After watching a fantastic Four Corners episode on the ABC a few weeks ago about the South African canned hunting industry, I felt compelled to write a piece on certain activities we as travellers should be avoiding when we’re on the road.
Often when we are travelling there are opportunities to experience seeing new and exciting animals in different environments. However, with these amazing opportunities comes a moral obligation to act in a way that best ensures the rights and welfare not only of the animals, but the environment and people of the local community as well.
Don’t accept culture as an excuse for animal cruelty. Regardless of whether you’re in Melbourne, Hong Kong, New York or Rome, the mistreatment of animals should not be encouraged with your money or with your time. Don’t give money or attention to the beggar on the street making a chained monkey ride a bicycle for your entertainment. Don’t give money or your time to pay and see bull fighting. Don’t give money or your time to anyone that is profiting from the suffering of an animal or another human being. Culture is no excuse for exploitation.
To put it simply, if you’re unsure whether the activity you’re planning on doing is cruel to animals, do your research. Proper research. And use this general rule of thumb; if someone is profiting off the animal, then 9 times out of 10 you can be sure that what they are doing is inhumane.
I’ve compiled a list of some of the most popular activities tourists partake in when they’re travelling and why you should NOT participate in any of them:
Riding an Elephant
This is a big one. Time and time again I see tourist photos of people riding elephants in places like Thailand, Laos and Bali, blissfully unaware of the abuse and torment the gentle giant whose back their upon has gone through. Most elephants are torn from their families at a very young age to be thrown into a lifetime of slavery in the tourism industry.
The elephants you see in trekking camps, the painting classes, begging on the streets and in circuses have all gone through a barbaric and torturous ordeal to break their spirit so they learn to obey their mahouts (handlers). This is called ‘The Breaking Ceremony’. To do this, elephants are put through a process called ‘The Crush’ or ‘Phajaan’ where they are forced into a cage or tied to four different poles by their feet and neck for approximately a week. The elephant can not move sideways, forwards of backwards. They are beaten with bamboo, sticks with nails in the ends, kicked, punched and attacked with the traditional bull hook. They are repeatedly stabbed in sensitive parts of their bodies (the ear), deprived of food and beaten until their spirit is entirely broken and they’re at the mercy of their handlers.
You can read more about the elephant abuse here.
Eat ‘Traditional’ Dishes
There are some pretty horrifying meals dished up around the world and writing this one actually makes me want to gag. Most of these traditional ‘delicacies’ will be found in places like China, parts of Asia and France. In China, dog and cat meat is served on the regular and in France you’ll find dishes like Foie Gras, ortolan and frogs legs.
Not only that, (get a bucket) certain parts of China believe that eating a soup called ‘Baby Herbal Soup’ made from a human foetus and natural herbs that is meant to ‘increase health and stamina and the power of sexual performance’. I’m not even joking. I wouldn’t joke about that.
Being aware of your food choices and how they can impact the lives of local animals is an important thing to consider when travelling. My tip? Stick to plants.
Take a Tiger Selfie
Places like Thailand’s Tiger Temple have been popular destinations for tourists for many years. However, the cruelty that goes on within the walls of places like these are often well hidden from the public eye. Tigers are often confined for approximately 20 hours a day in tiny concrete ‘cells’ that contain no enrichment or stimulation for them. For the hours they’re released, they’re chained and forced to lay still why hundreds of tourists take stupid selfies with these beautiful creatures. They are often provoked by their handlers to get into more appealing photo positions by having their tails pulled, heads punched (watch here) and having tiger urine squirted in their faces. There have also been reports of drugging the tigers to keep them docile and calm so tourists can pose with them easily.
To add insult to injury, despite what tourists are told, Thailand’s Tiger Temple is not a ‘sanctuary’ but rather a breeding facility that may be involved in the illegal tiger trade (Care for the Wild).
(Places similar to the Tiger Temple can also be found in countries like Mexico and Argentina).
Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides
Horse-drawn carriages are such an outdated practice that have no place on busy city streets. Forced to pull heavy carts full of tourists, the horses have to contend with pedestrians, trucks, bikes, cars, trams and all the other dangers that come with being in the centre of a city. They toil day in, day out often in extreme heat or extreme cold on hard surfaces that cause debilitating long-term problems for their legs. And to make matters worse, after working all day and night, theses beautiful animals are sent home to live in pens or stables that offer no stimulation or comfort and deny them of the natural surroundings they deserve.
One of my biggest n0-nos. There is nothing fun or romantic about horse-drawn carriage rides. In fact, if you ride in one of these, you look like a heartless fool.
Walk with the Lions /Cub-petting
Walking with the lions or visiting a ‘sanctuary’ that offers cub-petting for a price is one of the cruelest and most barbaric tourism activities you can partake in. Most people are blissfully unaware that by paying to pet baby lion cubs, you’re directly supporting the canned hunting industry. This lucrative and inhumane industry relies on the widespread factory farming of lions whose cubs are taken from them at a young age and thrust into the arms of starry-eyed tourists silly enough to pay to cuddle them.
Oblivious to the facts, these tourists are holding lion cubs that have been bred for slaughter. Bred for some wealthy, heartless redneck to fly to South Africa and pay thousands of dollars to kill. So for a five-minute cuddle, you’ve directly supported the murder of the cute animal in your arms. Despite what these ‘sanctuaries’ tell you, none of these cubs end up in good homes and they can’t be released back into the wild. Captive lion breeding results in a surplus of animals, animals that are incredibly expensive to care for.
Kevin Richardson, also known as the Lion Whisperer, posed it perfectly when he asked, “Where are these good homes for lions? Because I’d like to visit a few of those good homes myself, and maybe even some of my cats could go to these good homes. The reality is, there aren’t any”.
Please don’t support this industry. A five minute cuddle isn’t worth it.
Circuses with Performing Animals
Thankfully, circuses with performing animals are on there way out. Shows like Cirque Du Soleil have taken over the performing market and display real human talent, rather than abused animals being forced to do tricks that are completely unnatural to them.
Circus animals are kept in constant confinement, stripped of their natural behaviours and are forced to travel in tiny trucks for most of the year. Elephants, monkeys, bears and other animals don’t ride bicycles or stand on one leg for fun. They’re beaten into submission and are left with no choice but to perform in fear of the consequences if they don’t.
Circuses with performing animals are disturbingly cruel, barbaric and a completely unnecessary form of ‘entertainment’. If you’re wanting to go to the circus, make sure you choose one that shuns the use of animals and opts for performances using talented humans instead.
Bull Fighting and Running of the Bulls
About eight years ago, I was actually in Spain during the Running of the Bulls Festival and i’m ashamed to admit I did the run with the bulls. Whilst I blatantly refused to attend a bullfight, I was blissfully unaware of the cruelty behind the Running of the Bulls and without the knowledge that the animals that are forced to run end up being killed later in the bullring. From the moment they enter the ring, the bulls don’t stand a chance and are prodded and stabbed in their back and neck muscles to impair the bulls ability to fight and defend himself. After that, a vicious cycle of cruelty continues ending with a matador stabbing the exhausted, wounded and dying bull to death before he is chained by his horns and dragged out of the arena. If the crowd is happy with the matador’s performance, the ears and tail of the bull are cut off and presented as trophies.
Bull fighting and this barbaric ‘tradition’ is a completely sadistic form of entertainment that should not be supported in any way, shape or form.
Go to a Marine Park
Facilities such as SeaWorld, zoos, luxury hotels and other travel organisations that promote swimming with marine animals in enclosures or watching them perform acts should be avoided at all costs. In most cases, majestic creatures such as orcas and dolphins are stolen from the wild and taken from their families to go and live a life of seclusion in a tank. They are deprived of their natural rights and behaviours and this can lead to collapsed dorsal fins, serious health problems and a much shorter lifespan. These beautiful animals can often swim up to 160 kilometres a day in the wild and they are confined in tanks that, to them, are the size of a bathtub. Captivity can simply never meet the requirements of big, beautiful animals like marine animals so save your money and go and spend it elsewhere.
Attend a Rodeo
Due to animal cruelty, traditional rodeo events are banned in Great Britain and some parts of Europe and the US. It is a barbaric spectator sport where the people competing show no care or empathy to any of the animals they’re abusing, whether that be cows, calves or horses. Events such as calf roping, where contestants must rope a calf around the neck, dismount their horse, throw the calf to the ground and tie any of its three hooves together, are often seen at rodeos. As is bull riding, steer wrestling and team roping.
These events are often frequented by dero rednecks. Avoid, avoid, avoid.
Ride the Donkeys in Greece
Yes the donkeys might look cute and it may appear to be a harmless tourist attraction, but these poor animals are forced to do thousands upon thousands of stairs every single day acting as ‘taxis’ for tourists. Not only is the work exhausting, but the donkeys are provided with little food and water, minimal shade in the scorching summer heat and rarely any rest. They also have to stumble up the cliff faces with tourists on their backs who are more often then not far too overweight and heavy for the donkeys to carry. They are whipped to go faster all whilst working in deplorable and inhumane working conditions. Please don’t support this industry.
Watch a Cockfight
Common in Asia and some parts of America, cock fighting is a blood sport where two cocks (roosters) are forced to fight to the death for the amusement of onlookers and people betting on the ‘sport’. Many of these roosters spend most of their life kept in tiny huts, tethered with one leg and with minimal shade and water. Come fighting time, sharp blades are often strapped to the legs of the roosters to cause as much damage as physically possible to their opponents. It is not unknown for breeders to also use performance-enhancing drugs on their birds as well. Besides being terribly cruel, cockfighting is also often linked with illegal activity such as drug dealing, illegal gambling and illegal weapons handling. A disgusting sport for people with no natural ability of their own.
Some notable mentions and other things to avoid:
Visiting bear parks