It is of the utmost importance to protect and respect the welfare of all animals while travelling (and at home). We know that people crave a unique travel experience, and an interaction with some magnificent foreign creatures is on many travellers’ bucket list. But most don’t stop to think about the consequences such an interaction has on the welfare of these animals, as mistreatment and cruel practices is common in many overseas venues.
Animals have always been a key role in maintaining the tourism industry. But a horrible revelation came about when World Animal Protection released a report a few years back showing that close to 550,000 wild animals are being horrendously mistreated in connection to tourist attractions all around the world. Responsible travel includes supporting animal-friendly tourism. It’s crucial to first know the principles that have helped to lay the groundwork for animal welfare in the modern world. These are known as the Five Freedoms:
1. Freedom from hunger or thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease
4. Freedom to express normal behaviour
5. Freedom from fear and distress
Ensuring the protection of animals when travelling means accepting that they should be observed out of captivity, in the wild. It’s imperative that they’re left to their own accord, free to exhibit their natural behaviours. Animal circuses, for many obvious reasons, encapsulate the meaning of mistreatment for the sole purpose of human entertainment, as do cockerel fights, performing dolphins, and running of the bulls. Lion or tiger petting and photo taking at animal parks, in regions like South Africa, fall under the same category.
Many of these creatures were ripped from their mothers shortly after birth and trained to let tourists interact closely with them, beaten and harmed in the process. In particular, for lions and tigers, their fate is usually to be thrown into breeding facilities or sold for hunting operations.
Visiting aquariums is also a huge negative on the progress of animal welfare. It feeds the industry that keeps them captive in unnatural environments, confined to tanks and put on display, made to do tricks daily. Establishments like these target human’s curiosity into how sea creatures live. It’s natural, but these companies feed off this in order to make millions of dollars yearly.
Riding elephants is another ‘travel experience’ that’s detrimental to the wellbeing on such gentle giants. Spend one day at an elephant sanctuary and prepare for your whole stance on elephant riding to change. In popular areas for such an activity, like Thailand and other Asian countries, these animals are now considered an endangered species. There is believed to be less than 2000 wild Asian elephants left in Thailand, made worse by the illegal trade market buying and selling these creatures for the tourism industry’s gain.
The natural freedom of many animals has been stunted due to global tourism, as there has always been such a high demand for interactions with wild animals. Places like the Elephant Nature Park in this region, are setting the benchmark for the protection and wellbeing of these beautiful creatures. There are many sanctuaries popping up all over the world with the main goal being to rescue and care for animals that have been mistreated, preventing them from being used as a money magnet again.
This welfare issue has been around for hundreds of years, the only difference now is a strong light is being shone on horrific practices, and travellers need to know what they’re walking into. If animal welfare isn’t taken more seriously on a much wider scale, the array beautiful creatures that wander across this earth will no longer be there for future generations, and that’s a pretty devastating concept to think about.
Many tourists are completely oblivious of the underlying cruelty shown towards these animals behind the scenes, which is why organisations are put into place to expose such acts. Organisations such as the global non-profit International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) look to protect animals and the environment they call home. They believe heavily in the notion that animals matter to this planet, and with the rate of decline of specific species of animals in the wild, it’s more critical than ever to protect those that are left.
IFAW create solutions that are rooted in the local community but also work on a global scale, with projects going on all over the globe in relation to, marine conservation, animal rescue, wildlife crime, landscape conservation. They are constantly on the ball, striving to maintain the future of all wild animals. This is why the more people who know and act on such issues will help the underlying cause, and since tourism is heavily linked to a large amount of the low animal welfare standards, it’s important for travellers to be knowledgeable because they can help drive the change in the tourism industry, to better the lives of animals worldwide.
For all the travellers out there, we urge you to become an advocate for the welfare of all the beautiful creatures put on this earth. The tourism industry must look to be more animal-friendly and focus on cruelty free animal encounters. Maintain this stance on animal wellbeing no matter what destination you visit. Wild animals should have the freedom to run wild in their natural habitat, and not be confined and cruelly treated in captivity for the benefit of human entertainment.
So set the tone for responsible tourism and influence other travellers to follow suit, to heighten the level of animal welfare permanently.
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