Perhaps its because we’re tactile creatures at heart, but there’s something about basic human nature that makes us want to physically connect with animals. Not satisfied by simply admiring from afar, we’re increasingly compelled to pet, touch, or be as close as possible to wild, exotic, and often endangered species.
Such demand has given rise to a number of interactive wildlife experiences, but unfortunately, not all of them have the animals’ best interests at heart. To help consumers make the right choices, travel association ABTA has updated its Animal Welfare Guidelines, which are used to inform tour operators about the products they should – and shouldn’t – be selling.
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Along with upgrading its advice about activities with elephants in captive environments, it now classifies tourist contact or the feeding of great apes, bears, crocodiles or alligators, orcas, sloths, and wildcats as unacceptable. All of this is based on consultation with NGOs such as World Animal Protection, Humane Society International, Born Free Foundation, World Cetacean Alliance, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. If you’re hoping to fill your 2020 bucket list with encounters of the animal kind, make sure you pick the right activities by following the dos and don’ts below.
Don’t… Pose for Selfies with Sloths
Okay, so sloths are adorable, but using one as a photo prop is just plain cruel. Handling the animal can cause both physical and psychological stress.
Do… Seek Them in the Wild
Two species of sloth can be found almost all over Costa Rica, making it one of the best places to see them. Often seen hanging from tree branches, they come down when nature calls (only once a week as they’re vulnerable to predators on the forest floor), so you may find them at ground level if you’re lucky.
Don’t… Go for a Stroll with Lions
The thought of taming a jungle king can be tempting. Who hasn’t wanted to cuddle up to a Simba without being clawed? Multiple petting parks offer the opportunity to walk with lions, although sadly, many end their lives in game farms dedicated to canned hunting.
Do… Join a Walking Safari
It is possible to encounter big cats on foot if done so in the company of an experienced, armed ranger. Zambia’s South Luangwa National Park is regarded as the birthplace of walking safaris, providing far more authentic – and thrilling – encounters.
Don’t… Bathe or Ride Elephants
In a 2017 report, World Animal Protection found that 80 percent of the 3,000 elephants used at tourist venues across Asia were living in “severely inadequate conditions”. On that basis, certain forms of elephant entertainment should be avoided.
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Do… Support Animals and Communities by Visiting a Sanctuary
Located in Chiang Mai, ChangChill was set up as an alternative to many of the invasive elephant activities sold in Thailand, providing a new form of employment for mahouts. Rather than interact with animals, visitors are encouraged to marvel at them in the wild.