My own photo
When I was on holiday in Mexico last year I came across people trying to get myself and other tourists to get photos taken with a monkey and some parrots. I immediately refused and couldn’t stop thinking about those poor animals all holiday. This is something I’ve seen in other countries too and I have seen a lot of people on social media post these photos with animals that they’ve got on holiday. To a person who isn’t particularly interested in animal rights or know much about animal behaviour, this kind of thing might not seem like such a big deal to you. But sadly behind closed doors the majority of the time these animals are kept in less than ideal conditions and often treat badly. I wanted to create this post to inform you about what taking an ‘innocent’ photo with a monkey supports and the consequences of supporting such businesses for animals. As well as providing alternative ways to interact with animals on holiday that will not harm them.
DISCLAIMER: This post is based on my personal opinion with using animals for human entertainment, I have gathered information included in this post from a wide variety of reliable sources which are all linked throughout the post. I believe that animals are not here so that humans can use or make a profit from them. I am currently studying an animal management and science degree where animal welfare is at the heart of our study. World Animal Protection estimates that approximately 110 million people visit wildlife tourist attractions each year unaware of the animal abuse involved.
In this post I am only going to talk about two ways in which animals are used in tourism as if I talked about more this post would be huge! I’ll try to be as detailed as possible and give you the full picture but I don’t want this post to be too long so I am going to leave links to websites that will give you more information and provide you with alternative ways to interact with animals that will help them rather than harm them.
Photo credit: Nocturama
Animals as props in photos – The monkey and parrots I mentioned before were part of a ‘company’ where the handlers would drape the monkey round peoples necks and rest the parrots on each arm then take a photo of you with the animals. Then you would pay the photographer for a copy of the photo. The animals were dragged around on the scorching hot beach right in the middle of the day, with no protection from the sun. The monkey would constantly try to hide under the handlers hat for some relief and shade. I watched them intensely while they were on the beach, they were out there for a good couple of hours getting photos with as many tourists as possible with no water or breaks. For any wild animal being passed from person to person is incredibly stressful never mind being subject to the intense heat.
Often the animals used in these situations have been taken from the wild illegally when they were very young. They would have been stolen from their mothers in order to be ‘tamed’ by humans. It is not easy to steal young from animals so often families will be killed to get to the young. Once the animals sexually mature they can become aggressive, and once they are no longer ‘cute’ they are disposed of and another younger replacement animal is used. You don’t know what kind of conditions these animals are living in, they most likely are not being provided with regular veterinary care as vet care for wild animals is expensive, and zoonotic diseases can pass from the animals to yourself and vise versa.
Not only are these animals forced to live a life of constant stress and poor conditions, they are often declawed, had teeth removed and drugged so that they wont harm the humans handling them. It is not only monkeys that are used as photo props, lion cubs, tigers, slow loris and many more. You might not think taking one quick photo with these animals does much harm, but it does, your money is keeping this industry alive. If you come across this type of situation, say no, walk away and report it to RIGHT tourism or Born Free Foundation. A photo for Instagram is not worth the suffering these animals go through.
Photo credit: Eat Plants Not Animals
Riding elephants and elephant trekking – These attractions enrage me like no other, I don’t understand how people don’t see riding elephants as being wrong. Like the animals used as photo props, elephants are stolen from the wild illegally to be ridden by tourists. Wild elephants wont just let humans climb on top of them and ride them, the elephants used in this industry are put through horrific torment and torture in order to ‘break their spirit’. Ultimately they are beaten into submission and once they literally have no hope left in them. I don’t want to go into too much detail about this practice as it really upsets me but as you can see in this photo and article by Brent Lewin, baby elephants are tied up, starved, deprived of sleep and beaten until they give in, all for people to ride on the back of them. Once the elephants spirit has been crushed they are put through more torment as they are threatened with violence if they don’t do what the handlers want.
Most tourists wont see the elephants being mistreat but in order for humans to ride on the back of them this cruel practice has happened to them. I’ve heard excuses from people like ‘the elephants wouldn’t do it if they didn’t want to’, this isn’t the case, they don’t have the freedom to choose, they are always threatened with violence. The poor treatment of elephants doesn’t stop once they have been ‘trained’, carrying humans on their back can damage their spine, cause growth problems and sores.
Captive elephants in Thailand do not have any protection, there are no laws or legislations to state how long they can be used for in a day, how many tourists can sit on them or how long they are chained for. This means that they can be worked all day with no breaks, no food or water and forced even through exhaustion to carry on. If that doesn’t sound wrong to you then I don’t know what you think is.
My own photo
Instead visit them in the wild – To me, seeing animals in the wild is much more exciting then seeing them in captivity. Watching them get on with their day to day life in the wild is so fascinating to me rather then watching them in an unnatural setting in a zoo. When I was on holiday in 2015 I went on a dolphin watching cruise in Gibraltar. This was probably the best wild animal experience I’ve ever had and the memory of it sticks with me to this day. If you have watched the film Blackfish you should know that a captive environment is no place for cetaceans so seeing them in the wild is the most animal friendly option.
The cruise I went on is called Dolphin Adventure in Gibraltar, I would highly recommend going with this company if you’re ever in Gibraltar. They take the animals welfare very seriously, they never sail too close to the dolphin pods and let the dolphins come to them rather then disrupting the group which can be stressful for them. They work with marine biologists and conservationist to protect marine life in the area and follow protection laws to the letter when interacting with these species. Not all cruises are as responsible as Dolphin Adventure and may not follow the rules, which can endanger not only marine life but tourists life also. So make sure you do your research before going with any company. Read reviews, check out their website and see if it looks responsible and take notice of how much information is on there. A responsible company will not approach dolphins within 60m and 100m of whales and humans are never encouraged to touch them over the side of the boat.
Photo credit: Tyler Blackburn at Phuket Elephant Sanctuary in Thailand
Support sanctuaries – Animal sanctuaries are amazing, they rescue animals and give them a second chance at a happy and peaceful life. Supporting animal sanctuaries is much better then going to a zoo as you are literally contributing to their rescue as the more money sanctuaries get the longer they can continue and the more animals they can rescue. It is my goal to volunteer at an elephant sanctuary in Thailand where elephants are rescued from cruel treatment and given a safe life. With everything it is best to do a bit of research before choosing where to go as some places in Thailand claim to be sanctuaries are actually not and still allow elephant rides. Again just research, read reviews and ensure that the place you choose to go to is legit.
I really hope this post opened your eyes and helped you think twice about how we interact with animals on holiday.