A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism

A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism

Please be a Responsible Tourist

Responsible tourism requires that tourist guides, tour operators, governments, local people and, most of all,  tourists take their responsibility and take action to make tourism more sustainable. It involves respect towards nature and animals, and towards humanity. It still happens too often, and I think that few tourists are aware of it, but unfortunately animal cruelness is very common in tourism. People are captivated by wild animals and are willing to pay large sums of money to see and interact with them. Unfortunately, the desire for a close encounter can have devastating impacts on the animals we love so much… Ironically, it is often people that love and care for animals, who are unintentionally supporting the abuse of them, especially because of not realizing what is actually happening.

Wild Animals Are Not Born to Entertain

A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism
A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism

A study by World Animal Protection states that 75% of wildlife tourism involves animal abuse. However, millions of tourists keep visiting wildlife attractions, not aware they are supporting animal cruelty. Wild animals used for entertainment are enforced from their natural habitat, often taken from their mothers, subsequently beaten and trained in the most horrible ways you can think of. Sadly, it is particularly the larger and more intelligent animals that suffer the most.

“If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue.”

–World Animal Protection-

A sad example are elephant rides. Sadly, I have to admit that I once did a ride myself in Thailand, just outside of Phuket, not knowing what was actually going on. At first sight, the animals seem to be taken care of quite well, but the reality is very different. When you have a closer look, you will find little scars on the heads of the elephants, made with metal hooks. Young elephants are caught in the wild. They are easier to train, and to make them obedient. A ritual named “the crush” is performed, a cruel training process that involves painful restraints, beatings and more. The elephants are deprived of sleep, food and water. All the “training” has one purpose only: the psychological breakdown of the spirit of the animal. Only in this way it is possible to subject a strong and dangerous animal to a so-called trainer.

Other Known Animal Abuse

In addition to elephant rides, there are unfortunately many other kinds of cruelty. I have personally seen the abuse of Elephants in Thailand, but when you open your eyes, it is to be found everywhere around the world. I have seen it in the country I live. While preparing our holiday in Bali, we find it in the lists with places to visit. Some of the “must-do’s” in Bali are plain examples of animal abuse, and for that matter my motivation to write this article. So please choose the places you visit and support with high caution! When you visit such places, your money supports animal cruelty.

World Animal Protection considers the following to be the cruelest wildlife attractions worldwide:

Animal Markets

Many bird, pet and animal markets operate outside the law. They trade in stolen pets and protected species that are removed from their natural habitat. These animals are often not vaccinated and crowded into unhygienic cages, which are breeding grounds for diseases. Conditions are often terrible. If you buy an animal from one of these markets, you will not save it, because it will soon be replaced by a new animal. Buying an animal on a pet market will encourages the growth and the sales of these markets and the animal suffering involved.

Street Entertainment

Animals such as monkeys and snakes are used to entertain crowds. These animals are often kept in very poor conditions and are forced to perform. They are usually trained through punishment, and have spent most of their days chained and caged when not on the streets. They suffer intense physical and psychological trauma. If you observe a performing animal, please do not pay the keeper for the performance or a photograph.

Horse riding and Horse Taxis

Horse riding treks and horse carriages are widely available around the world. Please be sure that horses are always well fed and kept in good condition with adequate space, food or water at the time. Most of these animals work long hours every day hauling heavy carts in hot and humid conditions. Many horses constantly stand on concrete, and therefore suffer from split hooves, dehydration and exhaustion.


Sometimes restaurants or similar businesses keep animals  as tourist attractions. Other restaurants sell ‘specialty’ foods such as snake blood drinks, dog meat and shark fin dishes, all produced by the inhumane treatment of animals. Shark finning for example is contributing to the extermination of the species. If you see this, or any other animal abuse, please contact an animal welfare organization!

Dolphins in Captivity

A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism: Dolphins in Captivity
A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism: Dolphins in Captivity

The captive marine mammal industry is big business and is driven by people’s desire to see these amazing and iconic animals up close and to swim or interact with them. However, life in captivity is totally unsuitable for these animals and wild populations are threatened by it. Please help spread the word about the cruelty of this horrific tourist-driven industry by not taking part on these activities. If you really would like to interact or be closer to your favourite animals, read our post 10 Cruelty-Free Wildlife Encounters.

Marine Tourism

Some exotic countries are surrounded by beautiful reefs and extraordinary marine life. Diving, snorkeling and boat expeditions are popular. However, marine tourism can be very destructive to ocean life. Boats can pollute the water environment with fuel, litter and chemicals. We all know by know how bad plastic is for our oceans… Anchoring needs to be done carefully, not to damage the fragile corals that are the base of a whole underwater ecosystem. Please ONLY choose responsible tour operators and always enter water at a good depth so you don’t damage coral. In the water, take care not to touch anything or disturb natural habitats.

Tiger selfies and walking with lions

These animals can not be approached in the wild.. They are dangerous, and would make us to be one of their preys, without thinking. It is therefore totally impossible to be so close to these big cats in their natural habitat. In order to make them quiet and approachable, and to ensure that they stay calm, they are often anesthetized with all kinds of chemicals, which are very bad for their health.

Bear parks

Distressing captive conditions resulting in poor health for hundreds of bears held in bear parks, mostly in Japan. Historically, these parks began as centres to care for orphaned cubs, but they found the young bears to be popular with the public. It resulted in breeding the animals, providing a regular supply of cubs for what was a profitable enterprise. This program rapidly got out of control, and today the bears live in poor quality environments in rows of simple, stark, concrete “pits.” Today a number of these bear parks continue to exist, mostly as tourism-oriented leisure facilities.

Kopi Luwak (Civet Coffee)

A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism: Kopi Luwak (Civet Coffee)
A Guide To Animal Friendly and Responsible Tourism: Kopi Luwak (Civet Coffee)

Kopi Luwak is ‘civet coffee’. Civets (or ‘Luwak’ in Indonesia) are small, nocturnal mammals, native to Bali and other parts of Asia. The coffee (‘kopi’) they help to create – by eating and excreting coffee beans which are then collected and cleaned – has become increasingly popular. Sadly, this also encourages the cruel trade and farming of these beautiful animals. Today it is increasingly difficult to find genuine wild-sourced Kopi Luwak. There are some ethical suppliers but it’s much easier to capture the civets, keeping them in small cages and feed them almost nothing but coffee berries. We urge people to buy products that are 100% wild–sourced and to do research beyond what is on the label.

Zoos and Animal Parks

Zoos, safari parks, marine parks and bird parks around the world or not always equally devoted to animal welfare. Some parks buy animals solely to attract tourists and understand and care little for the animals’ needs and welfare. Always pay attention to how the animals are fed an treated.


Always check what material your souvenirs are made from, and how they have been produced. Cow bone carvings, ivory, dead corals and wood can all have had a negative impact on animals, wildlife and ecosystems.

Blood Sports

Any organized blood sports, involving animals, such as dog, cock and bull fighting, result in animal suffering. Often defended as ‘culturally significant’ or ‘part of local tradition’, these fights brings the painful death of hundreds of thousands of animals each year. Never visit any of these criminal practices, no matter if they are officially organized or not.

Snake charmers, crocodile farms, dancing monkeys and more

It is difficult to sum up all the different kinds of animal abuse around the world, but when you use your common sense, it is not difficult to perceive animal abuse. Always keep your eyes open, and keep in mind that wild animals are ONLY meant to live their life in the wild, away from humans.

Click here to read the full report from the WAP.

How to Separate the Good from the Bad?

There is however a part of the wildlife tourism, that is contributing to animal welfare, and an increasing number of tourism companies are making efforts to turn against animal cruelty. Responsible tour operators can help protect local wildlife and preserve their natural habitat. Besides educating locals and tourists on the importance of protecting wild animals, they can also provide local communities with a vital source of income.

Separating the good from the bad is however important, and also very difficult. Many companies will attract visitors by claiming that animal welfare is their priority, when in reality this is just a sales tactic. It is in fact very difficult to tell who you can trust and who not to. Because there is no globally accepted code for wildlife tourism, every venue or tour operator can claim their animals are happy and taken good care of.

Responsible Wildlife Tourism Companies

On your next trip, before participating in a wildlife tour, make sure it meets the following criteria. Responsible wildlife tour operators and sanctuaries will never:

  • allow direct contact between wild animals and people. This includes riding, petting, holding, or washing an animal. The only exception is if an animal is being cared for by a trained professional.
  • interfere with wildlife in its natural habitat. Shouting or doing something to attract its attention for example.
  • restrain wild animals with chains or leashes. 
  • deprive a wild animal of basic needs! Sanctuaries must provide enough food, water, shelter, and care. Animals should have sufficient room to live, play, and hide in an area mimicking its natural habitat.
  • remove healthy animals from the wild or makes profit from breeding or trading. Responsible sanctuaries are non-profit organizations that rescue, rehabilitate and release wild animals. The limited funds they receive only support the costs of their caretaking.
  • use wild animals for entertainment purposes. Performing tricks or any other kind of unnatural behaviour.

Another way to tell if a responsible wildlife program is genuine, is when it is verified by a third party, such as World Animal Protection, World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) or World Animal Sanctuary Protection (WASP).

Spread the Word

If you really care about the well being of animals, try to spread awareness and encourage other people to stop supporting businesses that harm animals. If people are aware of the negative implications, they are less likely to participate. I actually believe that people are often unintentionally supporting the abuse because of not realizing what is actually happening.

Report Animal Cruelty

If you suspect animals are being abused or neglected, don’t hesitate to do something about it! Report it to the local authorities or to an animal welfare organization (like the ones mentioned above for example). Use the internet to find an animal welfare organization to help you! For example in Bali, contact BAWA on 0811-389-004 or email info@balianimalwelfare.com.

This may not be the most fun article I wrote, but hopefully it will be the one with the most positive impact. If you want to see some wild animals up close, and you want to be sure it is responsible, read our post “10 Cruelty-Free Wildlife Encounters“. And if you have any other ideas or tips that I might forgot about, let it know in the comments below.

Source: crueltyfreewithme.com/guide-cruelty-free-wildlife-tourism and bawabali.com/our-programs/responsible-tourism/

Dolf Van Sprengel

chief executive wanderer

Dolf Van Sprengel is born and raised in Antwerp, and loves to travel to discover new cultures. Dolf loves nature and religion, amongst many other things. Since 2017 Dolf is the administrator of WANDERLUSTVLOG.

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