Animal tourism attractions to avoid

Animals are often described as cute. Animal tourism is usually seen as a way to contribute to wildlife conservation. Animal lovers might not see the downside of this wild animal performing funny tricks in front of them. Who is not tempted to feed wildlife, get a picture with a monkey on a chain, take a ride on an elephant? Social media is definitely exposing more and more animal activities which are abusing and exploiting animals. Again, do people ask the right questions? Do you see the harm of swimming on the fins of dolphins or walking with lions? If the answer is no, definitely keep reading. As an addition to the article about responsible travel, here is a list of activities you shouldn’t support. Just ask yourself the question: “If the animal had the choice, is it likely to continue with the activity it’s doing?” This article provides some general rules when going on an ‘animal-friendly’ travel trip, which activities to avoid and how to be a more responsible traveller. More articles for responsible wildlife traveller.

  • General Rules
  • Activities to Avoid
  • “How To” for the animal responsible traveller

General rules for happy animal tourism


  • Do not support any tour that lets you ride, cuddle, or manhandle wild animals.
    • No need to touch wild animals. Animals naturally are afraid of people. Cuddling wild animals.
    • Don’t get too close to wild animals. Whether it’s to take a selfie or get the perfect shot. Approaching and scaring animals can cause stress.
    • Do not feed animals – can interact with long-term survival -Feeding animals (wildlife watching hides)
    • Don’t buy exotic pets or exotic plants


  • Don’t buy souvenirs of endangered animals. If you are not sure, just don’t buy it. (avoid shark teeth; pieces of turtle shell, seahorses or coral; animal skins (shoes, wallets, belts, …;
  • Food: don’t buy shark fin soup, frog legs, or sea turtle meat (or coffee beans from civet cats).
  • Products – check labels of cosmetics, perfumes or creams if they contain animal products like shark liver, sperm whale bile, turtle oil, ….

Specific Activities to avoid or approach with care:

  • Elephant riding
  • Tiger Sanctuaries: Tiger Selfies
  • Whale watching (in aquaria)
  • Lion walking & lion cub-petting
  • Hunting & canned hunting
  • Zoos & Dolphinariums
  • Bullfighting & rodeos
  • Horse-drawn carriages
  • Street Begging and Entertainment
  • Photo Props
  • Snake Charmers
  • Bear Parks
  • Crocodile Farms
  • Sea Turtle Handling
  • Circuses
  • Racing
  • Civet Coffee Plantations

Why avoiding these activities

Without going into too much detail, these animals are not behaving naturally and usually have been through a whole process to ‘learn’ these tricks are being ok with human presence. Predators, like lions & tigers, are potentially dangerous animals in the wild. Animals used for such animal tourism activities are usually drugged, chained, mistreated, sometimes even claws and teeth have been removed, only to give us this ‘safe’ experience with ‘the wild’.

Something that has been linked to the lion cub petting animal industry is canned hunting. This industry sometimes sells itself by the umbrella of ‘conservation’, whereas it’s nothing more than a huge business. They take the lion cubs away from their mother so tourists can get this cuddling experience, and the female lions will produce new offspring sooner. When these lions are too big to cuddle, maybe they are used for lion walks, and ending their life by being sold to big game hunters… what’s called canned hunting.  (more info: for good places, or the documentary “Blood Lions” )

Elephant rides are very popular in Asia. It’s a whole process where the elephants are going through. I’ll just describe is as tortured, as I don’t want to go into detail what all happens to the elephants before they are ready to take humans on a trip. However, if you really want to get up and close the elephants, there are some good ones as well, characterised by not offering elephants rides (for example ).

Whales and dolphins – The documentary Blackfish brings some insights into the life of whales and dolphins in captivity. They are just living in a too small enclosure and are usually starved before acts, so they will perform their tricks. Whale watching safaris are usually not that bad, some irresponsible drivers might run over whales damaging them with the propeller of the boat.

These are just a couple of examples, but I hope you get the point. Elephants & dolphins, among others, are very intelligent creatures which we have been damaging mentally and physically. Luckily there has been some exposure to these practices (blackfish, Blood lions, …) and there is a movement to stop these practices, but there is still a long way to go. Be on the front line to say no to these tourist attractions and let them know it’s not OK. TripAdvisor already banned wildlife attractions.

How to avoid animal cruelty activities:

  • Stick to wildlife encounters in their natural habitat
  • Do your research and use trusted operators: Google search, Trip advisor (ban on wildlife attractions), don’t use culture as a reason to validate animal cruelty.
  • Any tour that lets you ride, cuddle, or manhandle wild animals should be avoided.
  • Ask questions: where do the animals come from? Where is my money going…
  • Any humanised animal performance like dancing, painting, … is a ‘no-go’
  • Check the non-living: souvenirs, food,…
  • Be a responsible photographer: Don’t take animal selfies, …
  • If in doubt, don’t go.
  • Write reviews and spread the word (good & bad)

There are so many other ways to enjoy wildlife (safaris, scuba diving, trekking, …). Also, check out this article “ Does Wildlife Tourism contributes to Animal Conservation” and “tips for responsible wildlife watching”.

Any feedback on animal attractions, positive and negative, leave a comment below. Or other tips or topics you like to learn more about, leave a comment!

Other good resources are:

  • Facebook group: Volunteers in Africa beware

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