Travel is more than the seeing of sights; it is a change that goes on, deep and permanent, in the ideas of living.” Miriam Beard
Travel is a great way to break out of the daily norm and engage with different cultures and environments. For some, engaging with animals that they perceive as exotic is also a highlight of their journey. While there is no denying that being able to have encounters with animals that you would not otherwise see is exciting, it is important to remember that there are many ways that you engage with animals when you travel and, as a responsible traveler, you should strive to make all of your animal encounters ethical.
Below are four tips to follow while traveling to ensure that you are doing your part to promote animal welfare abroad. We highly encourage you to do your own research so that you have more specific information for your travels, but we also advise that you proceed with caution as some of the images that you may come across can be disturbing
1. DO NOT CONSUME FOODS SOURCED FROM ENDANGERED OR TRAFFICKED ANIMALS
Food is an integral part of culture, and, for many, is a highlight of their travel experience. While trying new foods is an incredible way to experience culture, it can also be damaging to certain animals that are either endangered or are being trafficked for their meat. It is essential to avoid eating foods sourced from endangered and trafficked animals at all costs.
A lot of seafood can be particularly problematic, as overfishing has come to devastate the world’s oceans and its inhabitants. According to WildAid, “fins from up to 73 million sharks are used in shark fin soup every year.” This plays a large role in the risk of extinction that over 70 shark species are currently facing — some shark populations have seen a decline as large as 98%. Although shark fin soup has declined in popularity throughout China, it’s still in high demand in other countries throughout Asia. Although trying out popular regional foods is usually a fun and exciting part of traveling, it is best to do your research and skip foods like shark fin soup.
Because seafood in particular has proven to be highly problematic, the Monterey Bay Aquarium has created the Seafood Watch program to help consumers make informed choices. Make sure to check out their website and utilize their informational content when trying to decide what seafood to eat.
2. DO NOT PURCHASE PRODUCTS SOURCED FROM ENDANGERED OR TRAFFICKED ANIMALS
Purchasing unique items from your travels can be an interesting way to continue engaging with your travel experience once you get home. Unfortunately, some items are sourced from animals in unethical ways. It is crucial to remember that just because something is for sale, it does not mean that the distribution of the product is legal or that you can legally bring that product back to your home country.
Certain consumer industries are a main driver for animal endangerment among certain populations. The sale of ivory products, for example, has played an enormous role in the dwindling elephant population. According to the Born Free Foundation, “a century ago, there were maybe 5 million elephants across Africa. Now there are less than 500,000.” Products sourced from sea turtles, rhinos and tigers (to name a few) are also responsible for diminishing populations so it is best to simply avoid them.
3. DO NOT ENGAGE IN UNETHICAL INTERACTIVE ANIMAL EXPERIENCES
Many dream of riding elephants in Thailand or running with the bulls in Spain; however, these typical tourist draws are commonly found to treat animals poorly and should be avoided at all costs.
A relatively recent phenomenon has been taking selfies with wildlife. While this may seem like an innocent photo op, this has proven to be detrimental. National Geographic posted an article about a dolphin dying because people would not stop taking selfies with it when it was on the shore. Sadly, this incident has happened more than once.
To play it safe, it is best to go by an observation-only policy with wildlife. If you do hope to interact with wildlife, do your research and use common sense. If an animal looks as if it is being kept in poor conditions and/or is being treated poorly, simply avoid that animal experience.
4. VISIT ANIMAL SANCTUARIES
If you are adamant about seeing wildlife on your next trip, take the time to research animal sanctuaries in the region you will be visiting. If you manage to make a trip out to an animal sanctuary, chances are you will be able to get more in-depth information about local wildlife and ways to treat animals ethically on your trip.
If you are interested in visiting an ethical animal sanctuary you can utilize the find a sanctuary function on the Sanctuary Federation website. You can learn more about the Sanctuary Federation accreditation on their website.
Interacting with animals can be an incredible part of any travel experience; however, it is best to do your research ahead of time to make sure the animal encounters you have are not perpetuating animal cruelty.