Animal Welfare and Tourism

animal welfare and tourism 

Selfies with bears in chains or petting lion cubs? Animal welfare issues to watch out for while on vacation


Other countries, other customs – that's one of the great things about traveling to new places. However, bear in mind that animal welfare standards abroad can often be lower than at home. What at first glance might appear to be an appealing tourist attraction or a culinary delicacy is often connected to pain and distress for the animals involved.

FOUR PAWS has advice about how to be considerate towards animals abroad and make sure that your vacation is animal-friendly.

Animal welfare and tourism: animal suffering in tourist attractions

Riding elephants in Thailand, watching bullfights in Spain, or petting lions in South Africa. Vacationers should avoid many of the tourist attractions offered at holiday destinations – they usually involve animal abuse.

One of the most popular tourist attractions, especially in exotic countries, is animal rides: may it be on elephants, ponies, donkeys or camels. These animals are often not held in appropriate conditions or treated with basic necessities. For example, they can be exposed to intense heat all day long without being given fresh water. Elephants are brutally mistreated while they are very young in order to make them docile and submissive. Despite barbaric training of these animals, direct contact with elephants, among other species, poses an enormous security risk, as numerous accidents go to prove.

Animal shows and entertainment involving animals often cause immense suffering. Whether it's the traditional bullfights in Spain and Portugal or cruel dog, bear and rooster fights: animals are tortured in all of them, and it is the customer who is paying for this cruelty to take place. One of Spain's oldest traditions, bullfighting, for example, uses various techniques to irritate the animals before the spectacle gets underway. These can range from blows to the kidneys to pricking the sexual organs with needles or administering medication that makes the animals lose their sense of orientation. During the "fight", the bull is often speared in the side. The highlight is the killing of the bull, whereby the animal usually dies by suffocating on its own blood after the "coup de grace" ("blow of mercy"). The bull never survives a fight.

Besides these supposed tourist attractions, animal friends should also be cautious when purchasing souvenirs. Many shops sell items made of ivory, tortoiseshell or coral, and leather products made from the skins of exotic animals. Purchasing these items contributes to making protected species extinct. The import of souvenirs stemming from endangered species is banned by the Washington Convention to protect endangered animals and plants, and is punished by fines and even prison.

what to WATCH out for:


  • Avoid tourist attractions involving animals. Steer clear of activities like elephant, pony and camel riding, swimming with dolphins, and petting or feeding wild animals. Direct interaction in no way serves the welfare of these animals, it only gives pleasure to visitors.
  • Do not visit animal shows. Even if you are keen to watch – please do not attend them. Here, wild animals are often forced to perform feats that are unnatural to them. The dressage of wild animals is frequently based on punishment. In these shows, animals are degraded to objects of entertainment. Also avoid sports and contests involving animals, like bullfights and cockfights, and horse and dog races.
  • Do not take photographs or selfies with animals. Many tourists like to take photos of themselves with wild animals, and animal babies are especially popular. This is pure profiteering at the cost of the animals involved that are usually separated too early from their mothers, are kept in unacceptable conditions, or have even been taken from the wild.
  • Caution when buying souvenirs and food. Many shops sell items made of ivory, tortoiseshell or coral, and leather products made from the skins of exotic animals. The import of such souvenirs stemming from endangered species is illegal. Also avoid local dishes containing meat of uncertain origin, which may be dog or cat meat or of exotic animals.
  • Do not feed animals. Especially in southern countries, vacationers are surprised by the large number of stray animals. It's very tempting to feed them. This well-meaning gesture leads to strays quickly getting used to this new source of food. But with the end of the tourist season, the source dries up. From the perspective of animal welfare, feeding is also problematic because it causes the animals to reproduce faster. It is much wiser to directly donate to a local animal welfare association at your vacation destination, and to draw its attention to injured or undernourished animals.
  • Avoid dubious wildlife parks. Serious sanctuaries give top priority to the welfare of the rescued animals. Healthy animals should have only minimal contact with animal care staff and no contact at all to visitors. Where possible, the animals should be released back into the wild. Wildlife parks should neither have animals perform nor breed them. Don't be deceived by the attractive names of animal parks when on vacation – take a good look.

did you know that...

...many tourist destinations have very low animal welfare standards and cruel keeping conditions? in South Africa, lions kept for breeding are very likely to end up as targets for trophy hunting or killed for their bones. And that as young animals, they were abused on petting farms as tourist attractions.

...most animals in the tourism industry suffer in miserable living conditions.

...there are are not only dancing bears but also "selfie bears" and restaurant bears.

Bears Amelia and Meimo at Arosa Bear Sanctuary

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