Getting the chance to experience wild creatures in their natural habitats is what your wildest travel dreams are made of. However, when it comes to partaking in animal-related tourism, there’s the fear of seeing animals in captivity, animal exploitation and cruelty in the name of profitability that weighs on your consciousness.
As travellers, we need to be cautious of supporting ethical practices that value the welfare of wildlife (often endangered species) above all else. How can animal lovers observe and interact with wildlife in the great outdoors respectfully, without causing the creatures harm? Here are some places where you can embark on ethically-verified animal encounters and adventures around the globe.
Say “hi” to the Big Five on an African safari
Safaris in Africa are linked to the decrease in poaching, because there’s less opportunity to kill when tourists are watching wildlife.
The Big Five game animals are the lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo. These are the five African animals most prized by poachers, but are now becoming the most popular animals in safari tours.
For the best chance at seeing the Big Five, you need to join a drive with a local guide at the game parks in South Africa, Kenya (such as the Masai Mara National Reserve), Tanzania, Botswana, and Namibia. The Serengeti National Park in Tanzania offers some of the best wildlife viewing opportunities in the world, where you’re likely to see the great migration of wildebeests and zebras, along with giraffes, zebras, ostriches, antelope, hippos, monkeys, and cheetahs roaming the savanna.
Go on the prowl for big cats at LIONSROCK in South Africa
Located in the Bethlehem region in the heart of South Africa, LIONSROCK sanctuary is a rescue centre for over 100 big cats, including lions, tigers, cheetahs, and leopards, rescued from zoos, circuses, and other abusive domestic and work environments. Visitors can partake in informative observational game drives and a scenic hiking trail up the iconic mountain which the sanctuary is named after.
Swim with whale sharks in Western Australia
Whale sharks are the ocean’s biggest and most majestic fish species, and there are several places in the world where you can hop in the water and swim with them. One of the most stunning spots in the world to scuba dive and snorkel with the whale sharks is at Ningaloo Reef, Australia’s longest fringing coral reef, where they congregate during Australia’s fall months of March to August. Depending on the season, swimmers can encounter other marine creatures such as tropical fish, manta rays, dolphins, and humpback whales.
See the sea turtles in the Galapagos
The tropical climate and lack of natural predators in the Galapagos Islands has created an unparalleled mecca for wildlife lovers to encounter exotic creatures like the giant tortoise, penguins, and marine iguanas, some of which are found nowhere else on the globe. Volunteer vacation opportunities to support the wildlife and habitat by conducting research on the field and exploring through hiking and snorkeling to observe the wildlife are available to interested visitors.
“Duel” with komodo dragons and “swing” with the orangutans in Indonesia
What could be more exciting than duelling with a real-life dragon? The Komodo Dragon, the largest (and most lethal) species of lizard on earth, can be found on three islands in Indonesia – Komodo, Rinca, and Flores. At Komodo National Park, you can come face-to-face with the Komodo Dragon for a rare close encounter with the dangerous yet endangered species, of which there are less than 6,000 left in the world.
For an ethical orangutan experience, consider visiting the furry orange creatures at Gunung Leuser National Park in northern Sumatra, Indonesia. At the village of Bukit Lawang, the orangutan rehabilitation centre offers a feeding platform for visitors to see the rescued animals up close, along with a jungle trekking tour for the adventurous to see the primates in the wild.
Admire the elephants in Thailand
As a word of caution to travellers to Thailand, riding and taking selfies with elephants is a glaring sign of mistreatment, so avoid places that promote these as tourist activities.
Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is an example of a sanctuary that provides good and respectful treatment of the rescued elephants, as they are cared for by a team of dedicated staff and volunteers. Interactions are limited to watching, feeding, and bathing the gentle giants.
“Sled” with the huskies in Finland
Hetta Huskies is an award-winning dog-sledding company known for their ethical care standards of sled dog welfare and minimizing their environmental footprint on the arctic region. Through their breathtaking safari tours, travellers can mush through Scandinavia’s Arctic Circle to meander through the ancient boreal forests and onto the high plateaus of the Arctic tundra with the huskies. If you’re lucky, you may even see the Northern Lights!
Spot the puffins in Iceland
Iceland is home to half of the world’s population of puffins. Vestmannaeyjar, known as the Westman Islands, a collection of small islands along the Icelandic west coast, hosts the largest puffin colony, where the birds gather in the dramatic cliffs and lush meadows during the year’s summer months of April to September.
When it comes to participating in animal-related tourism activities, do your research before participating in any animal encounter to ensure that your connection with wildlife is done ethically and responsibility. Some key things to look out for are the living conditions, the conservation efforts (for species and for local communities), and the practices that prioritize the wellbeing and welfare of wildlife animals over tourist gains. When experiencing ethically-sanctioned wildlife animal experiences, enjoy the unique opportunity to learn about our planet and its special inhabitants.