« Can climate change threaten the Emperors’ way of life? | Main | Best Inspirational Travel & Volunteering Quotes »

Responsible tourism: Animal welfare part 1

 Last week Frontier looked into what it means to be a responsible tourist and why someone should consider their trip from an environmental perspective, and try to ensure what they do abroad and how they get there is sustainable. Today we will be looking at tourist attractions labelled as “eco-tourism” or “conservation sanctuaries” involving animals and their role in responsible travel. To engage or not to engage in activities involving animals could be a difficult decision to make, and the aim of this article is to inform you, the reader, to better enable yourself to make your own choices while enjoying your trip.

Big Cat “Sanctuaries”

Image courtesy of Kieran Lamb 

Perhaps one of the best examples of animal attractions purporting to be conservation orientated in popular travel destinations is the Tiger Temple in Thailand. On the surface, Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua or to most tourists and travellers “Tiger Temple” appears to be a sanctuary operated by Buddhist monks. However there are several alarming facts and observations that have been made over the many years the sanctuary has been operating. The enclosures the tigers are kept in are more than 10x below the recommended area required to comfortably house a pair of tigers or a mother and cubs, and also contain no comfortable sleeping arrangements or stimulation. The tiger temple is actively involved in the breeding of tigers to obtain tiger cubs for tourist attractions, however does not have a breeding license, and releasing any captivity-bred tigers is ineffective and often dangerous for humans due to the tiger’s familiarity with human interactions. The cubs are then separated from their mother at 2 weeks and forcefully fed to act as an attraction, when typically a tiger would reside with its mother for 2 years.

Image courtesy of Matt Reinbold

When on “display”, the tigers are often chained in extreme temperatures with minimal or no shade for many hours. Sadly, in order for the tigers to comply as a hands-on attraction, beatings and abuse are a regular occurrence in their upbringing and there are reports of drugging to maintain an induced sedate nature. Finally there are also many risks associated with interacting with the tigers and there are regular reports of attacks and even deaths occurring involving tourists. If all this wasn’t unsettling enough, several tigers go missing from the sanctuary under inexplicable circumstances only to be replaced by a different tiger given the same name. With neighbouring countries known for valuing tiger products as a medicine, it’s extremely likely those missing noble beasts suffered a less-than-noble death.

But Thailand isn’t the only culprit in the abuse of animals and deception in using the terms “eco-tourism” and “conservation sanctuary”. The practise also occurs in areas of South America involving leopards and in certain areas of Africa with lions and leopards. It is with great derision and scepticism that all of these places should be examined by a responsible tourist before engaging with, and certainly handing over money to, these “sanctuaries”.

There are advocates of the Tiger Temple and other destinations claiming themselves to be conservation orientated or sanctuaries. Some claim although not operated perfectly or to traditional conservation standards, places like the Tiger Temple are taking steps to a similar, environmentally positive goal. The Tiger Temple in fact claims to be planning on the acquisition of land to enable them to release bred tigers into the wild to bolster the drastically reduced and critically endangered current population of wild tigers. How they plan to assimilate a captive hybrid genetic type that has almost no long-term ability to survive in the wild and would do nothing to aid in the improvement of the state of true wild tigers, however, is anyone’s guess.

What can I do to be a Responsible Tourist?

Image courtesy of Frontier Thailand

As a responsible tourist there are several ways for you to avoid perpetuating or causing the mistreatment of animals in captivity. Researching the area you plan to go to and its involvement in conservation efforts if applicable is a great way to be informed before travelling. If a goal while travelling is to volunteer in conservation, this kind of research can lead to a far better organisation to be involved with and ultimately a more genuine and enriching experience. Additionally, discussing and explaining the issues raised in this article with friends and family thinking of travelling to the areas concerned is a great way to help them make an informed decision.

How can Frontier help me travel responsibly?

Frontier operates the Malaysian Tiger Conservation project. This project directly contributes to ongoing research in the field of tiger habitat conservation in the Taman Negra national park. Part of the work includes conducting surveys and patrolling large distances to prevent poaching in the area. This is a fantastic opportunity to directly contribute to important wildlife conservation and ensure you are a responsible tourist.

Hopefully this article has raised awareness of animal welfare issues abroad, and as a responsible traveller, you are now better equipped to make an informed decision. Next week Frontier will be looking into the issues surrounding animal treks and tours.

By Jack Plumb

Don't worry, you can still volunteer at animal sanctuaries and be a responsible tourist at the same time. There are a lot of decent projects out there looking for a helping hand. Why don't you become a wildlife volunteer in South Africa? Or help elephants in India? The opportunities are endless. Frontier runs over 300 dedicated conservationcommunityand adventure projects worldwide.

See more from our volunteers on YouTubeFacebookTwitterFlickr and Instagram #FrontierVolunteer.