Do you want to know more about responsible wildlife tourism? Epicure & Culture caught up with Adam M. Roberts, CEO of Born Free USA, to learn more about what’s ethical and what’s not when it comes to animal experiences.

In your travels, you may have encountered a photo opportunity with a monkey on a chain; a chance to swim with dolphins; or an offer to ride an elephant. Tourist destinations often feature interactive experiences with captive animals—but at what cost?

Captive animals, on display for entertainment and, of course, profit, are often (viciously) snatched from the wild, forced into a life of exploitation, in possibly abusive—and certainly unnatural—conditions.

Despite animal welfare and public safety concerns, tourist traps continue to encourage human/wildlife interaction, and unwitting tourists continue to pay money for these opportunities. We receive thousands of letters and emails at Born Free detailing these disturbing interactive “experiences.” Let me be clear: I fully understand the desire to be close to wild animals. They are magnificent. They are alluring. But, we also have to understand that they are wild animals and that they belong in the wild.

Photo courtesy of Baker County Tourism

What’s Being Done

The travel industry has an affirmative obligation to abstain from exploitative endeavors and offer ecologically-friendly, animal-friendly opportunities to view wildlife in their natural habitats. But, sadly, animal-centered attractions are typically much less considerate of the animals’ welfare, focusing instead on the consumer experience.

Born Free is on the vanguard of work to phase these attractions out of modern tourism. For years, the Born Free Foundation has engaged with the travel industry to advocate for higher standards of animal welfare and to educate about the importance of ecotourism. Our initiative, Travellers’ Animal Alert, encourages travelers to report any questionable animal-related practices that they encounter.

Born Free Foundation has also helped to develop the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism (ABTA 2013), a comprehensive best-practices guide intended to replace the travel industry’s reliance on substandard animal attractions with responsible animal care practices—and accountability. Born Free actively encourages tour operators to sign up to the Global Welfare Guidance, under which the obligation is placed on the tour operator to comply with specified standards. These changes can improve conditions for animals and improve the experience for tourists.

Cheeky monkey in India. Photo courtesy of Epicure & Culture.

Tourism is one of the world’s largest industries, and it’s highly influenced by public demand. So, it’s not only the responsibility of the tourism industry to rethink its practices; the onus also lies with tourists. When traveling, it’s important to educate yourself about your destination, its natural history, and its wildlife, all in the context of sustainability.

When planning your next vacation, remember to book with a tour operator who holds a responsible tourism charter or policy… and take care to ensure that your actions do not negatively impact the destination and its wildlife heritage.

Playful elephants. Photo courtesy of Tambako The Jaguar.

Basic Rules For Responsible Wildlife Tourism

  • View wildlife in the wild, as opposed to visiting them in captivity.
  • Viewing groups should be small and appropriate for the activity and the species being viewed, to minimize disturbance.
  • Sufficient distance should be kept so that animals remain undisturbed. Animals running, swimming, or flying away should not be pursued.
  • When near wildlife, noise and sudden movements should be kept to an absolute minimum (even in vehicles) in order to avoid alarming animals.
  • Extra care should be taken when approaching wildlife with their young, so that parents and their offspring are never separated.
  • Breeding sites, whether nests, dens, or burrows, should not be approached. Instead, view them from a distance.
  • Visitors should never feed or touch wildlife.
  • There should be no more than five vehicles or boats viewing an animal for a prolonged period. Wildlife should never be crowded or boxed in.
  • Litter, including cigarette butts, must be taken away and disposed of responsibly.
  • ‘Trophy hunting’ or ‘canned hunting’ of captive bred animals in a confined area should not be supported.
  • Do not purchase artefacts or curios made from threatened and endangered wild animal products (e.g., ivory, tortoise shell, coral, reptile skins, or porcupine quills).
  • Do not participate in souvenir photographs in which animals are used as props.
  • Do not support activities in which animals are made to perform tricks based on non-natural behaviors.
  • Travel companies or operators should contribute to well-conceived local conservation projects.
  • Operators should develop good relationships with local communities, seeking to train and employ local staff and suppliers as far as possible.

Travel safely and responsibly so that animals and local communities may, too, benefit from your trip.

Keep wildlife in the wild.

Jessica Festa

Jessica Festa is the editor of Epicure & Culture as well as Jessie on a Journey. She enjoys getting lost in new cities and having experiences you don’t read about in guidebooks. Some of her favorite travel experiences have been teaching English in Thailand, trekking her way through South America, backpacking Europe solo, road tripping through Australia, agritouring through Tuscany, and volunteering in Ghana.

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  1. Wow great wildlife photography! I really like your shots. Really professional. Good contrast and sharpness. Keep up the good work.

    1. @Album: Thanks!

  2. Wow awesome untamed life photography! I truly like your shots. Truly proficient. Great differentiation and sharpness. Keep doing awesome.

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