10 Ways to Be an Ethical Wildlife Tourist

Updated on May 21, 2018
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Sadie Holloway, a proud cat parent, is a strong advocate for adopting pets from animal shelters and rescue organizations.

If you care about the environment and feel strongly about animal rights, here are some important things you should know before heading off on your next exotic vacation.

Protect these majestic animals. Don't buy souvenirs that are made from endangered animal parts.
Protect these majestic animals. Don't buy souvenirs that are made from endangered animal parts.

Each year more than 30,000 endangered species, such as elephants and rhinos, are killed for their horns and tusks. Even though most responsible travelers are not directly responsible for killing endangered animals, there are certain choices that tourists make that could inadvertently hurt local wildlife and harm delicate animal and plant habitats. If you want to be a responsible, eco-friendly traveler, check out these 10 know-before-you-go travel tips.

Animal attractions such as elephant rides should be avoided if you want to be an ethical tourist. Elephants are often abused and mistreated by handlers in order to make them domicile enough the ride.
Animal attractions such as elephant rides should be avoided if you want to be an ethical tourist. Elephants are often abused and mistreated by handlers in order to make them domicile enough the ride.

1. Don’t Support the Exploitation of Wild or Captive Animals.

Don’t participate in activities where you interact directly with animals. Swimming with dolphins or taking photos with "tamed" wild animals is problematic. Sadly, many animals have been domesticated in order to make them comfortable with humans, and these animals are usually domesticated after being taken away from their mothers in the wild. Rodeos, animal wrestling competitions, and daredevil stunts with animals can cause unnecessary pain and suffering to animals that are being used for entertainment purposes.

2. Don’t Buy Products That Perpetuate Cruelty to Animals.

In some countries, certain animals and animal parts are harvested because it is believed that products derived from them can cure illnesses, increase virility, or lengthen a person’s life span. Shark fins, bear bile, and rhino horn are just a few examples of animal products that are harvested in an unsustainable, cruel manner. Harvesting animal parts can have a negative impact on an endangered species' survival, therefore it is important to refrain from purchasing these kinds of products.

3. Visit Ethical and Environmentally Supportive Zoos or Habitat Facilities.

If you choose to visit a zoo, marine mammal center, aquarium, or other animal-themed amusement park, make sure you do your research ahead of time. Is the facility accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums? Does it have a good reputation among scientists, environmentalists, and wildlife experts? These are things to consider before you visit an attraction that features animals.

4. Be an Eco-Savvy Shopper and Refrain From Buying Clothes or Products That Are Made of Animals.

Clothing accessories such as belts, watch straps, wallets, purses, and shoes are often made from the skins of animals such as reptiles, shark, eel, and other potentially endangered species. Refraining from purchasing animal products will decrease the demand for them. If people stop buying these products, they will stop being produced and animals will not be threatened for their skin, teeth, bones, or fur.

5. If You Pick It Up, Always Put It Back.

The next time you travel to a tropical beach destination, avoid the temptation to pick up a "free" souvenir off the beach. Collecting seashells, even just one or two, can be more harmful to the environment than you may realize. Even though that seashell may look empty to you, it could be home to microscopic sea life that lives on or inside the shell. Hermit crabs make their homes in empty seashells. If thousands of tourists picked just one or two shells off the beach, where would these hermit crabs live?

In some countries, picking seashells off the beach to take home is not only bad for the environment, it could be against the law. But if you really want to go "shelling," which is the term for scavenging seashells off the beach, there are some places where an abundant amount of empty seashells get washed ashore due to natural currents. Sanibal Island, off the coast of Florida, is one such place where tourists are invited to collect seashells off the beach as long as the shells don’t have live creatures inside them.

6. Use Cruelty-Free Cosmetics and Products.

Watch out for and avoid using beauty products, perfumes, lotions, and creams that are made from animal products or tested on animals. Be especially mindful that you don't use a beauty product that's made of or exploits a threatened species. Read labels carefully before you purchase items.

7. Choose Responsible, Sustainable Dining Options While Traveling and When You're at Home.

The various means of harvesting seafood can have a negative impact on the environment. For example, scientists have been raising concerns about the health risks of consuming salmon raised in floating fish farms. Certain types of seafood are acquired in ways that threaten both animal and human welfare. There are also restaurants in some countries that may serve threatened wildlife species because of lax conservation laws. Don't eat threatened species that are listed on a restaurant's menu and feel free to ask restaurant staff how they acquire their fish or meat so you can make an informed decision about what you order.

Feeding wild animals is against the law in many countries.
Feeding wild animals is against the law in many countries.

8. Don’t Feed the Bears!

Interactive animal feeding attractions are harmful to wildlife because regular feeding habituates wild animals to being around humans and viewing humans as a food source, which puts them at risk. The expression "a fed bear is a dead bear" is a strong reminder that when bears and other wildlife become used to humans, they can be put in harm’s way. They are more likely to be hit by cars, eat toxic materials, and when the bears pose a threat to humans by coming too close for comfort (i.e. by approaching schools and playgrounds), they may be killed by conservation officers or relocated far away from the territory they are familiar with.

9. Leave the Wild Animals in the Wilderness Where They Belong.

It goes without saying that you shouldn’t be buying exotic animals on your trip and bringing them home to be pets. But after seeing geckos scurry across the terrace of your hotel room, it might be tempting to want to buy an exotic pet once you get home. As the BC SPCA notes on its website about tourism, the market for wild exotic animals is a big business that can fuel violence and feed drug and arms trade. Many animals that are captured in the wild and sold to buyers suffer greatly and many of them die before they reach the pet store.

10. Protect Local Wildlife When You Are at Home.

Here’s one last point about eco-friendly travelling: Even if one country allows live plants and animals to be exported, your home country may not allow them into the country. Live animals from other countries sometimes end up being let loose after being illegally imported and they end up wreaking havoc on local wildlife populations. Known as "invasive species," these foreign plants and animals can kill off local species by devouring food supplies, taking over plant habitats, and spreading diseases that local species can’t fight.

Keep these tips in mind to protect the environment. For more information about ethical interactions with animals, please visit BC SPCA's website.

Why do you think that animal seems so tame?
Why do you think that animal seems so tame?

Do you visit zoos and aquariums when you travel abroad?

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Keep your pets away from wild animals!

The owner of this dog should not have let him loose on the beach. Dogs can cause serious injury to wild animals who are not used to defending themselves against domesticated animals.
The owner of this dog should not have let him loose on the beach. Dogs can cause serious injury to wild animals who are not used to defending themselves against domesticated animals.

© 2018 Sadie Holloway

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