Let’s Talk About Wildlife Tourism!

Let’s Talk About Wildlife Tourism!

Imagine you’re on a fantastic vacation, exploring a new country when you spot a sign that says, ‘Elephant Rides Available.’ Your family and friends are all excited and nudging you to join in.

What would YOU do?

On vacations, we might come across activities featuring animals that may at first glance seem harmless – showering elephants, feeding animals, or posing for pictures with them. They are sometimes advertised as educational or for conservation purposes, but in reality, there is a chance they could be neither.

“Did you know that due to the popularity of wildlife attractions, approximately 550,000 wild animals endure suffering daily solely for the entertainment of tourists?”

Many times, we do not see what happens behind the scenes, where animals are kept in unfavourable conditions just to make money. So how can you tell if supporting a good cause or unintentionally contributing to animal suffering?

Here are some tips:

Do Your Research!

With so many tourist spots, it can be hard to know which ones are genuinely animal-friendly. A simple way to check is to see if the sanctuary is ‘GFAS'[1] accredited.

Step 1: Go to their website – Sanctuary Federation
Step 2: Under ‘Find a Sanctuary,’ fill in the details and click ‘search.’

The website will show you sanctuaries that follow the highest standards for animals and are true sanctuaries. If you’re still unsure, you can always Google to check if the activity is animal-friendly.

Screengrab from Sanctuary Federation

Watch Out for Red Flags!

Be on the lookout for signs that animals in the facility are hurt, not well-fed, or forced to do things. Many places call themselves ‘sanctuaries’ but might not be. Some red flags include animals being chained, made to perform, or do things that are not natural for them. Don’t hesitate to ask staff questions and observe your surroundings closely.

Animals Being Themselves!

Avoid buying tickets at places where wild animals are kept for entertainment. Some activities can cause animals pain and distress, like:

  1. Elephant Riding
    Riding elephants inflicts physical pain, stress, and long-term injuries on these gentle giants. They are often chained and confined to small spaces throughout their lives.
  1. Selfies with Tigers
    While snapping selfies with tigers may seem harmless, it is not so for the big cats. World Animal Protection has identified over 10 venues that house more than 600 tigers for entertainment and profit. These tigers are often malnourished, drugged, caged and tied down making them easier to handle. Those harmless selfies actually put these magnificent animals in danger and subject them to mistreatment.

  1. Dancing Monkeys
    Monkeys, like Macaques, are often confined in tiny cages, taught tricks, and forced to dance solely for tourists’ entertainment.

  1. Feeding Sheep
    Some tourist spots encourage visitors to buy tickets to feed animals, like sheep. Unfortunately, they are not given proper meals to encourage them to approach tourists and eat from their hands.

We can all be responsible tourists and help animals worldwide by learning more about wildlife tourism, sharing that knowledge with others and stop visiting facilities that exploit animals. Together, we can make a difference!

Written by: Dibashini Yensegaran
Education Manager, SPCA

[1] Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries (GFAS) is the only globally-recognised accrediting body of animal sanctuaries. Through their evaluation process, GFAS aims to ensure that those designated as GFAS-verified or Accredited uphold the highest standards for the animals in their care.


[1]World Animal Protection, “Which companies are checking out of wildlife cruelty?,” Tracking the travel industry.

[2]N. Daly, “National Geographic: How to do wildlife tourism right,” 15 May 2019. [Online]. Available: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/how-to-do-wildlife-tourism-right#:~:text=Look%20for%20red%20flags,where%20enclosures%20aren’t%20clean.. [Accessed 2023].

[3]World Animal Protection, “World Animal Protection: What ecotourism is and why it *must* include protecting wildlife,” 16 February 2023. [Online]. Available: https://www.worldanimalprotection.org/blogs/whats-ecotourism. [Accessed 2023].

[4]J. Fair, “Discover Wildlife: The world’s most cruel animal attractions,” 4 February 2016. [Online]. Available: https://www.discoverwildlife.com/news/the-worlds-most-cruel-animal-attractions. [Accessed 2023].