Enjoying wildlife on vacation is something everyone should experience at least once in a lifetime. A good experience will have an educational component, allowing you to observe wildlife in their natural habitat while learning more about them. Moreover, these tours provide income and jobs for the local community, and raise awareness on important conservation issues. The important thing when enjoying wildlife on vacation, however, is to do so responsibly. Here are a few ways anyone can enjoy wildlife experiences responsibly.
One of the most important considerations when booking a wildlife experience is how close you get to animals. Sure, driving off designated paths to get closer to exotic species on safari or hand-feeding wild monkeys on a jungle trek are both memorable thrills; however, touching, feeding, and getting close to wildlife isn’t in their best interest. This is because, for starters, interacting with wildlife makes them less afraid of humans - meaning they’re more likely to approach humans and harm them. Moreover, feeding animals makes them dependent on humans for survival, dulling their natural survival instincts. Forget the selfies and Instagrams and instead think about how your actions will affect the wildlife you’re so excited about visiting.
When booking a wildlife experience always ask yourself, "Does this seem strange?" An elephant painting a picture, dancing monkeys, and dolphins giving humans high fives are just a few of many unnatural acts animals are regularly forced to perform in order to entertain humans. While seeing animals act in these adorable ways may delight, it’s important to think about how the animal may feel and, most importantly, what happened to that animal that it went from being free in the wild to being forced to perform. Many animals taken into captivity are just that, taken, against their will, from their families and clans, sometimes even beaten or abused in order to get the animal to succumb to human will.
What’s truly upsetting is that most tourists who book these kinds of experiences are animal lovers who just haven’t fully considered the big picture. There is a huge lack of awareness about what’s really going on behind the scenes of many wildlife experiences; something responsible tourists need to work to begin to change.
Elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, and hand-feeding monkeys are just a few of the unethical wildlife experiences on many traveler bucket lists. When crafting a bucket list, really think about why you’re listing certain items, wildlife-related or not. Is it because a glossy magazine told you it was something you should do, or is the experience something that will fulfill you in some way? Have you researched your bucket list items to make sure they’re ethical? Revamp your bucket list to have conscious entries, and promote experiences that are both rewarding to the traveler and not harmful to the animals.
Green sea turtles, Ganges sharks, Bluefin tuna, lions, and chimpanzees are just a few of the many animals whose populations are in danger of going extinct, but still seem to end up on menus around the world. When trying a new dish, make sure the animal you’ll be consuming has a thriving population, and that your meal isn’t contributing to the elimination of an entire species.
A responsible wildlife experience begins with booking a responsible tour operator. Unfortunately you can’t always be sure what you read on an operator's website is 100% correct - which is why you’ll need to do your research. Read reviews, ask potential operators questions about how they work to protect wildlife and make a positive impact through tourism, and inquire with organizations like Born Free USA, Big Cat Rescue, the National Wildlife Federation, and Care for the Wild International about what red flags you should be looking for when it comes to a particular tour. Choosing a responsible tour operator not only means you’re making a positive impact on nature, but you’ll also be going with a company that cares more about providing a quality experience than acting unethically to earn cash.
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Jessica Festa is a full-time travel writer who is always up for an adventure. 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 and doing orphanage work in Ghana. You can follow her adventures on her travel websites, Epicure & Culture and Jessie On A Journey. You can also connect with Jessica directly on Facebook, Twitter and Google Plus, or follow her epicurean adventures on Facebook and Twitter.
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