I’m not at all a preachy person and the last thing I want to do is bore you with yet another article about animal welfare. But I confess I was once the worst kind of tourist of all.
I know that you can read hundreds of articles online about this topic all filled with statistics.
But the reason I wrote this is because I fell into the tourist trap of paying money for the “animal experience” and I feel like absolute sh*t about it.
Let me tell you why.
Firstly, I’m the person who’s restricted all her friends’ updates from appearing on her Facebook wall, so my feed is basically videos of cats and goats in pyjamas.
Let’s just say that I refuse to watch Marley and Me because I know that something sad is going to happen to that dog… I just know it!
This is why it really upsets me that over the years I’ve been naive enough to pay the money for these “once in a lifetime” experiences.
I promised at the start of this article that I wouldn’t preach, so instead I’m going to talk about my experiences and how they’ve made me feel in hindsight.
I was that quintessential tourist in Thailand, in my Chiang Beer Singlet, wearing a bandana (c’mon, it was 2006), who paid her 1000 baht to ride an elephant.
Along with five other tourists, we piled into a basket on top of this elephant’s back as it was forced to carry us over a mountain range.
Looking back at my photos I now notice the chains around the ankles and, even more disturbingly, the dried blood from an injury that suspiciously looked like it was made from a bull-hook.
I feel like absolute sh*t about this now. Seeing these photos, I wish I knew what my tourist dollars were helping support. It’s not a kindly facility, it’s not a rehabilitation program, it’s a business designed to put money in the pockets of desperate people.
Along with the “Elephant Experience” is the Tiger Temples.
Once again I’m going to admit that I’ve actually paid money to go into one of these places, within the last few years as well, in the hopes of capturing that perfect selfie.
Walking into a cement yard and picking a chained tiger, you can choose to hold its tail or even curl up next to it if you’re game. I opted for a selfie with a cage in-between us in fear that these tigers would finally get the shits and decide to kill us all.
Not that I’d blame them if they did.
No matter how much you love animals, how gentle you pat them or how much you want them to be happy, I can assure you that they’re not.
No matter how great of a feeling it was for me to sit atop an elephant or play with a tiger cub, it’s not worth that feeling knowing the life they live in order to help me feel like that.
That’s why I wrote this story. In the hope that if you somehow stumble across it, whether my mother shared it on Facebook, or it popped up in a Google search, reading it might prompt you to consider this when planning your itinerary.
Being a travel agent, I now groan and even sometimes refuse to book these experiences for my clients unless I know it’s Animal Welfare League approved.
Should you decide that this is something that you can’t live without doing whilst travelling, then please refer to my recommended companies below:
Don’t book locally; don’t let your hotel concierge recommend his brothers, cousins, uncles elephant tour. Do your research and be wary of the bullshit people will say to suck you in.
As someone who has fallen for these tricks, please don’t contribute to the problem. Aim to help be a part of the solution.
NB: As a side note to this article, whilst writing this on my Bali holiday, a stray kitten wandered into my villa, to whom I’m now playing mother. I’m now considering changing my title from Travel Agent/part time blogger to “Cat Whisperer.”
This story is part of our 2017 ‘Travel to change the world’ initiative. You can help by sharing this story to raise awareness and using the hashtag #traveltochangetheworld when you see good will or sustainable initiatives in travel.
Have you had an experience like Hollie’s? What are your thoughts on the animal ‘experience’ in tourism?
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