When they say that travel is the best teacher out there, they’re not kidding. Traveling allows you to see first hand the wildly different cultures around the world, from the way people live to how their deep-rooted traditions have fundamentally shaped their lifestyles. For the most part, you should be pretty accepting of it. HOWEVER, if there is one thing that we should be striving to move away from in today’s modern world, it is the abuse of animals for monetary gain.
You guys know I love pretty much all animals. It is something that was instilled in me by mom when I was a young kid and it’s something I hope to pass on to mine as well. And while you don’t necessarily have to avoid stepping on ants like I do 😋 , there are a few key attractions you should avoid in order to be an ethical, compassionate traveler.
This is HUGE in places like Southeast Asia, especially Thailand. We’ve allllll seen the super cool pictures of people on the backs on elephants. Hell, when I was younger it was one of the top things to do on my bucket list! But as I grew older and realized the abuse that these animals go through for your picture (and money), I realized what an easy decision it was to not partake in that.
These elephants are incredible smart, wise creatures that are beaten into submission through a very brutal process. They’re repeatedly hit, starved and sleep deprived until their spirit is broken. They even have a name for this - Phajaan, or ‘the crush’. Having humans on their back is also incredibly detrimental to their bones. Their spines and legs aren’t meant for that – I know, I know, given their size it’s hard to believe that – but there’s plenty of studies done to support it.
It’s also important to note that just because you cant ride elephants doesn’t mean that you cant see them up-close. A great alternative to these elephant tourist attractions is Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. While they don’t allow you to ride them, you can feed them, go on walks with them and even bathe them. Their elephants are all rescued from the tourist industry and living out the rest of their lives as these animals should - happy.
Pictures with Big Cats/ Playing With Cubs
Let’s face it, the pictures are awesome. Who doesn’t want to take a picture fully-grown tiger? Super bad ass. But you wouldn’t be able to do that in the wild, so something weird has to be going on for you to be able to take that picture in the first place. First of all, the chain around the neck and paws. The tigers, lions, jaguars, leopards, whatever they may be… cant even stand up. But even like that it’s not safe enough for you to be able to take a picture with them SO… they’re also incredibly sedated. Yep – they are drugged every single day so that people will pay money to take pictures with them.
Swimming With Dolphins
Dolphins are another species of animals that are incredibly smart and really suffer from living in captivity. They are usually kept in enclosures that are faaaar too small for them, and in some cases are even forced to live in chlorinated water. They also don’t reproduce very often in captivity (unless hey, they’re forced to), which results in more and more fully-grown wild dolphins being brought in to perform.
This type of activity is really popular in the Caribbean and amongst many cruise ship lines. It’s seemingly not very harmful, but these dolphins suffer from mental abuse more so than physical abuse. This goes hand in hand with water parks such as Sea World - I’m sure everyone’s watched Blackfish! - keeping killer whales and dolphins in enclosures that are less than 1% their natural habitat.
When I was in Santorini, Greece the only way to make it up this one specific mountain was either to climb it yourself or let a donkey do it for you. The use of donkeys has been part of the culture in the Greek islands for a long, long time and while that is somewhat acceptable, the use of donkeys in the tourist industry is not. These donkeys' day consisted of going up and down a mountain for 12-15 hours a day, carrying people and luggage. When they weren't doing that they were tied to a pole facing a wall. They looked really sad, so needless to say I climbed the mountain myself.
Circuses and/or Performing Monkeys
This one is one that many people can agree on. So much in fact, that Ringling Bros was forced to end their 144-year run! I really don’t know a single person who didn’t rejoice 🎉. If circuses were just made up of acrobats and other human performers, I’d love them. But they’re not – they’re made up of elephants that have to stand on balls and tigers that have to jump through fire hoops. They’re made up of bears that have to ride bicycles and seals that to balance objects on their nose. AND while they’re not performing, they’re kept in horrible conditions. Yeah, I’ll pass.
Take this one with a grain of salt. I personally do not like zoos because of what they do – enclose animals. But many zoos take do have their positive sides: they take in and rehabilitate injured animals, they rescue animals from far worse conditions and they ultimately teach people about the wildlife around the world. That being said, I still think we could learn about these animals without having to have them live their whole lives in a cage so that we look at them for two minutes – but that’s just me.
Let me know if you agree with any of these or have anything else to add in the comments down below! I’ll be heading to Asia in the next couple of months and will have some posts coming up on that, along with some really cool pictures! Check out my Instagram to follow along. 😚