• SustainabilityX®

How to Ethically Support Wildlife Through Travel

Sponsored By Contiki | In Partnership With The TreadRight Foundation & The Travel Corporation

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Photo by Lion World

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Climate change and loss of habitat are two of the leading causes contributing to disruption and destruction of the earth’s biodiversity. Last year’s Living Planet Report by World Wildlife Fund (WWF) revealed around the globe we’ve seen an average decrease of 68% across bird, fish, mammal, amphibian and reptile populations since 1970. Unfortunately, the complete halt of tourism over the last 18 months because of the COVID-19 pandemic has also negatively impacted wildlife, due to lack of funding typically contributing to protecting, conserving and rehabilitating animals around the world.


As travelers and citizens of the world, it’s our responsibility to safeguard those species most at risk and ensure when we do encounter them, we treat them with respect. As travel is beginning to make its comeback thanks to vaccine rollouts and loosening travel restrictions, we’ll soon be able to get back to exploring and crossing off our bucket lists, while continuing to play a critical role in wildlife protection.


Here’s a guide highlighting how to ethically support wildlife through travel as we get back on the road again:


Learn the key differentiators between wild and domestic animals and what practices are acceptable vs. unacceptable


Domestic animals are those that are well suited to living alongside people after having been carefully bred over several generations for specific traits (i.e., companionship). As a result, they can live with humans in captivity without suffering, as long as they have the proper care and conditions. Think dogs, horses, donkeys, camels, cats and more. Wild animals have not been domesticated and thrive in their natural environment. Wild animals should be observed in the wild, where they have room to roam freely in their natural habitat without being fenced in.


Though this distinction seems straightforward, it’s still an important distinction to be made as there are differing considerations when it comes to how we interact with domestic vs. wild animals. To support wildlife truly ethically through travel, these considerations are crucial for determining which experiences benefit animals, and which should be avoided when making travel plans.


Avoid riding wild animals


Under no circumstance should travelers engage in the riding of or sitting on wild animals, including but not limited to elephants, dolphins, big cats and ostriches. The hard-to-swallow truth about places offering these types of experiences is the animals tend to endure severe mistreatment, often including abuse, neglect, limited food and water and are forced into these activities that are bad for their mental and physical health. Additionally, despite being much larger than people, elephants’ bodies aren’t designed to hold the weight of humans on their backs. Riding them can lead to serious spinal damage and being forced to wear saddles can lead to severe blisters and painful wounds.


Domesticated animals including donkeys, horses and camels can be okay to ride, as long as you ensure they are properly cared for, have suitable living conditions and don’t seem in distress. Be sure to confirm facilities have the proper licensing and the animals are given adequate breaks, aren’t overworked and are healthy before determining if this is a safe activity for the animals.


HAVE YOU READ?

Research, research, research


The best way to ethically support wildlife through travel is to do your research in advance! Education really is one of the most powerful tools to ensure you’re only engaging in ethical animal experiences, and there are plenty of resources available online. World Animal Protection’s ‘Guide to being animal friendly on vacation,’ outlines the five freedoms of animal welfare and provides additional signs to be wary of. Plus, along your adventure, take time to learn from wildlife specialists at sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres – they’re experts for a reason!


Travel with tour companies committed to animal welfare


Across the travel industry, many companies have outwardly stated their commitment to animal welfare, but it’s crucial to ensure it’s not just a smokescreen. Before you plan and book your vacation, be sure to look into the company, their values, the types of wildlife experiences they offer and if they have a concrete and transparent animal welfare policy in place. The TreadRight Foundation, The Travel Corporation’s (TTC) not-for-profit, guides TTC’s family of brands including Lion World, Contiki, Trafalgar and Insight Vacations on their mission to MAKE TRAVEL MATTER®, for people, the planet and its wildlife. In partnership with World Animal Protection, TreadRight developed its comprehensive Animal Welfare Policy, used to select wildlife experiences across TTC’s brands’ trips. The animal experiences included on their trips have been carefully selected and vetted, and many are incorporated as MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences, meaning they are conscious and immersive experiences hand-picked to have a positive impact on the wildlife, people and places you visit. Each experience educates travelers on pressing global issues and local community actions being taken to address them, while directly advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


Travelling with a company that’s already done the work to weed out unethical wildlife experiences is a sure-fire way to make the most of your vacation, without the worry. Better yet, you can be confident in knowing the wildlife encounters you do have contribute to safeguarding these populations and their natural habitats.


Opt for rehabilitation centres over zoos


Zoos have a bad rap, for good reason. Sure, there may be some benefits with breeding programs for threatened populations, research and conservation programs and rescuing endangered species. However, it’s essential to question whether the breeding programs work to release the animals into their natural habitat, if the animals are able to behave naturally with ample space or if they’re kept in captivity solely for monetary gain. Unfortunately, some ‘sanctuaries’ aren’t what they appear to be as well, and, in many cases, animals are exploited for profit. Of course, this isn’t always the case, but this is where research again is vital. Visits to sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres can play monumental roles in wildlife conservation and education efforts, just ensure before you plan to visit that: (a) the organization is serving the best interest of the animals, (b) it exists to rescue and help them and (c) it does not use the wild animals for entertainment purposes – i.e., rides, tricks, shows, selfies or any activity involving up-close contact with them or the animals being coerced or forced.


Many sanctuaries and rehabilitation centres have great educational programs, which will teach you how you can help protect the world’s most at risk wildlife, and proceeds from your visit will go right back to the community and caring for the animals.



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Contiki X Turtle Trek. Photo by David Leveque.


Some ethical wildlife experiences to add to your bucket list include:

  • Visit to the Sea Turtle Conservancy in Tortuguero, Costa Rica on the ultimate Turtle Trek with Contiki to learn about the incredible work they’re doing to protect the turtles’ breeding areas and witness them in their natural habitat with a local Ranger – from a distance, of course.

  • See Australia’s wildlife in its natural environment on Kangaroo Island and learn about the impact bushfires have on the ecosystem on an educational, private ecology tour of Hanson Bay Wildlife Sanctuary. As part of this Trafalgar MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experience, you’ll contribute to their bushfire recover plan and wildlife rehabilitation program following the devastating bushfires in 2019/20. On a walk with an expert guide, you may spot koalas, kangaroos, tammar wallabies, possums, echidnas, the Rosenburg goanna, and the Bush Stone curlew in addition to several species of birds.

  • Witness the magic of Kenya’s first Indigenous-owned and run sanctuary working to rehabilitate orphaned elephants back into the wild at Reteti Elephant Sanctuary with Lion World Travel. With an elephant keeper, you’ll get a behind the scenes tour of the orphanage and watch from afar as the elephants enjoy feeding time and play in the mud in an unforgettable experience that empowers the Samburu women and local community.


Don’t purchase wildlife products


Purchasing souvenirs is a great way to bring a small piece of a meaningful memory or holiday home with you but be careful what you purchase! Wildlife species around the world are facing a dangerous precipice, and for many, the threat of poaching is a major contributing factor. The more consumers purchase wildlife products, the more in demand they become, and the more the risk increases for the wildlife being poached to produce them. These items include but aren’t limited to: ivory (raw and carved) from elephants, seals, whales, walruses and more; goods made from sea turtle shells; tiger or rhino products; medicinals made using wild animals like tigers, rhinos, leopards and more; live wild animals.


Instead, purchase something in support of local artisans so your funds positively impact the community and are even more meaningful.


Remember conservation is key


One of the biggest threats facing the world’s wildlife populations is loss of habitat. Helping these animals starts with sustainability and being mindful of how we travel, taking care of our planet and conserving these natural environments so these species not only survive, but thrive through future generations. If you’re not sure where to start, read our ‘Top 7 Tips To Travel Sustainably When Travel Resumes.’ TreadRight’s MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® checklist also serves as a helpful tool to guide you on your sustainable travel journey.


If you’re unsure about an experience, follow the golden rule: ensure any encounter with wildlife is unforced and occurs in its natural habitat – avoiding any scenario where you’re able to interact with the animals.