The Elephant In The Room

This is the first story of its kind that explores the global wildlife tourism industry and the unseen consequences it can have for the animals involved, as well as provides practical advice for tourists who want to observe exotic animals humanely. 

It makes you think about ”The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism”. 
About all those selfies turning up-close encounters with exotic animals into photo-driven, bucket-list toppers — swims with dolphins, encounters with tigers, rides on elephants.

It takes you to a number of wildlife tourism encounters around the world, offering a look behind the curtain of the thriving wildlife tourism industry, to see how animals at various attractions—including some that emphasize their humane care of animals that has long presented itself as an animal lover’s fantasy—are treated once the selfie-taking crowds have gone.

It shows you some of the blatant animal abuse hiding just below the surface of the wildlife tourism industry — the cages, speed-breeding, fear-based training.

It uncovers the reality the animals experience when the photo-snapping crowds head home that can be one of extreme suffering and solitude.

It breaks your heart but it’s a must read – because you will then never be able to say you didn’t know. 

In reporting the feature, National Geographic writer Natasha Daly, along with photojournalist Kirsten Luce, traversed the globe to secure a behind-the-scenes look at this lucrative segment of the booming global travel industry, visiting wildlife tourism facilities in Thailand, Russia, the U.S. and the Amazon.

In many of these locales, wildlife tourism attractions leverage an increased demand for riding elephants; posing with tigers, bears and sloths; and more to lure visitors from around the world — and it’s working. International travel has doubled over the past 15 years, and social media is setting the wildlife tourism industry ablaze.

”The wildlife tourism industry clearly caters to people’s genuine love of animals, and the industry’s economy depends largely on people believing that the animals they’re paying to watch, ride or feed are having fun too,” says Daly. “But what we found in our reporting is that this is rarely the case. Instead, many businesses that have been bolstered by an increased demand for animal encounters seek to maximize their profits — and to do so, they’re exploiting animals from birth to death.”

HOW TO DO WILDLIFE TOURISM RIGHT  / Guidelines for ethical animal encounters.

Do Your Research
Look for facilities where animals appear to be well-fed and have access to clean water at all times. A facility that rates high on TripAdvisor may not be a humane one. Read one- and two-star reviews, which often include animal welfare concerns cited by visitors.

Scan The Space
Observe whether animals have an appropriate environment, including shelter, ample space, a comfortable resting area, and a secluded place away from crowds. Beware of buzzwords including “gives back to conservation,” “sanctuary,” and “rescue.” Be cautious if a facility makes these promises yet offers extensive interaction to large volumes of people.

Look For Red Flags
Avoid facilities where animals are visibly injured or are forced to participate in activities that could injure them or cause them pain or where enclosures aren’t clean. Being chained, performing, and interacting with tourists—giving rides, posing with them, being washed by them—are not normal for a wild animal, even one born in captivity.

Seek Out Ethical Encounters
: Be wary of attractions that offer elephant shows, rides, or baths, as these often train the animals through fear; instead, observe them in natural settings or sanctuaries where they can socialize and roam.

Big cats: Avoid holding, touching, posing, or walking with tigers or lions. Newborn cubs are often taken from their mothers to be snuggled, and adult big cats may be drugged, declawed, or both to make interaction safe.

Monkeys: Monkey performances isolate highly social primates that thrive in large family groups. Don’t feed seemingly wild monkeys, which are often kept hungry and baited with food so that they will approach tourists.

Small mammals: Sloths, koalas, and slow lorises are often poached from the wild and forced into tourist attractions. Sloths do not fare well being handled; slow lorises may have their teeth extracted to make interaction safe.

Tread Lightly
Be aware that large crowds and unnatural noises cause distress, especially for animals that have experienced fear-based training, separation from mothers at birth, or other traumas.

Keep It Wild
Seek experiences that offer observation of animals engaging in natural behaviors in natural environments.
See here for more on Responsbile Petting

To sum up: The global wildlife tourism industry is entrepreneurial. Individual actions can make a collective difference, signaling to the market that consumers support ethical wildlife encounters.
When travelers decide they want humane treatment of animals, the wildlife tourism market will change for the better. Support journalism that shines a light on the exploitation of wildlife.

To accompany this article, National Geographic produced a 13-minute documentary, “Inside the Dark World of Captive Wildlife Tourism.” The behind-the-scenes footage illustrates Daly’s reporting and reactions in real time as she witnesses firsthand the animal abuse often facilitated by the industry.

In addition, National Geographic will be enacting a social mediacampaign, encouraging audiences to help educate others about these wildlife tourism practices and make informed choices.
Follow along using #NatGeoWildlifeTourism and see its social toolkit for more information.
Instagram Stories will make use of the new donation feature recently introduced on the platform, allowing fans to help fund the journalism that brings issues like the exploitation of wildlife to light. 

The story was reported by Daly for Wildlife Watch, an investigative journalism project funded by the nonprofit National Geographic Society that reports on wildlife crime and exploitation.
By covering critical topics in the illegal wildlife trade, this project shines a light on the commercial-scale exploitation of wildlife and other valued resources, identifies weaknesses in national and international efforts to protect wildlife, and empowers institutions and individuals working to save at-risk species.

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