From elephant rides to koala petting, here are the tourist attractions to avoid

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After so many months at home, many of us desperately need to get away for a fun adventure in nature. Nature holidays, in particular, are becoming more and more popular, thanks to idyllic photos on Instagram and our desire to escape the hectic city life.

But with the climate emergency becoming more and more pressing, how can you enjoy nature while taking care not to damage it?

While hunting endangered species is now illegal in many countries, not all animal experiments are equally black or white. And there may be some that you don’t realize are damaging at all.

Before you book your unforgettable wildlife vacation, here are some experiences you should definitely avoid if you want to stay on the good side of nature.

6. Avoid elephant rides

Riding on the back of such a majestic creature may seem like magic, but for the elephant, it couldn’t be more different. Like Dave Neale, Director of Animal Welfare for Animals Asia explained last year, elephants are often controlled by their handlers through negative reinforcement with a ‘jab-stick’.

If you want to see elephants in an ethical environment, go to Yok Don National Park in Vietnam, where animals are free to roam as they please in the 1,155 km² national park. Don’t expect a close and personal encounter as tourists are required to watch from a respectful distance.

5. Stay away from the Queen’s Guards

Wearing fur is becoming increasingly controversial, even in high fashion circles, with celebrities such as Kim Kardashian and Charlize Theron going furless. What you might not know is that the Queen’s Guards all wear bearskin hats.

As part of a 200-year-old tradition, the hats are made from the skins of American black bears, which are shot every year in Canada. In 2021, PETA offered soldiers an alternative version in faux fur, but it was rejected by the MOD.

“The Queen’s Guards may be iconic, but most tourists have no idea that when posing for a selfie with one they’re pulling the skin off a dead bear,” says the manager from PETA, Elisa Allen.

“Shamefully, for every Queen’s Guard cap, a Canadian black bear is mercilessly slaughtered. Some of them are mothers, leaving behind little starving orphans.”

She adds that PETA has long called for the use of synthetic alternatives, keeping the aesthetics of corks without the cruelty.

4. Don’t go to the circus

Animal circuses are becoming increasingly rare, but they remain popular in some countries. The French government finally banned the use of wild animals in circuses last year. In other parts of the world, however, animals are still confined to cages, forced to perform unnatural tricks or transported across the country in cramped containers.

Whichever country you are in, avoid circuses where animals are forced to perform and stick to clowns instead.

3. If the sign says you can cuddle, walk away

Petting your dog is one thing, but wild animals aren’t meant to be held, petted, or posed for selfies. Not only can human interaction cause these creatures to become stressed, too much interaction with wild animals can also lead to certain diseases.

If you want to interact with animals, petting zoos that only work with domestic animals such as horses, donkeys and rabbits are the place to go.

In Australia, this issue is addressed in a number of specialist sanctuaries. koala care. Animals are rapidly disappearing in the country, with some experts predicting there may not be any left by 2050.

“We know we need to act now if we are to reverse the trajectory of koalas,” says Nick Boyle, director of conservation and science at the Taronga Conservation Society.

“What we’re starting to learn is that animals that are photographed out of context – where they look more like a prop – people who see that image come away with two things in mind. One, they would make a good animal of companionship, and number secondly, they are less threatened than they really are.”

Instead of posing with these animals, Boyle encourages wildlife tourists to photograph the creatures from a distance and read as much as possible about the threats they face in the wild.

2. Avoid zoos

Many zoos are improving in conservation and are integral to the survival of many critically endangered species. But small zoos often don’t have high standards of care.

If animals are kept in cages solely for human benefit, be sure to avoid them.

Instead, try a local animal sanctuary or national park to get your wildlife fix – and be sure to leave a donation when you leave.

1. Don’t swim with captive dolphins

The only way to swim with dolphins ethically is in the wild, with a responsible tour operator. Wild dolphins can travel up to 96 km per day, but in captivity they are often confined to small chemically treated tanks. Many young dolphins are also illegally captured, with some being killed if they are not deemed ‘cute’ enough.

From a health and safety perspective, many diseases can also be transmitted from humans to dolphins, and swimmers have also suffered broken bones while interacting with them.

What wildlife experiences are ethical?

If you want to vacation with wildlife, going to a wildlife sanctuary or center that breeds endangered wildlife is a good option. Responsible travel has a great ethics guide wildlife tourism also.

You can sign PETA’s petition to replace bearskin hats with a faux fur alternative here.

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