Animal-friendly travel tips so you can see exotic animals without harming them

When travelling to new exotic places, discovering the local wildlife can sometimes make your trip that little bit extra magical.

After all, there are some pretty spectacular nature reserves and safari parks where you can get a closer glimpse of the animals in their natural habitat.

However, there are also some attractions which could actually be causing harm to the animals – and without realising it, you could be funding them when you buy your ticket.

That’s why it’s so important to research before you travel, to make sure you’re not impacting nature o unwittingly causing animal suffering.

The good news is that there are some easy ways to look out for red flags.

We’ve teamed up with the Meaningful Travel experts at Rickshaw Travel who have shared their top tips for ethical animal tourism, and staying animal-friendly no matter where you are in the world.

Plus, they work with World Animal Protection, ANIMONDIAL and they have an elephant-friendly pledge; so they know a thing or two about animal welfare.

Check out their advice below…

1. Be careful what you eat

From tasting exotic dishes to discovering local cooking techniques, food is a popular reason to travel around the world.

With the enjoyment of new flavours comes a sense of responsibility, so be sure to know what you are eating.

By always asking questions and eating at trusted, verified restaurants you can avoid eating dishes that contain illegally poached animals.

2. Avoid marine parks

It may seem tempting to get up close to a killer whale or to swim with a dolphin, but marine parks and aquariums are not meant for these beautiful large mammals.

Captivity often leads to physical or psychological harm, leaving lasting damage to wild animals forever.

By avoiding these parks, you are reducing their financial profit and helping to prevent them from continuing.

3. Leave stray animals alone

Many countries have vast amounts of stray, domesticated animals such as cats and dogs.

Whilst it may be tempting to interact and offer them food, this decreases their ability to fend for themselves, and increases their reliance on tourists.

It’s important to remember you are a temporary visitor and they will be there long after you have left.

Instead, why not choose to support a grassroots charity that offers on-the-ground support to stray animals.

4. Don’t pet wild animals

In various countries, travellers are often tempted by the opportunity to get ‘up close and personal’ with wild animals. However, by visiting some ‘wildlife sanctuaries,’ tourists are unwittingly supporting an abusive and exploitative industry.

Big cats are regularly sedated prior to human interaction, and lions are often bred to be hunted and shot in the ‘Canned Lion Hunting’ industry.

Be sure to not endorse these industries by opting for a safari experience where you can enjoy a guilt-free encounter with your favourite animals.

5. Have the animals’ best interests at heart

You will stumble across many sanctuaries and shelters on your travels but it’s important to be wary that these businesses are operating for different reasons and not always for a good one.

Establishments that are focused on re-homing, rehabilitating or releasing into the wild are all causes for good, whereas those for entertainment usually have ulterior motives.

An example for a good cause would be Rickshaw Travel’s trip to the Elephant Transit Home in Sri Lanka, or the Tree of Life foundation that they support in Costa Rica.

6. Don’t ride elephants

Most travellers choose to ride elephants because of their love for these majestic giants. However, though it might seem like a once in a life-time experience, it’s important to remember that elephants are not domestic creatures.

Sadly, most captive elephants are poached from the wild, and the process of ‘training’ them to accept human command involves separating the young from their mothers and breaking their spirit.

Rickshaw is proud to no longer offer elephant riding excursions. Instead, they are pleased to provide more responsible elephant experiences for travellers to choose from.

7. Wild is best

The best place to encounter a wild animal is in its natural habitat, exhibiting its natural behaviours. Be sure to not initiate contact or disturb its way of life, simply sit back, observe and enjoy nature at its best!

8. Be honest

Don’t be afraid to report animal cruelty or distress to local charities or authorities. If you see an animal being mistreated, make a note of all the details and make yourself heard, it’s something you won’t regret.

Likewise, if you spot a well-cared for, happy animal, be sure to praise the owner, reinforcing why you would choose to support them.

9. Check your souvenirs

Souvenirs keep holiday memories alive and allow for the destination to stay with you forever.

However, some souvenirs are made using wild animals and these are the ones you should steer clear of.

Keep your eye out for products that are made with fur, ivory, shells, teeth, rhino horn, turtle shell and many more, there are plenty of animal-free gifts to bring home with you!

10. Animals aren’t attractions

When in a destination, travellers are often invited to local events and are tempted on the premise of embracing local culture.

It’s important to avoid attending festivals or attractions that subject animals to cruelty for entertainment.

Animal circuses, dancing bears, dog or cockerel fights, running of the bulls and any festival that harm animals shouldn’t be endorsed by tourists. Be sure to check out exactly what you are paying for before you take your seat.

That includes photo opportunities

Travelling and photos go hand in hand, but wild animals are often poached and confined in poor conditions, all in the name of a selfie. Don’t be tempted to have your picture taken posing with a wild animal.

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