We all dream of visiting some far-flung destination and experiencing the beauty and culture of exotic people, plants, and wildlife.
We want to be awed and amazed, and of course, show others how awesome and amazing we are in someone else’s native setting.
But when it comes to interacting with the local wildlife, you may not be as noble as you think you are.
If you’re not part of the solution…
The World Tourism Organization estimates that more than a quarter of annual global tourism revenue is related to wildlife or animal tourism destinations – to the tune of 1.5 trillion dollars.
The industry creates tens of thousands of jobs, especially in underdeveloped nations where the business of showing visitors the beauty of local wildlife is deeply ingrained in their culture – and a matter of survival for some.
But in recent years, the young hipster and “eco-friendly” travelers are “woking” up to the fact that their adventurous spirit must be kept in check, especially if it’s encroaching on anything the planet provides.
So no Styrofoam coffee cups or plastic straws at the local Fair Trade Café – and definitely no family activities that involve exploiting animals.
But this generation so concerned with protecting wildlife and natural resources is the same generation that has created problems by making the world a smaller place with all its technology and advancements.
Can you spell h-y-p-o-c-r-i-t-e?
Genesis 1:26-28. And God said, Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.
Animals were provided by God to feed and clothe us – way before Amazon and the Gap took care of all our needs.
But there are those uber-sensitive people out there who think it’s unfair to expect animals to do this for us, so they’re fighting on their behalf.
But these same people also want to travel the globe and make sure everyone knows how worldly and intellectual they are – i.e. better than the rest of us.
It’s not enough to post on Facebook that you’re “having a great time” on your international trip. That’s so last decade.
Now, everyone who’s anyone takes photos of themselves posing in surreal locales and unbelievable situations. It’s Instagram time—and it only takes an hour out of your travel adventure to edit the photo until it’s just right for posting!
In a National Geographic article, Renata Ilha with World Animal Protection says, “You don’t just want to be adventurous. You want to be adventurous and show the world that you’re adventurous.”
They’re posing on sandy beaches with lions and tigers and bears (definitely their natural habitat), spending hundreds of dollars on wildlife photo shoots with “reputable” companies.
They swim with the dolphins because it’s the cool, new thing to do on vacation. Then they come home and protest the exploitation of animals.
Animal cruelty in any form should never be tolerated, but the people and “advocacy” groups that cry about animals being exploited are the same ones who think it’s a human “right” to murder innocent unborn children.
They have no problem judging someone for eating bacon while they glorify Planned Parenthood.
And they think they have it all figured out.
Don’t kid yourself, kid.
Take the wildlife tourism industry in Thailand. It’s a major part of the economy and the only way many families have made a living for generations.
As originally reported by National Geographic, Maetaman Elephant Adventure is a popular destination where people go to interact with some of the 3,800 captive elephants in Thailand alone.
In local villages, those in the family business rip baby elephants away from their mothers and “break” them by using whips, chains, and bullhooks so they will perform.
The elephants are literally kept on a “short leash.” They are tied up except for show times where they paint pictures with their trunks, do tricks, pose for photos, and give rides to rude, sweaty tourists.
Obviously, this is horrific—and why I refuse to watch Dumbo with my children. No animal should ever suffer for entertainment.
But here’s the problem.
Tourists with a conscience who know that animals are being exploited as a commodity to make a profit think they have a better option.
So they go to a nice wildlife sanctuary five minutes away called Elephant Eco-Valley.
Here, they can see elephants roaming in large, grassy areas (still enclosed) and can help give them baths, even make them herbal snacks. They’re given a museum tour on the importance of “Thailand’s national animal.”
They feel less guilty gawking and taking photos because these elephants are out in the open. They’re not doing tricks in a show. They’re not chained. They must be happy!
If you believe that, then I’ve got a bridge for sale.
Because guess what? Maetaman Elephant Adventure and Elephant Eco-Valley are owned by the same family.
In fact, they’re even the same elephants.
In order to draw in conscientious travelers who don’t like seeing wild animals being victimized in some cheesy tourist trap, they created another option — a place that tourists believe is a conservation area where all the animals are being treated humanely.
The owners of these elephant tourist traps are smart, so they give the poor performing elephants at Maetaman a break for a few hours and truck them over to Eco-Village to pose like happy elephants.
And we all know that if everything looks normal, there can’t be anything shady going on, right?!!
It’s not just going on in Asia, either.
Dancing bears in Russia perform in shows and then are put in a “natural” forested area where families can pose with them in fairytale photos.
We don’t want to see them muzzled and chained while doing tricks, but it’s ok when they’re freely roaming around while we take their picture.
Remember, good marketing can make us see things that aren’t really there—or not see things that are really there.
You can donate to save the dolphins and research “eco-friendly” wildlife tours all you want if it makes you feel better.
Just remember, a captive animal is still a captive animal.
Many so-called “conservation” tours also own companies in which animals are put in shows and made to perform under unnatural and often abusive conditions.
And they’re not the only ones being exploited. These companies appeal to our sense of conscience and construct an experience that looks good on the outside, but it’s often just a smokescreen to make them look reputable – thus exploiting us, the tourists, in the process.
The Big Picture
No, not the one on your Instagram feed.
We share this planet with millions of amazing creatures and it’s only natural that we want to study them. We have to study them in order to preserve them, and in many cases, that preservation comes from animal tourism revenue.
Most Western nations have regulations, and in some cases, money from wildlife tourism does actually go toward conservation efforts.
But many of the countries so dependent on the revenue from animal tourism have little, if any, laws regulating the practice. And if they do, they’re not usually enforced.
Afterall, governments are going to look the other way when they know it’s benefiting their bottom line.
As long as there are people who want to get up close and personal with animals, someone, somewhere will find a way to profit from it.
So if you don’t want to be part of the problem, don’t contribute to the revenue made from wildlife tourism – there are plenty of other travel experiences that will ease your conscience.
Just don’t think – or worse, post online – that you’re being noble when you swim with the dolphins at a “conservancy” or ride a “well-treated” elephant at an “eco-village.”
Maybe it’s time to wake up and consider just how “woke” you really are.