Before taking part in an animal related experience it is advisable to conduct your own thorough research in order to ensure that you are choosing a project that helps animals rather than hurts them.
If you find out about an exploitative practice or industry, spread the word. By talking to your friends and family you can get others thinking about the issues and in this way you might be able to help your friends and family avoid choosing exploitative options.
Most of us wouldn’t think twice about complaining if we weren’t happy with our food at a restaurant or if our new pair of sneakers broke on the first wear. This is because we hold businesses accountable for what they are selling and we expect a certain level of quality and service. You should view travel agencies in the same light and for what they are: businesses – so you begin to hold them accountable in the same way. If you are sold a project or experience that you later find out is exploitative, you should complain about it to the travel agent who sold it to you. But you have to be persistent in order to create change. Most agents will defend their exploitative tours or volunteer projects, so it is the responsibility of all of us to put enough pressure on them that they drop exploitative projects from their itineraries. It can be done, and there are success stories where some agents have dropped elephant riding, dolphin shows and lion walks from their itineraries. But this change has to be driven by the consumer because we are the ones who create dictate the demand.
As a tourist if you see animal suffering or wildlife crime it can be difficult to know what you can do to help in that moment. Buying the animal to save it is a common empathic mistake people make. Sadly doing this only lines the pockets of the people who are poaching these animals from the wild.
An organisation called TRAFFIC, which monitors wildlife crime and trade, have teamed with Taronga zoo in Sydney to create an App called “wildlife witness”. It is designed so that if you see wildlife crime you can make a report to TRAFFIC. This helps them to create a map of “hotspot” areas that they can target for their investigations.
Similarly, Born Free Foundation have a section on their website where you can log a report about animal suffering and wildlife crime. They also use this to get a sense of where animal suffering is most concentrated so that they can target those areas with the hope of rescuing some of those suffering.
Many tourists from developed nations are often shocked by the lack of animal welfare standards in developing countries. It is true that when humans are suffering, not much consideration is given to animal suffering, and so it is our responsibility as tourists to not exploit the local people or the animals. Whilst being a responsible tourist and avoiding exploitative practices overseas, we should also cast a critical light on our own social norms and take up animal welfare causes in our own countries.
For example the suffering of animals in the name of traditional medicine horrifies many visitors to Asia. Yet these same people may not have ever considered that western pharmaceutical companies, cosmetics companies and chemical manufacturers torture a variety of species, including cats, dogs, rats, mice, rabbits, monkeys and apes, on a daily basis in the name of science, and in order to test the safety of products for use on, or around humans. Its hard to rationalise why we are happy to use a cosmetic product (for example) produced by a company that tortures animals all in the name of human vanity, and yet we are so horrified by the fact that dogs are skinned alive and eaten in some countries.
There is no ethical line to draw. We may only draw a line in the sand in order to defend our own practices and cultural norms. So if nothing else, travelling to other countries should open our eyes to the changes we can make in our own lives to alleviate the suffering of animals