The opportunity to interact with wild animals can be one of the most rewarding and memorable travel experiences, however, any time humans and wild animals come together there is also potential for danger, harm and abuse. Responsible travellers need to be informed.
The reality is, animal suffering, cruelty and abuse is a massive global problem, and it's one that needs to be addressed. The good news is, as one of the largest sectors in the world -- supporting 28 million jobs and generating 9.8 per cent of global GDP -- the travel and tourism sector is a massive planetary force with the desire and ability to steer conversations, shape thinking, and drive momentous change in how we treat animals.
Naturally, Canadians who are passionate about experiencing the rest of the planet are also likely going to be passionate about protecting it. Which is why, when it comes to animal-related travel experiences, it's so important that Canadian travellers think about the choices they make and use their buying power to generate good.
Take elephant-related travel experiences, for example. Huge, highly intelligent and extremely social, elephants are undeniably one of the most unforgettable animals to see up close. Which is why millions of people around the world -- on safaris, in zoos, at temples, in sanctuaries -- choose to make elephant-related experiences a part of their travel plans every year.
However, what many don't realize is the potential harm they are causing by supporting attractions that abuse elephants, primarily because they don't realize just how many attractions are engaged in abuse.
There are a number of elephant experiences that appear harmless, but are in fact traumatic and even painful for elephants, so it's vital that conscientious travellers make themselves aware of what to look for when they travel to ensure that the experiences they seek out are rewarding for themselves, as well as the animals involved.
One thing Canadians should keep in mind as they seek out any animal-friendly travel experience is how they live naturally in the wild, because, if the attraction or experience is having the animal do things they wouldn't naturally do in the wild, then they've been forced against their will into doing it.
For instance, in the wild, elephants would never let you climb on top of them, nor would they perform for you. In order to train an elephant to do these unnatural acts, they first need to be broken, a process as brutal as its name would suggest. The goal is to take these highly social and emotional animals and crush their spirit. Breaking an elephant involves starvation, the infliction of pain through use of bullhooks and whips, and slowly, over time, wearing them down to the point that they will perform or let people mount them out of fear of being tortured again.
Responsible travellers can also look for tell-tale signs that indicate a pattern of abuse.
Because of this, riding an elephant, painting an elephant, or watching elephants perform should always be avoided, with no exceptions.
Beyond the activities themselves though, responsible travellers can also look for tell-tale signs that indicate a pattern of abuse. The TreadRight Foundation bases its Animal Welfare Policy, a program by which our travel brand partners vet and assess animal related activities to ensure they make responsible choices when selecting attractions and experiences for their trips, on the Five Freedoms, a compact of rights for animals under human control. The Five Freedoms serve as a valuable guide in helping Canadians revaluate any animal related experiences, whether it's swimming with dolphins, taking photographs with tigers (hint: don't!) or encountering polar bears.
The Five Freedoms assert that animals under human control should have freedom from hunger and thirst; freedom from discomfort; freedom from pain, injury and disease; freedom to express normal behavior; and freedom from fear and distress.
Of course, travellers can't always be prepared with a ready-made checklist or the ability to do all the necessary background research for whatever animal-related experiences they might come upon as they travel. After all, unexpected encounters are part of what makes travel so great. So how can Canadians avoid supporting animal abuse on the go? One way would be to travel with organizations that have animal welfare policies in place.
By doing a little research online before booking your trip can easily find out which travel and tour companies have made ensuring animal welfare a priority, which have aligned themselves with animal protection organizations, or have animal health and safety measures in place so that you know when you travel with them, they've put in the leg work on their part to provide you with peace-of-mind. In doing so, you'll also be encouraging all travel and tourism companies to work towards providing only animal-friendly experiences on their trips.
Above all else though, educating yourself and making your travel choices accordingly is the key for responsible travellers who want to join the movement to harness the power of travel to help put an end to animal abuse.
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