Is it bad to ride elephants in Thailand? Swim with the dolphins? Buy ivory or shell jewelry? Take photos with tigers? Drink civet cat coffee?
Experiences with wild, exotic or endangered animals seem exciting, but travellers can put animals at risk with their shopping, eating and recreational activities.
Endangered species like elephants and rhinos are exploited for their horns and tusks to make jewelry; elephants are beaten during cruel training for rides; tigers and bears are drugged for tourist photo opportunities; and dolphins are kept in tanks that are too small.
If you aren’t sure if a product or souvenir comes from an endangered animal, don’t buy it. Products are often mislabelled or not labelled at all. Help protect local wild animals – don’t do activities where you interact directly with animals.
10 ways to be tourist aware
- Some trinkets and jewelry in shops and local markets are made from wildlife parts like shark teeth, pieces of turtle shell, seahorses or coral. Some of these items may come from endangered animals and could be restricted by international law. Unregulated over harvesting destroys coral reefs and endangers wild animal populations.
- Shoes, purses, wallets, belts and watches are often made from animal skins like snake, lizard and shark. Some of these animals may be endangered or restricted by international law.
- Certain traditional Asian “medicines” contain endangered animal parts like rhino horn or tiger penis. Some of these products contain bear bile that is painfully pulled from bears kept in tiny cages. Endangered animal parts can be found in medicines, toothpaste, shampoos and even wine.
- Don’t pick up sea shells – in some countries, sea shells are protected. Sea shells provide homes for animals like hermit crabs and triton, but these animals may be killed and over harvested for their shells.
- Restaurants sometimes have hidden cruelty in their menu items or serve endangered wildlife species. Don’t buy shark fin soup, frog legs, or sea turtle meat, and don’t be fooled by exotic drinks like coffee beans from civet cats.
- Don’t feed the animals – feeding habituates animals to be around humans, and threatens their survival in the long term. Don’t feed monkeys, lions, dolphins, stingrays or any other animals.
- Don’t take photos with exotic animals. Exotic birds, monkeys or bears are often poached from their mothers to make money. If they can make money exploiting animals, they will. Don’t take part.
- Read the label. Some cosmetics, perfumes or creams are made with animal products like shark liver, sperm whale bile (ambergris), turtle oil, muskrat and beaver genitals (castor) and lac bugs (shellac).
- Don’t buy exotic plants. To harvest plants, poachers harm fragile ecosystems. Some of these plants are endangered or regulated. For example, wild orchids and Mexican cacti are harvested and sold all around the world.
- Don’t buy exotic pets. The majority of exotic pets taken from the wild suffer or die long before they reach the pet store. For those sold in pet stores, 75 per cent die within their first year. The exotic wildlife trade is tied to violence and the drug and arms trade.