Numerous tourist activities promoted by individuals or centres of captivity offer visitors the chance to directly interact with animals. This makes it possible for the travellers to have their photos taken with wild animals (monkeys, parrots, tigers, etc.), bottle feed big cat cubs, swim with dolphins or crocodiles, ride an elephant or walk with a group of lions. These are just some of the most well-known activities.
Interactions of this type are a serious problem for these animals which, being wild animals, are not used to or adapted to contact with people -even those that were born in captivity- and may get stressed and become dangerous. Due to this fact most interactions require the animals to be sedated, chained, muzzled or mutilated (such as removing teeth and claws). The tourists who take part in this type of interaction are also taking serious health risks because the species concerned may be a carrier of zoonotic diseases (for example, people can catch tuberculosis from elephants).
The training to which these animals are submitted is another reason for concern. Getting a wild animal to act against its will and its instincts usually involves abusive methods such as manipulation through hunger or the use of instruments for discipline (for example the bull-hook, which is the typical stick with the pointed hook which is used to tame elephants). All the elephants used in the tourist industry, to give a well-known example, have been subjected to a taming process known in Asia as Phajaan (literally “crush their soul”), which involves the premature separation of an elephant calf from its mother, locking it up in a basic wooden cage in which it can hardly stand, hindering sleep and withholding food and water; and beating it in the most sensitive parts of its body (eyes, head, ears) for weeks.
Each year between 50 to 100 elephant calfs are captured in Myanmar for the Thai tourist industry. For each calf they capture, up to 5 adult elephants of its family have to be killed.
Having to carry out unnatural activities also involves serious physical problems. In the case of elephants, having to walk for many hours on asphalt, which is not suitable for its feet, or carrying heavy loads on its delicate spine seriously put its health at risk. Most individuals exploited in this industry get arthritis (a disease which can be fatal in elephants) and spinal alignment problems.
The living conditions of these animals are another big problem because out of sight from the tourists they are usually kept in inadequate facilities, they spend long hours chained up, they are fed poorly, they don’t have sufficient access to a water source and they cannot interact with other elephants, despite the fact that in the wild they live in large herds. Ultimately, these animals are exploited without taking into account their physiological needs or their life cycles.
The use of wild animals in interactions with tourists is causing the disappearance of endangered species. This is the case of the slow loris, hunted in the wild to be used in photos with tourists in the most commercial streets of Thailand. And also the Asian elephant whose population has decreased 90% in the last 100 years. According to reports by the NGO Elephant Family, each year between 50 and 100 elephant calfs are caught in Myanmar to feed the Thai tourist industry. For each calf they catch, up to five adult elephants from its family have to be killed.
Another thing to take into account is the fate of the animals that are use in some of these activities. Consider the lions that are bred on the South African farms so that tourists can bottle feed them, have their photo taken with them or “walk with them”. When they reach adulthood they are sold to the companies of canned hunting, becoming victims of the industry. Many animals are disposed of when they are no longer attractive or too dangerous for the travellers. Therefore, they usually end up in the hands of traffickers (as is the case of tigers, whose parts are of high value on the Asian black market) or they are abandoned in the wild having suffered major amputations and with no chance of survival (as is the case of the slow loris).
At the state level
In 2016 the FAADA initiative had the support of 80 travel agencies and 200 travel bloggers. If you are a travel agency or a blogger from the tourism sector, we encourage you to get in touch with us to join the initiative.