The Lion Whisperer and the Best Way to Love Wild Animals

(h/t to Dawnwatch. Click here to send a thank you to CBS.)

If you have 15 minutes free today, I recommend 60 Minutes’ segment on The Lion Whisperer. The segment juxtaposes a hard look at the canned hunting industry with some beautiful footage of human-lion interaction. N.B.: There is footage of lions being killed in a canned hunting setting, but that is the only graphic footage, and there is plenty of warning before it happens.

As tempting as it is to want to visit wild animal petting zoos when visiting other countries, those kinds of establishments come at a price to the animals themselves. As one of the interviewees says about halfway through this video:

Whenever you pet a lion cub, you are directly enriching the canned lion industry.

In many cases, the only industry interested in adult wild animals is the canned hunting industry. They are too expensive and too dangerous for any other purpose.

So how can you be kind to animals when traveling? Be wary of environments where wild animals are available to be petted by humans. I’ll mention two more below, before letting you know some humane alternatives.

Another popular industry is “dolphin petting pools.” These can be found in the US and in other countries. For a brief overview of the problems, read the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s one page summary. The pools are harmful to dolphins:

 …unsafe, unsanitary and overcrowded conditions…

and dangerous to humans

Petting Pool visitors are also at risk from physical
harm….Several incidents of bites, head butts and trapped
hands were observed during the research.

Happy dolphin not in a pool! From http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/6/67/Bottlenose_Dolphin_KSC04pd0178_(cropped).jpg

Happy dolphin not in a pool!

Hitting a little closer to home, especially at this time of year, another wild animal enterprise that puts both animals and humans at risk are the elephant rides at the circus. Our friends at Animal Defenders International do great educating the public about the cruelty of circuses. This article mentions some of the damage escaped elephants can do:

An eyewitness reported the elephants were “breaking mirrors off, pulling panels off, breaking the windows out” of vehicles as they ran through the lot. Seeing the severe damage done shows how powerful these animals are. If the elephants were being used for children’s rides at the time, the consequences might have been tragic.

The Alliance has education campaigns about the circus every year, January – March. Contact alliance@allanimals.org if you would like to stand outside the circus in your hometown and hand out literature.

We do this! Well, we hand out leaflets in front of the circus. Come join us!

Let’s get back to the original question: how can you do ethical tourism if you love animals and want them to be a part of your travels?

The safest option is to love animals from a distance. There are all kinds of options for dolphin and whale watching and ethical safaris. You can get scuba certified or try snuba, or go on hikes.

What if you want to touch the animals? Well, that’s a greyer area. There are options for swimming with dolphins in the wild. My family went on one of those trips, and we really enjoyed it. We didn’t touch the dolphins, and we only briefly saw them, but it was amazing to be in their presence. After reading this post from Responsible Travel, I don’t know that I would do it again. It’s hard to know how ethical the company is, and I wouldn’t want to take the risk of working with a company that harasses dolphins for the sake of tourist enjoyment.

Another option, if you are in a place with wild elephants, is to skip the tourist venues and visit a sanctuary. This post has suggestions for ethical elephant encounters in South Asia.

If you don’t want to research all of this on your own, there are lots of people willing to help you, from places selling ethical travel packages to vegan travel agents. It can be more expensive, but you know your money is going to good places. My brother and his girlfriend used one of these services when planning their trip to Tanzania, and they really enjoyed the experience.

The bottom line is that if you’re going to interact with wild animals, do some research into the risk to them and to you before handing your money over. And when in doubt, go by this rule that I always follow:

There is always a greater love. Those who wish to pet and baby wild animals ‘love’ them. But those who respect their natures and wish to let them live normal lives, love them more.
– Edwin Way Teale, Circle of the Seasons: The Journal of a Naturalist’s Year: April 28.

You may enjoy your vacation most of all if you just take some pictures, and donate the money you would have spent on wild animal enterprises to an organization helping to keep those animals safe and healthy.

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