The world is changing, and with the environment under pressure, and habitats shrinking, it’s more important than ever to travel and interact with our wildlife and their habitats ethically and responsibly.
The World Animal Protection organisation conducted research that showed a staggering 3 out of 4 tourist wildlife attractions have a negative impact on their animals. Further, there are over half a million of these attractions where animals are also actively suffering.
If you’ve always wanted to have a wildlife encounter, but want to do it in the most responsible way possible, we have some suggestions at Skyscanner. Here are our top ways for you to participate in ethical animal tourism.
Go to sanctuaries
If you want to see animals up close, look for sanctuaries. These institutions typically rescue injured animals who cannot be released back into the wild, and crucially, they tend to only harbour indigenous species. Look for places that also aim to reintroduce animals back into the wild and don’t promote captive breeding.
Sanctuaries can allow you to have some cool (and ethical) experiences. Visit sanctuaries like Elephant Nature Park and Happy Elephant Care Valley near Chiang Mai, Thailand. These fantastic organisations looks after retired working elephants and puts money back into the conservation of these gentle giants.
Swim with the turtles!
In the Philippines’ Apo Island you can swim with sea turtles, and it actually helps protect them! The island itself is part of conservation program that is bolstered and maintained by the local community.
The money you would spend going on a tour like this is funnelled to the local people, who ensure the protection of the environment and the turtles. Funds are also distributed to LAMAVE, an organisation dedicated to the marine conservation of the region. LAMAVE is responsible for initiatives that include scientific studies in the area and promoting education on conservation and environmental awareness.
Try bird watching
Pick up a pair of binoculars, and get into bird watching. Booking a trip to Patagonia in South America will give you the opportunity to see the most spectacular birdlife. In Chile, you can see everything from blushing flamingos, to enormous Andean condors, and cute penguins.
Or go to Scottish Hebrides, where you can see golden eagles, adorable puffins, and elegant gannets.
Go whale watching
Places that offer swimming with dolphins are almost always institutions that pen in these intelligent and emotional animals, and this is not an ethical practice. However, at home in Australia, come July, the entire eastern seaboard is alight with migrating humpbacks and common dolphins.
You can see them from the shore, or book with an ethical tour operator, which use smaller boats to go out into dolphin and whale territory. You may even spy the incredible albino humpback Migaloo, who journeys across the length of Australia every year.
Safaris have always been a famed bucket list experience, but there are ways to go on safari that won’t damage the environment. In fact, there are tour operators that actually contribute positively to both the local community, and the surrounding environs. The Naboisho Conservancy in Kenya is home to lions, elephants, and black rhino, and is a leader in local conservation efforts.
But there are operators all over Africa that are turning their eye towards conservation. These companies offer tourists a once in a lifetime holiday without destroying the chances for future generations to experience seeing these animals in their natural habitat.
Take advantage of national parks
When we think of wild animal encounters, our minds often go to the sun-soaked plains of the African continent where lions roam. However, there are lots of protected national parks all over the world where you can camp, hike, and spy exotic wildlife.
Yosemite in California and Yellowstone National Parks in the USA are famed the world over, and in these huge tracts of protected wilderness, you can see grizzly bears, wolves, and elk. In Canada’s Saguenay–St. Lawrence National Park, you can hop in a kayak and meet the local marine life. Thanks to the rich feeding grounds there are see sharks, seals, and porpoises that all live here!
Sink beneath the waves
You’ll find that there are lots of companies now that practice ethical diving and snorkelling. This usually involves making sure not to frequent the same spots on a tour and not feeding the local specie. Keeping tourist groups small is important too, so there is no damage to the underwater environment.
There are places in our own backyard with fantastic underwater worlds you can explore. There is the Great Barrier Reef, but there is also the lesser known Ningaloo in Western Australia, which has recently been declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can dive or boat alongside the beautiful whale sharks, the largest fish in the world.
There are some holidays where you can contribute to the survival and wellbeing of a species. There are retreats all over the world that allow you to interact with animals of all kinds.
For example, you can work at a conservation organisation in Madagascar where you can plant trees and study the animals. You can also join a rehabilitation program where you can monitor and track cheetahs as they are reintroduced back into Namibia’s wilderness.
Things to look out for when it comes to ethical animal tourism
- DON’T pay to touch or take photos with wild animals. Many of these animals are taken as babies, and then put down once they are too big to handle or become too dangerous.
- DON’T go to animal shows, especially ones that encourage animals mimicking human behaviour.
- DON’T go to water shows or swim with captive dolphins or whales.
- DO look for smaller and established companies that work with the community.
- DO look for smaller boat tours. Large boats and large tour groups can cause damage to sensitive underwater eco-systems.
- DO check if the operators hire local staff.
There are plenty of ways you can enjoy the natural world without leaving an indelible or damaging mark. Choose ethical animal tourism for your next holiday and you’ll discover that nothing beats seeing a wild animal in its indigenous habitat.