is the ability to source their own food.







Ethical animal interactions benefit local communities through job creation developed by ecotourism. Wildlife tours and adjacent accommodation provide sustainable employment opportunities for locals. Tourist demands for minimal impact animal experiences demonstrate to the local community the importance of preserving their native wildlife. 


The call to boycott harmful animal tourism is making an impact. SeaWorld will no longer breed captive killer whales, Tiger Temple was shut down due to the horrific treatment of the captive big cats. 

Even in Chiang Mai, Thailand, where I am now, I see more and more signs for elephant sanctuaries that detail how they've rescued the animals from work camps and circuses. This was widely unheard of during my first visit two years ago but most travelers are now aware of the cruel training process to break an elephant down and how painful rides are on their backs.  



Where have you experienced responsible animal tourism? Share with us in the comments so we can go visit those places too!

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6 comments:

  1. I love this! Totally with you girl! I rode elephants too back in Thailand a couple years ago and regretted it. I will take you up on this challenge!

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    1. Thank you so much for the positive feedback! Glad you're on board for the challenge.

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  2. Great post! When we were in Thailand last year I nearly booked our elephant experience with the Chai Lai, until I realised that they allowed elephant riding. I ended up booking one through Visit.org and it was much better, although it is still a complex issue I think. We also went to Cambodia and visited the sanctuary in Phnom Penh, and we were disappointed there. However we didn't do the behind the scenes tour with Wildlife Alliance, so hopefully it's run well.

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    1. I'm so glad you liked the post Emma. I work with Visit.org and agree that there one of the best ways to ensure you're having an ethical animal life experience. Which sanctuary in Phnom Penh? I'd love to know why it was disappointing so I can avoid it.

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  3. As a vegan, I found this very interesting. It hurts my heart how humans exploit animals. Thank you for your candor and also for listing ethical options.

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    1. Glad to know there are other conscious travelers out there!

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