For some reason, wild animals are called wild… and should be kept like that, in freedom and away from human beings!
But this wildness produces a strong attraction in human beings, especially when traveling in holidays, a time for pleasure, entertainment and to enjoy new experiences. Traveling in Asia we find a big amount of solicitation to experience some adventure and to spend time with wild animals.
Animals are used for carrying tourists for sightseeing or a ride in desert or jungle areas. Instead of walking, riding a bicycle or hiring a tuk-tuk, people prefer to enjoy the exotic experience of being sitting on the top of an elephant or a camel… and the argument that it is environmentally better is not an excuse!!
China has the monopoly of the pandas, making a huge effort to maintain the species alive while is destroying their habitat, with the authorities preferring to keep the Chengdu research center as a profitable business than to change their environmental agenda.
But definitively the most visible use of an animal as a tourist attraction is in Thailand, a country that attracts millions of visitor and where the tourism industry moves a lot of money. The most popular are the tigers and the elephants… from selfies with stoned tigers and their cubs to riding elephants along jungle paths, bathing and photo sessions… all this is possible with one of this magnificent creatures.
There’s no control from where these animals came from, and nothing guarantees that they are not captured intentionally to support this business. Tiger Temple is maybe the best and most controversial example, and despite the evidence of animal abuse there are many of this places that keep going on with the business, and official numbers show that the captive tiger population is growing in Thailand.
Many places in Thailand where the elephants are the attraction are called “sanctuary”, “park”, “conservation centers” “retreat” and “reserve”, and some of them are doing a valuable job to protect and rescue animals that were in danger or were abused, treating them and return them back to nature… when possible. But others are, that under the mask of protecting the animals are using them to generate profits, keeping the animals captive and deprived of their natural way of life, were for sure they don’t need anyone to bath them!!!!
Even cared and well treated the animals should be in freedom. Exceptions are the rescue center, that rescue animal in danger, orphans, traumatized or abused.
Most of the animal tourist attractions in Asia countries are abusive and harmful to for the animal, and sometimes animals are tortured and kept in bad the conditions, deprived of freedom. But the use of animals for human entertainment is not an exclusive of less developed countries… and shows with seals, dolphins and orcas, macaw and parrots, the circus with animal, bullfights, rodeos, and so on…
Maybe the gentlest interaction between human and animals are the safaris, in reserves and natural parks, where the tourist stay in a jeep that is driven by staff from the parks. This is not the best, but at least create a small impact on the animals, as the park authorities control the number of visitors, and restrict their presence to limited areas… yet the cars shouldn’t be there, and maybe it create stress in the animals, but is a way to keep humans together, at a reasonable distance from the animals!
But not all parks respect the rules… allowing an unlimited number of jeeps, run by private companies, that make all the effort to please the tourists, that pay a good price for the ride, getting too close and interfering with the animals.
Similar situation I experienced in Sri Lanka on a whale watch trip, were the boats, in an excessive number, get too close to the whales, despite all the available information, showing the rules that guidelines for whale watching. This activity, done this way, can interfere with whale’s path creating stress in the animals.
Not an experience to repeat… but, no matter how much you research for a “trustful” and “responsible” company, you can’t avoid this abuse: sometimes the boat belongs to another company or person, who is not so aware of the impact in the animals, and more focus on getting the money to pay the boat costs and feed their families.
Traditions and the economy of local communities
The argument that the use of the animals is a tradition in several rural communities, and that way, using an animal to entertainment and amusement of the tourist is a valid way to support the local economy is a false argument.
For centuries the animals were used to support the human way of life and help in the hard jobs and not just what we call domestic animals, but also the ones tagged like “wild” like elephants. And nowadays the use of animals is still fundamental in areas where the poor local economy doesn’t allow the use of machinery… things take a time to change and we need to respect also the hard conditions of life in some poor areas of the globe.
But this not mean that despite this exception, the communities start to use the animals (formerly wild but already domesticated) for the tourist business, beating and torturing them to make the animal acting like pets, be docile and perform tricks!
Snake charming is a tradition in places like India, even before the tourism arrives and will not disappear by any law or decree, but the tourist should keep in mind that: watch the show, give money or take a photo is supporting the animal abuse, with the cobras kept in baskets, deprived of freedom.
Protect the animals
The argument that the tourism helps to protect the animal from extinction is also a funny way to see the problem. Some species become endangers as a result of the human pressure on their habitat. Keeping them in reserves is an honest way to protect them from extinction, but this doesn’t allow us to take advantage of this situation and keep on interfering with their daily life.
Even an animal rescue camp shouldn’t be a place for the amusement of the humans but just a place where the animals in risk can enjoy a natural lifestyle, away from the species that threat their habitat.
I have also my “dark” side in this fragile relation between animal and tourism.
I rode a camel in India and join a whale watch tour in Sri Lanka… Not proud, but these experiences allow me to see closely the conditions that the animals are kept, as also the importance of animal business for the local communities, some of them, like in desert areas without many economic resources. But definitively they were unnecessary experiences, and I’m not proud of it, but they contribute to increasing my awareness about this subject… and make me avoid of repeating them again.
Wherever you go, whenever you join a tour, visit a place or participate in a certain activity, try to be aware of the effect of your action can have in the communities, local population and in the animals. Be aware that to make a wild animal gentle and peaceful with humans, it sometimes implies a lot of suffering for the animal, with punishments, beatings, mistreatment and humiliation.
Apart from all this, there’s the big business of animal hunting, but that’s is another business that keeps away from of the most common tourist routes.