How to find a humane animal attraction


When Robyn Ehrlich visited Alaska last August, the Hawaiian was hoping to spot humpback whales at her summer home. And she knew exactly how she wanted to observe them: on a whale watching tour that would ensure the safety of the marine mammals and respect the sanctity.

“We need to be conscious of our choices,” said Ehrlich, the education manager for the Pacific Whale Foundation, a Maui-based nonprofit. “What wildlife policies do the companies follow? Do you avoid activities that harm the animals, such as swimming with them or touching them? What precautions are they taking?”

Ehrlich was unfamiliar with wildlife tour operators in Alaska, so she looked for companies associated with sustainable tourism organizations and marine life advocates. She also read independent reviews, viewed photos of the trips and “met” the owners and staff through their online profiles.

“I wanted to make sure the operator was doing what was best for wildlife,” said Ehrlich, who ended up booking with Seward Ocean Excursions. The company is a member of Whale Sense, a volunteer best practice program sponsored by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and has received certification from Adventure Green Alaska, which promotes sustainable practices.

Before the pandemic, about 110 million people visited wildlife tourist attractions each year, according to World Animal Protection. The international organization found that 75 percent of wildlife activities — such as tiger selfies, ostrich rides, dolphin swims and crocodile farms — are harmful to the four-legged, finned or feathered participants. A 2016 World Animal Protection report using research from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit found that 3 out of 4 animal attractions involved “animal abuse or welfare concerns”.

“It can be challenging for the traveler to identify and select wildlife tours and activities that meet a certain standard,” said Jim Sano, vice president of travel, tourism and conservation at the World Wildlife Fund.

Attitudes towards animal attractions are constantly evolving. Over the years, some amusements such as dolphin shows, cuddling tiger cubs, sloth selfies and bathing elephants have lost their innocent charm. Court Whelan, chief sustainability officer at Natural Habitat Adventures, an eco-tour operator, said the pendulum is also swinging against the water to attract marine life, which he calls an “unnatural disturbance.”

Despite the ethical minefield, experts say animal attractions can be valuable and even crucial experiences for all species involved. “Excursions are part of the solution to saving wildlife,” Whelan said, “as long as you minimize the negative impacts and maximize the positive benefits.”

Here are tips on how to humanely deal with the savage kingdom.

Read the booking pages. Many online booking sites have created animal welfare policies that educate travelers about unethical attractions and define their position on this type of distraction, such as: B. Banning abusive activities from their platforms. For example, Viator and its parent company Tripadvisor do not list tours that harm or kill animals, such as B. Bullfights. The companies will also not accept advertising money or book experiences that violate certain humane standards, such as e.g. B. Physical interactions with captive or endangered species (with limited exceptions) or performances that demean the animals. For example, travelers can’t book Thailand’s Elephant Nature Park, which allows guests to wash the hulking residents or any of the SeaWorlds for their whale shows and swimming pools. (To read Tripadvisor’s policies, click on the pawprint icon that appears in the About section of each animal attraction.)

“We have stopped booking many of the thousands of attractions or bookable experiences involving animals,” said Brian Hoyt, a spokesman for Tripadvisor, adding that travelers have expressed their concerns about a company’s mistreatment of animals at [email protected] should express.

Tripadvisor is one of several travel booking sites and operators that have consulted World Animal Protection about its protocols. The organization has also advised Airbnb, Expedia Group, EF Go Ahead Tours, and Virgin Holidays. In September 2020, she published an animal welfare ranking of more than a dozen travel companies. Airbnb secured the top spot; GetYourGuide, Klook and Musement share last place.

Groupon wasn’t included in the survey, but earlier this year the US office of World Animal Protection launched a campaign urging the discount travel company to stop selling tickets to attractions that exploit animals. Groupon, which previously listed the Oklahoma Zoo operated by Joe “Tiger King” Maldonado, has not responded to the organization. As of press time, the Washington Post had not received a response requesting comment.

play detective. Check the reviews and photos shared by visitors before booking. Check independent review sites and social media. Look out for warning signs like guests feeding, petting, riding a horse, or taking close-up pictures of wildlife. (This rule generally applies to wild animals, not domestic animals.)

“If you’re allowed to touch a tiger, you’re not in the right place,” said Carson Barylak, campaign manager for the International Fund for Animal Welfare. Other worrying signs: a sizable population of cubs, or such inbred or hybrid species as white tigers or ligers, a lion crossed with a tiger. Barylak said such evidence could indicate a company is breeding with the animals or playing a mad scientist.

“True animal shelters are not breeding animals,” she said.

Look for verified locations. Skip the rabbit hole research step with an organization that aggregates pre-approved sanctuaries, wildlife sanctuaries, wildlife viewing tours and more. For example, the Phoenix-based Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries has accredited or verified more than 150 animal shelters, rescue facilities, and rehabilitation centers around the world. You can search by animal and region on the interactive map. For example, plugging in “great apes” and “Africa” ​​gives you five results, including Sweetwater’s Chimpanzee Sanctuary in Kenya.

“True Hallows are working to solve the problems caused by pseudo-Hallows,” Barylak said.

For lions, tigers, and other oh-mys, Barylak recommends the Big Cat Sanctuary Alliance, whose membership includes several public-facing sites, such as: B. Carolina Tiger Rescue in North Carolina and Safe Haven Wildlife Sanctuary in Nevada. The Performing Animal Welfare Society, which operates three sanctuaries in California, hosts its Seeing the Elephants event on select Saturdays at its ARK 2000 property in San Andreas. The last of the year takes place on December 3rd; Check the dates for 2023 in the fall.

The World Cetacean Alliance has created a map highlighting certified tour operators and zoos and aquariums from near (Gloucester, Massachusetts) and far (Mozambique). For an even larger menagerie of zoos and aquariums, the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria has more than 400 members in nearly 50 countries across Europe and Western Asia. The Zoo and Aquarium Association Australasia awards its seal of approval to zoos in Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and Singapore. And the Association of Zoos and Aquariums has accredited nearly 240 facilities in 13 countries, including the United States, Canada and Mexico.

A note on the AZA: It accredits zoos and aquariums that allow animal interactions and displays, a position that many animal welfare groups do not hold. Dan Ashe, the association’s president and chief executive officer, said these activities can be beneficial to the animals when used for enrichment purposes and managed by wildlife professionals. He added: “The animals should be able to make their own choice and move away if they are not interested. They should not be persuaded or directed or coerced by food. The activity should not be demeaning or disrespectful. It’s supposed to encourage empathy for the animal.”

Ultimately, it is up to the visitor to support or skip these institutions. “The burden is on us to ask, ‘Is it healthy for the animals? Is it healthy for me?’ ” As he said.

Join an advocacy group. Raise your confidence bar by signing up for an excursion organized by or affiliated with an animal welfare or conservation group. The Pacific Whale Foundation’s PacWhale Eco-Adventures operates dolphin and whale watching cruises in Maui, among other whale-focused excursions. The Sea Turtle Conservancy in Gainesville, Florida organizes turtle walks on select evenings in June and July, as well as day trips later in the summer that focus on loggerhead nests at the Archie Carr National Wildlife Refuge in Melbourne Beach, Florida.

For-profit travel companies and non-profit organizations also work together on trips and tours. Almost 20 years of partners, the World Wildlife Fund and Natural Habitat Adventures have joined forces on more than 80 itineraries in 37 countries, according to Sano. One of WWF’s newest partners is Airbnb: In December 2020, WWF Mexico partnered with the short-term rental company and the Mexican Tourism Association to promote five driving routes through such ecologically delightful areas in Mexico as the Jaguar’s Corridor from Tuxtla Gutiérrez to Calakmul.

Be aware and address it. Before embarking on an animal adventure, familiarize yourself with local, state, and federal wildlife protection laws. For example, a rule in Hawaii prohibits people from swimming with, approaching, or staying within 50 meters of Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Maui County, which includes the inhabited islands of Maui, Molokai and Lanai, banned institutions from exhibiting captive dolphins, porpoises and whales. It also banned the commercial operation of shark tours.

Nationally, the Marine Mammals Protection Act, which turned 50 this year, bans feeding or molesting wild marine mammals such as seals, whales, dolphins and manatees. According to NOAA Fisheries, illegal activities include “attempting to swim with, pet, touch, or elicit a reaction from the animals.” Last month, the US House of Representatives passed the Big Cat Public Safety Act, which, if the Senate passes the bill, will ban people from acquiring feral cats as pets and ban exhibits that allow the public to interact directly with big cats like lions and tigers to interact and leopards.

When a company violates an animal welfare law or ignores best practices, Whelan suggests you follow Homeland Security advice: “If you see something,” he said, “say something.”

Prospective travelers should consider local and national health guidelines regarding the pandemic before planning a trip. For travel health advice information, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention interactive map of travel advice by destination and the CDC’s travel health advice website.

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