Slice of Life: Animal friendly tourism
Elephants in Thailand
Novelty animal transport is always fun; riding majestic pachyderms, feeling their slow, careful stomps as you lumber along the paths. Yet these animals, most commonly elephants, ponies and camels, are overworked and are forced to carry heavy loads. All too often they have to lug your tourist weight around in tough circumstances – in sweltering heat without enough food and water. Sometimes hooks are dug into their flesh so they can be tugged left or right; and worse injustices also occur: elephants can be beaten, whipped, slapped with chains, etc. Consider going on a walk or a trek with these beautiful and intellligent animals instead of sitting astride them – but if your heart is set on a ride, find sanctuaries that treat the animals with care – for instance, the Elephant Nature Park in Chiangmai.
All too often, unchecked zoos often mistreat caged animals so they can be used as ‘props’ for tourist photos. Behind closed doors, there are myriad reports within second-tier city zoos in China of animals being beaten, drugged, declawed, demeaned, dressed in costumes and forced to dance. Make sure your photos are with happy animals, like at the Chengdu Panda Base, where pandas are allowed to choose whether they want to be snapped with you or not. www.panda.org
Swimming with dolphins
Swimming among dolphins and whales must be exhilarating. But this doesn’t mean the animals love it as much as you do. Being forced to become pals with a human isn’t necessarily a big plus for a sea creature. Having us constantly bother them may actually interrupt their mating, resting and feeding activities, not to mention the injuries caused by irresponsible boat drivers. Consider whale or dolphin-watching instead. It’s simple to hang out with these underwater beasts as long as there are regulations in place – so make sure the places you go to support responsible wildlife watching. Maximum engine speeds can be set, feeding can be prohibited and you can be made to wait until the animals approach you themselves. As a government, New Zealand is probably the most top-notch for this, so check out Dolphin Encounters in gorgeous Kaikoura. www.dolphinencounter.co.nz
Ivory seals and chopsticks? Turtleshell necklaces and combs? Just say no. Commonly found on sale throughout Southeast Asia, you really should be avoiding these items like the plague (live turtles are chopped up, and elephants and rhinos have their faces mutilated for their tusks). If you buy these products, know that you’re endorsing further suffering and pushing some species towards extinction. There are often live animals on sale as ‘souvenirs’: turtles, fish and birds trapped in tiny pots and cages. Many tourists buy these animals to set them free – yet this, again, only renews the demand. If you want something lovely to cherish, try items that give back to local communities. The Hummingfish Foundation’s social enterprise projects help to teach local people the skills to harvest ingredients from their own country to make products like coffee and soap. www.hummingfish.org
In your imagination, it’s rather amusing to see a bear riding a unicycle. In reality, it’s inhumane, degrading and brutal. Many Asian bears (as well as lions, tigers and other big cats) are chained up, mistreated, drugged, declawed, underfed and worked to the limit in stressful circumstances. Mother Nature didn’t create bears to ride unicycles so circus trainers can whip them into performing stunts. And, for each laugh you get from a dancing orangutan, there is an equal howl of immoral shame. Many animal welfare organisations have been working with zoos to better the living conditions and end this ‘entertainment’ – such as ACRES, who are working with Singapore Zoo. In short – think before you unwittingly endorse animal cruelty during the Easter break.