5 Tips to View Wildlife Responsibly

Trunks & Leaves
Jul 23, 2023

This post is a contribution from guest blogger, Andra Janieks, from Trunks & Leaves. We are keen to encourage more travel bloggers and individuals working in the tourism industry to reflect on their own experiences while providing suggestions and tips for future GOOD travellers. If you'd like to share reflections or tips that you believe incorporate GOOD values and practices, please email us at info@good-travel.org. We look forward to sharing more guest posts like this one!

This may seem like a strange time to talk about responsible travel, while borders are closed and planes are grounded around the world. But this unprecedented pause in travel actually gives us a rare opportunity to reflect on recent trends and determine how we can make changes to improve in the future.

When the world reopens and travel resumes, we have the opportunity to be better, more responsible travelers.

Wildlife tourism has gained immense popularity over the last several years, with elephant experiences topping the list of many travelers’ bucket lists.  Travelers flock to places like Southeast Asia where they have the opportunity to ride an elephant or cuddle a tiger cub. However, these experiences are actually incredibly harmful.

It’s important to note that this doesn’t mean all wildlife experiences are bad. In fact, when done responsibly, tourism can provide tremendous benefits, like financing conservation in protected areas, supporting local communities, and providing care for animals that cannot be released into the wild. These experiences also have a huge impact on people, instilling appreciation for the species overall and spreading awareness around the issues they face.

Traveling and supporting wildlife tourism is important, so how can you make sure you do it responsibly?

Traveling and supporting wildlife tourism is important, so how can you make sure you do it responsibly?

Trunks & Leaves launched Ethical Elephant Experiences to provide the tools and resources necessary for travelers to make responsible decisions while viewing wildlife. Here are five tips to view wildlife responsibly:

1. Do your research.

Many facilities act under the guise of sanctuaries, orphanages or rehabilitation centers. They may seem as though they have the elephant’s best interest in mind and may purport to be aiding conservation, but in reality they exploit tourists’ well-meaning sympathies for profit. So it’s important to spend time doing research. Look out for red flags like social media accounts featuring pictures of visitors getting up-close and interacting with the elephants. Ask yourself questions like, could my financial contribution support practices that encourage illegal capture or irresponsible breeding? What are their stated goals besides tourism? What are their long-term plans for the animals? What evidence do they have on their website that they are contributing to conservation, such as ties to reputable research and conservation organizations?

2. Don’t participate in hands-on experiences.

Although some elephants that can’t be released into the wild may need a sanctuary, they will never benefit from being played with and touched by humans. These animals should live a life as similar to the wild as possible, without human interference. Human contact can also transfer diseases and pathogens that have the potential to decimate wild elephant numbers. As a traveler, avoid any experiences that promote human-elephant contact, like feeding, bathing and riding.

3. Avoid interactions with baby elephants.

There’s no denying that baby elephants are adorable, so it’s hard to resist the opportunity to bottle feed or play with them. Young calves have the best chance of being successfully released back into the wild, but this is not possible if they become heavily socialized with humans. Supporting a facility that provides these hands-on experiences also contributes to the financial incentive for them to have a steady supply of cute calves. This not only supports the illegal capture of calves from the wild, but also promotes the practice of unsustainably breeding animals that will continue to be dependent on human care for the rest of their lives.

4. Keep your distance.

When viewing wild animals, or even animals that live in a sanctuary, tourists should always keep a distance of at least 20 meters. There should be a clear separation between people and animals, whether it is a barrier or a safari car. Absence of a barrier, even with animals that seem docile and safe, leave open the possibility of accidents that endanger either the person or animal.

5. Use your voice.

If you see a facility or tour operator engaging in irresponsible activities, don’t be afraid to speak up. It’s also important to leave reviews on travel websites and forums to help other travelers make responsible choices. Be factual and respectful, rather than emotional and inflammatory.

Trunks & Leaves is encouraging both travelers and travel companies to commit to responsible wildlife practices by taking the pledge. GOOD Travel is one of the companies that has taken the pledge and committed to responsible, ethical elephant experiences. With the mission to transform the travel industry into a force for good, GOOD Travel is a great place to look to start planning your next trip.

July 23, 2023
5 min read