Why I Tell People Not to Spend Money on Animal Attractions

Visiting an elephant sanctuary opened this woman's eyes.

Most of us have an innate desire to connect with nature and its wondrous creatures. Evidence has shown that humans’ attraction to the natural world is instinctive, referred to as “biophilia.”

Having love for animals can be a beautiful quality, especially when it leads to conservation and protection efforts. The flipside is that the urge to be close to wildlife fuels an industry that doesn’t always have the animals’ best interests in mind.

Click to read more about some of the best animal charities you can donate to.

The Ugly Side of Animal Tourism

Where there is demand, businesses will rush to supply. This has resulted in a booming industry that makes money from captive animals. In many states across the U.S., it is legal to own exotic animals with little restriction or regulation. The statistic that there are more tigers in Texas than in the wild is widely publicized but, in reality, the total number of captive animals is unknown.

This has resulted in roadside zoos and privately run enclosures that do not always treat their animals kindly. There are reports of zoos keeping animals in artificial spaces far too small and not providing them with sufficient care.

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That being said, nonprofit zoos demonstrating conservation efforts do exist. In 2016, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) reported that $216 million dollars were spent on field conservation. Their network of zoos and aquariums has been highly successful, with over 181 million annual visitors.

The captivity of animals is a hot topic as seen in recent years with the viral documentary “Black Fish,” exposing the dark side of Sea World, the publicized killing of Harambe in the Cincinnati Zoo, and the legal battle between aquarium and filmmaker sparked by the documentary “Vancouver Aquarium Uncovered.”

It’s an argument that won’t be going away anytime soon, but ultimately, the focus should be on how we can best support conservation efforts and have meaningful interactions with animals with minimum negative impact.

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Finding Kinder Alternatives at Home and Abroad

If you love animals, you can show it by choosing more ethical animal tourism organizations both at home and while traveling.

Previously, it seemed the norm to take tiger selfies, elephant rides, walk with lions, hold sea turtles and watch dolphin performances during your vacation. Thankfully, it is becoming more commonly known that these types of attractions can be cruel to the animals.

This is due to conservation efforts from organizations like Elephant Nature Park, one of the most famous sanctuaries in Thailand. Unfortunately, former elephant camps have begun masquerading as animal sanctuaries, without fully protecting or respecting the animals in their care.

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How to Choose an Ethical Animal Sanctuary

While traveling in Thailand, I visited Elephant Valley Thailand (EVT) in Chiang Rai. This sanctuary takes in elephants who have previously been used for logging or entertainment and gives them the opportunity to be, well, elephants again.

Their motto “let them roam free” means that there is no elephant-riding, bathing or any tricks performed on command. Visitors to EVT get to have the awesome experience of seeing the elephants acting in a natural way: swimming, playing and grazing with their new herd.

When thinking about having an animal experience, EVT recommends considering the following “Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare”:

  1. Freedom from hunger and thirst — access to appropriate food and clean water
  2. Freedom from discomfort — an appropriate environment with ease and freedom of movement
  3. Freedom from pain, injury or disease — regular health checks for rapid diagnosis and treatment
  4. Freedom to express natural behavior — providing sufficient space, facilities and social company
  5. Freedom from fear and distress — the ability to seek privacy and absence of human-initiated contact

These five freedoms can be used as a guide anywhere in the world to help you decide which animal attractions you should or shouldn’t spend your money on.

Click through to read more about why adopting a shelter pet is good for your soul — and wallet.

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