I love animals. Like really really, want to see them all, and snuggle all their adorable faces, love animals. Many of my early trips were centered around what animals I would see, and I’ve been lucky enough to catch some truly marvelous wildlife moments – watching lions feast on a recently killed wildebeest, breaching humpback whales, and feisty penguins.
The latest issue of National Geographic highlighting tourism-fueled wildlife suffering and the recent release of new animal welfare policies from one of my go-to travel groups have me thinking about this a lot lately. I’ve royally messed up in the past, am getting better and am reconsidering some future adventures.
Confessions – Here are things I did that I should not have:
- Gave an elephant a bath in Nepal. Our guide warned us against elephant interactions while in India, but said the experience at Sapana Lodge was okay. Of course it was amazing, one of the coolest things I’ve ever done. It was wrong. I can’t take it back, but I can admit that it was a mistake and share this in the hopes that others make more informed decisions.
- Pet a lion cub at MGM casino in Las Vegas. I couldn’t resist, though I had misgivings about it even at the time.
- Watched the elephants parade through mid-town New York. It was a tradition to march elephants through the streets of Manhattan as the circus came to town, and at the time I thought it was a must-see.
Perhaps worse, many companies are deceiving customers into thinking they have a conservation mission, peddling a false narrative that their encounters are for the good of the species.
Guilty by association – Things that happened on my trip that I couldn’t/didn’t do anything about at the time:
- Our guide at Lake Argyle in Western Australia’s Kimberley region fed a rock wallaby to bring it closer to our boat for a better look.
- The guides during a Great Barrier Reef tour fed a turtle to get it to pose for photos.
Making better decisions – things I purposefully never did because it didn’t feel right:
- I did not hold a koala in Australia despite having the opportunity, nor did I take the jumping alligator tour.
- I ignored performers with animals and didn’t photograph any animals in Jemaa el Fna Square in Morocco. It was sickening to see monkeys and falcons in costumes and chains.
Questions about potential trips – chime in with your advice!
- Gorillas treks? Even groups that have adopted new animal ethics standards are running gorilla tours. Does that mean it’s okay to go, or would the gorillas really appreciate not having tourists stare at them?
- Animal cafes in Japan? The idea of sipping tea under the wise gaze of an owl is tempting, but what’s in it for the owl other than my witty banter?
- Snow monkeys in Japan? I know it’s common to see them in the hot springs, but I’ve also heard that park managers cordon off escape routes so that there are always monkeys for visitors to see.
As we travelers learn and adapt, I’m eager to hear thoughts from others on how they’ve made decisions about wildlife encounters.