How To See Amazing Animals When You Travel - And Keep It Ethical

Nina Zietman

If you want to scream every time that photos of someone you went to school with cuddling a sedated tiger in a far-flung country appear on your Facebook feed, we feel you.

From Thailand to Tanzania, wild animals are often kept in captivity for entertainment purposes. Some are beaten with bull-hooks, others go insane from living in confined quarters. Just watch Blackfish and you'll see what we mean.

But it is possible to see the globe's most magnificent animals, without fueling their maltreatment. Here's a few ways to see wild animals without causing damage to them - or the environment they live in.

Whale Sharks


Whale sharks are the gentle giants of the ocean. Despite growing up to 12m in length, these sharks have no teeth; they just eat krill. The Philippines is one of the most popular places in the world to swim with whale sharks. However, in the town of Oslob, whale shark viewings have gotten out of hand.

Dozens of boats flock around the whale sharks each day. Their natural feeding patterns are disrupted by fishermen throwing krill into the water to attract these creatures for tourists, meaning t Whale sharks end up getting too close to boats and injured by the sharp propellers.

Just around the corner however, on the island of Luzon, you'll find Donsol Community-Based Whale Shark Ecotourism Program. These whale sharks are studied and protected by the local people. No more than six swimmers are allowed to hover around the shark, only a limited number of boats can be in the area and no one is allowed to feed the whale sharks. Lots of the local employees are Donsol residents who used to engage in unethical fishing practices, but now work to protect these beautiful creatures.


Elephant and Calf at Amboseli, Kenya

Riding elephants in Thailand is a huge tourist attraction, but more 50 per cent of the country's elephants are held in captivity.

Elephants are highly intelligent animals with strong family bonds. They have the largest brains of any land animal and experience emotions such as joy, love and grief.

However in Thailand, many elephants are beaten, stabbed with bull-hooks and kept in terrible conditions, simply because they are used for entertainment. Ignore the touts trying to get you on their elephant and head to the Phuket Elephant Sanctuary. They rescue sick, injured and tired elephants, giving them food and shelter in a natural forest environment.


There are only around 3,900 tigers left in the wild, according to the WWF. They mostly live in India, Indonesia and Russia. The Ranthambore National Park in India is one of the best places in the world to see tigers in the wild.


Once the private hunting ground for the kings of Jaipur, it is now a refuge for rare Bengal tigers. Unlike some places in south-east Asia where caged tigers are drugged and chained so visitors can take photos with them, these tigers roam free. Visitors can observe them from a 20-seat van tour of the national park.


While many people dream of swimming with dolphins, it's actually an incredibly rare to experience this in the wild. Dolphins are intelligent, sociable animals but they don't like to be disturbed in their natural habitats. There are plenty of responsible tour operators that will take you to see dolphins in the wild on a boat trip, like those recommended by Whale Sense. However most won't allow you to swim in the water with the dolphins. Never visit a marine park where dolphins are kept in captivity and exploited for entertainment. Watch The Cove and you'll see why.

Three atlantic spotted dolphins (Stenella frontalis) swim and play around the sand banks in the Bahamas


Contemplative orangutan

Sumatra and Borneo have long been home to wild orangutans. These beautiful animals live in rainforests that are sadly being destroyed by logging, fires and the production of palm oil (which can be found in hundreds of products from Nutella to Special K cereal and Persil washing powder).

One hundred years ago, there were over 300,000 wild orangutans in these countries. Now just 20 per cent remain. The Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation have rescued over 2,200 orangutans since 1991 whose homes have been destroyed or were forced into illegal performances. Observe these animals and learn more about humans close connection with these apes.

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