What is Ethical Wildlife Tourism and Why is it Famous in South-East Asia?
Asia is one of the continents that is a home for a diverse range of many, many animals. Due to its geographical history, temperature, topography, altitude and rainfall variations, this continent is rich with the most endangered species of both animals, birds and plants.
This is a large contributing factor for tourism in South-East Asia. Throughout the region, Asian elephants have been their pride and joy and are supposedly put on a pedestal. You can find a myriad of tourism activities involving elephants treks, mud baths, circuses or simply observing them in their natural habitat. Tiger, sun bear and orangutans sanctuaries are also very common in the region, depending on the country.
In order to protect these beings, “ethical wildlife tourism” was considered the best solution to satisfy tourist while keeping wildlife safe and unharmed.
The World Animal Sanctuary Protection (WASP International) has set a few guidelines for these sanctuaries. Here are some of the guidelines:
-Captive breeding for commercial purposes is prohibited.
-Commercial trading, such as breeding for profit, buying, selling, borrowing or loaning animals is not allowed.
-No animals shall be removed from the wild.
-Tours should only serve educational purposes and in a manner that does not cause animals to be stressed nor invade their privacy.
-Animals shall not be used for human entertainment nor scientific testing.
Evidently, these sanctuaries are meant to preserve wildlife and shield animals from any human induced threats or dangers.
What are the Most Ethical Sanctuaries I have visited?
One of the most famous sanctuaries is the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. Having visited this sanctuary, it holds a special place in my heart but it is well deserved. The Phuket Elephant Sanctuary aims at rescuing sick, injured and old animal, who are overtired and abused after working in the tourism or logging industry, to give them a second chance to live the life they deserve and enjoy their indigenous habits. No wonder this sanctuary takes pride in their slogan “Where Elephants Can Be Elephants!”. Furthermore, it is considered to be one of the most ethical sanctuaries in Phuket, as their primary concern is to provide safety and security for the elephants in their natural home, along with professional veterinary care.
That being said, during my trip to Thailand, I avoided Tiger Kingdom at all costs.
How the Tourism Industry is Taking Advantage of Wildlife Sanctuaries and How to Spot a Tourist Trap?
Unfortunately, not all of these so-called sanctuaries are innocent, as they might have different intentions. Many of them only care about the profit they will gain from naive and -sometimes- ignorant tourists. One can observe this from the sanctuaries’ websites or reviews before they give them a visit. For example, sanctuaries that promise you a photo with one of its wildlife creatures are definitely going against ethical standards and guidelines. This stresses the animals out as it disrupts the natural state they are supposed to be in, which could trigger aggressive behaviors as these animals try to defend themselves. Another way sanctuaries tend to seek profit with is not setting limited public visitation times, as they are using animals for entertainment, hence, they accept larger groups of visitors for the sake of profit. Moreover, some sanctuaries promote physical contact with these animals, like petting or stroking. This is considered a flagrant violation of ethical guidelines as it completely dismisses the main purpose of sanctuaries, which is to protect their welfare at all costs and put animals’ needs first. Additionally, they tend to breed wild animals to keep a constant supply to attract the visitors. Please do not turn a blind eye to any potential signs of animal abuse, exploitation, and cruelty by uncredited sanctuaries; this will only lead to the expansion of this industry as a vast profit-making one.
Before selecting an ethical wildlife tourism experience, think of the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare – you should research and consider the following:
-Are the animals free to move around or are they trapped?
-Are the animals free to interact with other animals?
-Does the sanctuary provide proper health care and veterinary care?
-Does the sanctuary limit human contact with the welfare?
-Are the animals provided with a sustainable diet that fits their physiology?
-Are the animals safe from human-induced threats and are they free to escape danger?
While these could indicate that the sanctuary is a good choice, you should as well look out for certain signs like whether tours are conducted for the sake of entertainment or education, and whether there is a chance these natural habitats you are seeing are in fact human-made replicas.
Ethical tourism is considered as one of the great ways to, not only preserve the lives of endangered species and rescue them but also to educate people and connect them with nature. However, for the sake of integrity and protecting the environment, you must look out for fake sanctuaries that tend to do more harm than good, as a responsible wildlife tourist
As Dr. Micheal Hutchins puts it, “Done well, wildlife tourism can provide a strong economic incentive for wildlife conservation by being a major long-term source of jobs and income for local people.” After all, one must remember that animals are living beings and should not be treated as a material for entertainment.
For those who have visited other ethical sanctuaries, please share them with us!