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Animal friendly tourism

Animal cruelty can be a by-product of tourism. Animal circuses, bullfights, ‘swim with dolphin’ programes and poor welfare zoos are all examples of animal exploitation in the name of entertainment.

But if tourists choose to spend their money on cruelty-free attractions, rapid change can result. Ethical tourism has become a hot topic – the public expects the travel industry to set high standards for its activities. Ethical whale watching is one of the industries experiencing rapid growth as a result.

Make change happen

We are all responsible for ensuring that our actions abroad do not contribute to animal suffering.

Here are some straightforward tips on how to make a difference to the way animals are treated all over the world.

Before you go

Check if your tour operator has an animal welfare policy.

While you are away 

  • Don’t accept culture as an excuse for cruelty. Cockfights, bullfights and the use of animals in religious or other festivals can all be considered part of a local culture, but culture is no excuse for cruelty. 

  • Don’t be tempted to try the local cuisine if it includes wild animals. Avoid food items that are produced through cruel practices, such as foie gras, or involve inhumane killing, such as bushmeat.

  • It is best to view wildlife where it belongs: in the wild. Many zoos keep animals in poor conditions with their basic needs denied. If you decide to visit a zoo ask whether it adheres to the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Code of Ethics before you enter.

  • Captivity cannot meet the welfare needs of marine mammals such as dolphins and whales (read more >>). Facilities displaying captive marine mammals and activities like swimming with dolphins should be avoided – they may appear fun and educational but are unnatural and stressful for the animals involved.

  • Never purchase souvenirs made from animals. Avoid all products and souvenirs made from animals, including all fur, ivory, shells, seahorses, teeth, rhino horn and turtle shell products.

  • Never pay to have your picture taken posing with a wild animal. Many of these animals have been taken from the wild and their mothers killed. They may be drugged, harshly trained or have had their teeth removed to ensure they ‘behave’ around tourists.

  • If travelling with a group, check the itinerary doesn’t include activities that exploit animals. If it does, lodge a complaint with your travel agent or tour operator, who may be unaware of the cruelty involved with such activities.

  • It is possible to find ethical and humane equine (horse and donkey) and camelid rides, during which animal welfare is protected. However, please avoid any ride that gives you cause for concern about the animal’s welfare. At a minimum, check that animals have access to shade, water and rest.

  • Compassionate travellers should avoid riding wild animals such as elephants for entertainment, because these animals are often captured from the wild, inadequately cared for and usually trained using inappropriate and cruel methods. 

  • Remember the farm animals. While free range organic food may be hard to come by in some areas, it is worth checking – if restaurants recognise a demand for cruelty-free food they may stock it in future.

What can you do if you see an animal suffering?

Standards of animal welfare can differ greatly from region to region, but you don’t have to feel powerless when you witness animals suffering abroad.

If you see an incident of animal cruelty, note the date, time, location, type and number of animals involved. If possible, record what you have seen on film. Photographs and video footage are invaluable evidence, but never pay to take them.

It is vital to lodge your protests locally in the first instance. Report the cruelty to:

  • the local tourist offices 
  • local police
  • a local animal welfare society
  • your tour operator
  • the zoo or aquarium management and – if you have serious concerns – the zoo association for that country.

When you return home, inform the country's embassy, your local politician, the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (if relevant) and fill in our online cruelty report form >>

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