Not only do people have to be careful about the experiences in which they are partaking, they also have to be aware of what they eat, drink and consume as souvenirs.
For some, it can be tempting to try delicacies such as shark fin soup or bush meat. But supporting these practices is contributing to the demise of many species and a breakdown of delicate ecosystems. For example, the overharvesting of shark fins causes immense suffering for the shark who has their fin cut off and is then thrown overboard and left to die in the ocean. The dramatic decline in shark species has altered the delicate marine ecosystem. One example of this is the degradation of coral reefs. The declining numbers of sharks as natural predators has allowed fish populations to increase. These fish eat the coral, and as their numbers increase the coral is degraded.
Many tourists feel the need to take part in local traditions and for some this might involve eating or drinking animals that have suffered. Many cultures all over the world have engaged in subsistence hunting of wildlife as a means of survival in the past and many cultures still do. However, as the human population increases human encroachment on wildlife and wilderness areas increases exponentially as well. This means that many animals all over the world that were once hunted in a sustainable way by local people are now on the brink of extinction or are threatened due to other pressures placed on their survival such as loss of habitat. Sadly however, tourists can actually exacerbate the demand for bush meat (the meat of any wild animal) through their desire to partake in local traditions and hence animals may be hunted at an increased level in order to meet the tourism demand. Not only does the consumption of bush meat pose a serious risk to human health this increased tourist demand for it may be one factor responsible for steering threatened species closer to extinction.
In some areas, the meat of certain wild animals is marketed to tourists as a ‘must try’ local tradition, when it is not. This creates an entirely new demand for animal that locals never hunted. For example in Iceland whale meat is marketed as a local tradition even though most Icelandic people never eat whale meat. In 2009 a study revealed that as many as 40% of tourists visiting Iceland had knowingly consumed whale meat. However, following a major campaign by Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) this figure had dropped to 18% in 2014. Sadly though the minke whaling industry in Iceland continues to be fuelled by tourist demand.
Tourists may also exploit animals simply in order to take part in an exotic tradition, many of these traditions may even seem grotesque to tourists and we do it for the story without thinking about the suffering of the animals involved. For example, “snake wine” and other snake infused alcohol is a tradition that has been practiced for decades in parts of Asia. Traditional medicines claim that snakes possess invigorative and restorative properties, and hence their meat and blood are delicacy items. In order to make snake wine or other snake infused alcohol, the snake is killed in one of two ways. A live snake may simply be lowered into a bottle of alcohol and left to drown and then “steep”. The other method, which is usually used to make the snakes die in the strike position, involves placing the snake on ice until it is unconscious. The live snake is then eviscerated and bled out before it is sewn back up. Just like mammals, snakes and other reptiles have a nervous system and hence feel pain during this entire process. Once the snake thaws out they are actually alive for a very short time and die in the strike position. All this pain and suffering is inflicted on the animal for aesthetic purposes and the bottle of alcohol may end up being little more than someone’s mantle piece ornament. Whilst this is indeed an ancient tradition, the demand for these products has dramatically increased with the increase of western tourism in the east. Tourism not only has the potential to keep an exploitative tradition alive, it can also create a new and increased demand for these types of items. Obviously this means the suffering of individual animals whilst simultaneously placing pressure on the survival of the species.
Even a seemingly harmless cup of coffee can have a detrimental effect on animal welfare and conservation. In Indonesia small cat-like animals called civets are factory farmed in deplorable conditions. They are force fed coffee cherries. The partially digested coffee beans are then extracted from their faeces and sold as “kopi luwak”, the most expensive coffee in the world.
It’s not just the consumption of wildlife that we should be wary of but the consumption of animal products in general. Whilst meat production anywhere in the world causes animal suffering and extreme degradation of our planet, most developed countries have welfare standards to which slaughterhouses must adhere. Many of these standards fall well short of what animal welfare activists would like to see, and as a result standards are often re-evaluated. So if animals bred for meat production still suffer in developed nations that have welfare regulations that ensure the most humane slaughter possible, imagine what animals go through in countries where there are no welfare standards or where standards are not enforced. Most Westerners view cows, pigs, sheep, chickens and fish as appropriate food items whilst we sneer at the thought of eating cats and dogs because we view them as companion animals, and because we know that in some instances they are killed in horrific ways. However, if we consider that in some developing countries animals such as cows are killed by being tethered and bludgeoned to death by repeated blows to the head with a sledgehammer, most of us might think twice about consuming any animal and the line that we draw between food and friend might start to get a bit blurred.
Animal products such as ivory, bone, feathers, hair, horns and claws can often find their way into souvenirs. It is important to avoid these items as a wild animal has inevitably been brutally killed in order to extract these parts.