Ethical Wild Animal Tourism


Ethical Wild Animal Tourism


Eco, green and ethical-tourism have been buzz words on the travel scene for a while now, with many travel agencies and vacation groups focusing on eco-friendly ways to travel. Whilst this is commendable, and must be encouraged, the National Council of SPCAs wishes to extend this consciousness to wild animal friendly tourism both in South Africa and abroad.

So for now we ask you to forget your carbon footprint as the trail of destruction caused by the exploitation of wild animals in captivity should equally be cause for alarm.

Nowadays you will be hard pressed to find someone on social media that doesn't have at least one "Selfie” or photo with a tiger, lion cub, elephant, monkey or some other wild animal. Unfortunately people do not realise the cruelty that they are often supporting by paying people or facilities to have a photo or experience with these animals.

Often due to lack of awareness, many unsuspecting tourists and locals fall into the trap of believing a holiday around sunny South Africa to ‘take in the big five' and other wildlife romps causes no harm. And in some cases, they believe that they may even be supporting conservation or improving the welfare of wild animals. Unfortunately this is often far from the truth. Places that allow and encourage interactions with wild animals are exploiting these animals for financial gain.

Be aware of the following myths that are used to try to justify this type of animal exploitation:


1) Lionesses are not good mothers

Although lion breeders and captive lion facilities may mislead the public into believing they have stepped in to protect the welfare of the cubs, as they are abandoned by their mothers in captivity this is rarely the case. In actual fact, lionesses by nature are very good parents and are fiercely protective of their offspring.

According to Ainsley Hay, manager of the Wildlife Protection Unit at the NSPCA, forcibly removing the cubs from their mother is very traumatic to both the lionesses and her cubs, and usually done purely for financial gain.

It is unlikely that a facility will always have several baby cubs on hand for ‘petting' due to parental abandonment. It is more likely that this is a result of the growing captive bred lion industry seeking the financial rewards and incentives from the unsuspecting public.

2) Captive breeding of predators promotes conservation

Facilities that continuously breed wild animals for the purpose of removing their offspring to enable human interactions for profit only fulfils a recreation role; there is no educational or conservation message.

"People only learn that this is a cute wild animal that can be controlled for human entertainment,” says Hay.

Now, these once ‘wild' animals are bred specifically for unnatural colour mutations and morphs. These animals are often genetically compromised and can suffer from a variety of ailments and illnesses.

Once these animals are no longer considered cute and cuddly, or begin to exhibit their natural wild traits, they become fodder for trophy or canned hunting, or the lion bone wine industry.

"This is not conservation,” states Hay. "It's farming.”


3) Animals that are bred in captivity are happy in captivity

Wild animals are not suited for tanks or cages – even those which are born into captivity. These animals have inherent natural behaviours that are not lost by captive breeding. Even the simple fact of confinement and lack of escape is extremely unnatural and stressful for a wild animal, even if bred in captivity. These complex animals have a barrage of inherent skills needed to deal with the difficult situations they find in the wild. Wild animals need more than food, shelter, and water in captivity; they need space, specific environments, and the appropriate social company with others of their own kind.

"Putting wild animals in cages or enclosures robs them of their most natural behaviours and daily stimulation that they need to live an enriched life,” says Hay.

Animals in captivity, the mentally ill and prisoners are the only documented cases of stereotypic behaviour, which is an unnatural repetitive behaviour that develops as a way to cope with continued stressful situations.

"That tiger pacing up and down, or that elephant swaying its head is not a normal behaviour,” explains Hay. ”We don't have to learn about the deep oceans or the stars by seeing them up close, so why do we feel that we need to learn about wild animals by seeing them locked in cages?”


4. Walking with Lions helps them get ready for a life in the wild

Lions and other predators will never be released into the wild if they are constantly exposed to humans and are used in "walk with lion” programs. These animals do not fear humans and see humans as food sources, so these animals would never survive in the wild, and their attempts to seek out humans in the wild would not be tolerated.


5. Elephants are trained with apples and love

Elephants are naturally strong animals that test their dominance and ranking by using their strength. Elephants will never willingly accept a saddle and riders. In order to force elephants to accept riders and submission these animals are chained, beaten and abused. The NSPCA has extensive evidence of this as highlighted in the Tuli Elephant and Elephants of Eden abuse scandal and cruelty cases.

The NSPCA cautions against supporting facilities that keep wild animals in captivity, and advises people to rather support facilities that allow wild animals to remain in the wild, or bona fide sanctuaries that provide safe havens and refuges to the victims of the captive wildlife industry. Supporting facilities that promote interactions with wild animals inadvertently compromises their welfare.


Updated 10 December 2014

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