This is a list of animal attractions to completely avoid even if it is top rated on TripAdvisor or recommended by a tour company. The sad fact is that many companies in the tourism industry are motivated purely by profits without any regard for the welfare of the animals they exploit. It is also unfortunate that the general public lack awareness with 80% of people leaving positive reviews on Tripadvisor for attractions that are treating wildlife cruelly*.
Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit analysed 24 types of animal entertainment attractions across the world. They then rated the attractions based on welfare and conservation criteria. World Animal Protection have used this research to identify the worlds cruellest animal attractions which are listed below.
Many people put Elephant rides at the top of their list of things to do when travelling but by going on an Elephant ride, you are contributing to a circle of animal cruelty.
Elephants that are trained for tourism purposes such as trekking, dancing or any activity that has no bases in their natural behaviour, are often mistreated and always harshly trained. Baby elephants are submitted to ritualistic abuse in order for them to ‘submit’ and behave as adults. The cruelty doesn’t stop once they have been ‘crushed’ with many deprived of food and sleep, forced to wear heavy saddles for hours on end and often kept in physical restraints.
Taking Tiger Selfies
Having your picture taken with a tiger may seem like an unmissable opportunity but in reality you are contributing towards the cruelty and mistreatment of one of natures most majestic creatures. With cubs taken from the wild, hybrid breeding, and even suggestions of tigers being sold into the illegal trade; tiger attractions such as the infamous Tiger Temple in Thailand are a conservation disaster.
The welfare of the tigers in such attractions is also poor with many kept in tiny cages or forced to bake in the sun, whilst restrained, all for pictures with tourists.
Walking with Lions
Mostly located in Southern Africa, the growing lion tourism industry means that increasing numbers of cubs are being taken from the wild to be used in tourist attractions. Tourists are then allowed to handle the cubs for hours and are often told to hit them if they display aggressive behaviour. Once the cubs get too big to hug but are still controllable, they are used for the relatively new ‘walking with lions’ experience. These lions then face a lifetime in captivity as they can never be released back into the wild.
Visiting Bear Parks
Bears are kept very poorly in sterile ‘pits’ with hardly any behavioural enrichment or stimulants. These pits are often severely overcrowded which can lead to infighting and nasty injuries especially as bears are usually solitary animals.
Sometimes these bears are also forced to perform unnatural behaviours like circus tricks and dancing. The bears are likely to have been through awful abuse in order to perform in such a way.
Holding Sea Turtles
World Animal Protection state that the world’s last remaining sea turtle farm that acts as a tourist attraction is in the Cayman Islands. Here, tourists can hold turtles and even eat them during their visit.
Sea turtles undergo a great deal of stress when held by humans and this can weaken their immune system and increase their susceptibility to disease. WAP reports that almost 1,300 turtles were recently killed at the farm following an infectious outbreak.
Holding turtles can also cause physical damage. They often panic when being held, intensively flapping their flippers which can lead to fractures and detached claws. The panic can take tourists by surprise and it has been known for them to accidentally drop struggling sea turtles. This can cause serious injury, like a broken shell which can kill a sea turtle.
Millions of tourists visit marine parks and attractions to swim with or watch dolphins perform. Dolphins kept in these parks, whether wild caught or captive bred, face a lifetime of suffering. They spend their entire lives in a restrictive environment not much bigger than a swimming pool – the complete opposite of their natural, open sea environment.
Pools are often treated with chlorine which can cause skin and eye irritations and because of the limited depths, pool-bound dolphins often suffer sun burn as they are unable to dive down to escape the sun light. Many captive dolphins also suffer from stress related illnesses.
Many different species of primates are used for street entertainment but World Animal Protection along with Oxford Universities WildCRU have uncovered the systematic abuse of 290 macaques housed in venues offering macaque shows in Thailand.
As with most performing animals; young macaques are trained aggressively and painfully in order to force them to walk, behave and appear more human. They are often dressed up and repeatedly made to dance and performs trips for endless groups of tourists.
When the macaques aren’t performing, they are often kept tightly chained in small barren cages or outside on short chains. As the macaque grows, the chain can become embedded in its skin leading to painful infections and disease.
Touring Civit Coffee Plantations
A single cup of civet coffee or ‘Kopi Luwak’, can fetch up to $100. Civets love to eat coffee cherries and Kopi Luwak coffee is made from the beans inside the cherries that the civets then excrete in pellets.
When the pellets are collected from civets in the wild the coffee can be produced with no cruelty involved. However due to the explosion in demand for civet coffee, farmers now catch wild civets and keep them in small crowded cages. Once they have them caged, the civets are encouraged to gorge themselves on an unbalanced diet of pure coffee cherries.
Not only does this defeat the purpose of Kopi Luwak coffee – where civets naturally select the best cherries and therefore excrete the best beans – but this unnatural captivity and force feeding results in civet injuries, disease, poor nutrition and a very low quality of life.
There is now a growing civet coffee plantation tourism industry in Indonesia, Vietnam and elsewhere in South East Asia where tourists visit caged civet cats and sample the coffee. This is causing more and more civets to be caged and abused.
Charming Snakes and Kissing Cobras
Snake charming is a street entertainment activity with a long history, and according to World Animal Protection the latest ‘twist’ on this includes kissing a cobra in Thailand.
Cobras are commonly used for performing despite the fact they are venomous and their bites can be fatal to humans. Performing cobras are usually captured from the wild, before being de-fanged with metal pliers and their venom ducts are either blocked or removed – often with un-sanitised equipment. This often leads to painful infections, and can kill the cobras.
Visiting Crocodile Farms
Crocodile farms keep and intensively breed large numbers of crocodiles – mainly to supply skins to the fashion industry but also for their meat. Some of these farms have now also become a wildlife tourism experience. Tourists come to see the crocodiles and can often also eat them in on site restaurants. You can even undertake the rather barbaric activity of feeding live chickens to crocodiles in some farms in S E Asia. The conditions in these farms can be terrible with crocodiles kept in overcrowded and unhygienic concrete pits.
Competition for limited space in the pits, and also for food and water, means the crocodiles will fight each other, sometimes to death. They have been known to tear off one another’s legs; an injury that will eventually kill them too.
*Sources: World Animal Protection