Animal lovers have long sought ways of interacting with their favorite creatures while traveling. A vacation to destinations in Africa and Asia often allows visitors the chance to see many animals in the wild, or even to get close enough to touch them.
But not all animal experiences are good for the animal — or safe for the human — and travelers concerned with engaging in ethical animal tourism need to be careful about how they get close to their furry friends.
Activities that were once considered harmless fun, such as visiting a circus or swimming with dolphins, can be exploitative and even deadly for the animals involved.
Travelers need to do their research on any animal experience they want to have to make sure that the animals are given the proper care they deserve. One of the best ways to do that is to try to discern the intent of any experience claiming to be ethical, according to one expert.
“The number of roadside zoos that have tacked on the word ‘sanctuary’ or ‘rescue’ to their names has skyrocketed in recent years. Kind people are naturally drawn to places that claim to rescue animals and offer them sanctuary, but many of these outfits are nothing more than breeders, dealers, and exhibitors who exploit the public's goodwill and generosity,” Catie Cryar, spokesperson for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), told Travel + Leisure in an email.
Another red flag to watch out for is any situation in which the animals are expected to perform in some way, whether it's posing for selfies or doing tricks for treats. The most humane and organic experiences with animals are those where the animals just get to be themselves, said Susie Coston, the national shelter director for Farm Sanctuary.
Coston's organization gives homes to formerly abused farm animals and allows members of the public to visit and stay in their cabins to immerse themselves in the sanctuaries’ activities.
“I think we have become such a culture of having to have a selfie instead of allowing an animal to just have their experience,” Coston told T+L. “I think there’s other ways of getting people to appreciate animals without needing them to entertain you.”
We've rounded up ideas for some of the best activities to see and interact with animals, as well as common missteps to avoid.