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Nov 7, 2023

6 min. read

IF YOU LOVE ANIMALS, the chance to swim with dolphins may seem like a dream vacation opportunity. But you might want to consider scratching that off your list.

From snorkelling with salmon in B.C. to gorilla trekking in Uganda, there’s no shortage of exotic animal encounters being offered to entice travellers. Around 110 million people visit wildlife attractions each year, according to World Animal Protection, a global non-profit animal advocate, but it also notes that 75 percent of these venues have a negative impact on wild animals. Think ostrich rides and shark baiting. Often, animals have been snatched out of their natural habitat to become “props” for tourists, which can cause long-term harm.

“Many wild animals that are used for the tourism industry have endured severe trauma, like being removed from the mother at an early age, facing inhumane training methods and cosmetic alterations such as removal of teeth or claws,” says Michèle Hamers, wildlife campaign manager for World Animal Protection Canada.

Animals in captivity can’t engage in natural behaviours, often leading to boredom, frustration and stress, warns Hamers. That translates into abnormal behaviours, from pacing and self-harm—such as plucking out their own hair or feathers—to unnatural aggressiveness. “Other impacts are less visible, like PTSD and depression,” she points out.

Unfortunately, there is no globally recognized body—nor any formal standards or certifications—that people can turn to for determining if a wildlife experience is ethical. However, they can watch out for these red flags suggested by World Animal Protection.

  • Avoid venues where you can touch, hug, feed, take a selfie or closely interact with a wild animal (and yes, that includes swimming with dolphins).

  • If a “sanctuary” sells, breeds or makes animals perform tricks, it’s not an ethical operation.

  • Be skeptical if operators “guarantee” an encounter with animals in the wild, which could mean animals are baited.

“Labels like ‘sanctuary’ and ‘rescue centre’ can be used by anyone, so people cannot rely on such descriptions,” notes Hamers. The same red flags apply to wildlife voluntourism.

World Animal Protection provides tips on its website (worldanimalprotection.ca/take-action/animal-friendly-travel-tips) to help people determine if animals’ basic needs are being met by the operator or venue.

Several groups are establishing volunteer or independent certifications to guide animal lovers looking for ethical ways to interact with wild animals. Whale Sense (whalesense.org) —sponsored by Whale and Dolphin Conservation and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration—assists visitors to find whale-watching companies committed to responsible practices. The Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries—which has accredited more than 200 sanctuaries, rescue facilities and rehabilitation centres—enables visitors to its website (sanctuaryfederation.org) to search by animal and region. And the World Wildlife Fund has teamed up with Natural Habitat Adventures on 90-plus conservation-based itineraries, searchable on its website (nathab.com).

While you won’t be riding an elephant or taking selfies with koalas, the magic of an encounter with happy, healthy animals in their natural habitat is, after all, hard to beat.

A CAA Travel Consultant can help you book trustworthy local attractions for your next vacation. Visit caamanitoba.com/travel to learn more.

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