by Meg McIntire
“I'm not sure what I was expecting. Maybe more educational details about alligators and crocodiles. What I walked away with was a serious sadness for the way many of these animals are exploited for our human entertainment.”
So begins a review of Gatorland in Orlando, Fla....essentially a zoo that boasts that it “features 3,000 gators and 89 crocodiles, as well as a number of bird and snake exhibits.”
This review, however, is buried along with more than 100 similar comments complaining about animal abuse, under glowing five star reviews from other patrons willing to look past the small, inhumane enclosures the animals are kept in. This is a perfect example of how vacation attractions that feature animals might seem appealing on the surface, but many times there is hidden cruelty underneath. The reality is hundreds of thousands of wild animals across the world are snatched from natural habitats, forced into captivity and subjected to abuse, both mentally and physically, in the name of entertainment and profit. Sadly, many tourists who love animals may actually contribute to animal suffering because they are unaware of this hidden truth. Whether it’s visiting a zoo, riding an elephant, walking with lions, or swimming with dolphins – these might all seem like fun ways to interact with wild animals when on vacation. In reality, they cause intense suffering and pain for the animals involved.
Riding an Elephant
Elephant owners, camps and tour operators have been offering tourists the chance to live out their Jungle Book fantasies for many years. But a once-in-a-lifetime experience for tourists means a lifetime of suffering for elephants.
Many vacation-goers are not aware, however, that the majestic animals they ride are wild animals who have not actually evolved to carry weight on their backs and that brutal training has broken their spirits.
Cruelly taken from the wild or bred in captivity, these elephants are separated from their mothers and family groups at just a few months old.
Elephants destined for the tourist industry experience great physical and mental trauma. Isolation, starving, hitting and beating are just some of the methods used to initially break their spirits and get them to behave and perform. The fear and suffering calves endure is intense and just like humans who are abused, elephants can develop Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
Walking with Lions
Walking with lions across a beautiful African landscape is a holiday dream come true for many wild animal lovers.
But the reality behind this and other lion-handling close encounters is a sad one. Lion cub handling, walking with lions and photo opportunities with lions are most common in southern Africa, particularly South Africa, Zimbabwe and Zambia.
These facilities depend on the supply of a continual stream of young lions—usually captive bred and taken from their mothers shortly after birth.
Lion cubs handled in this way can never be effectively released to the wild as their chances of survival cannot be guaranteed. It is also highly irresponsible to release a dangerous, large predator familiar with people back into wild lands where local people live.
Swimming with dolphins
Swimming with dolphins is a common “bucket list” item, but how much pain and suffering does it take for a tourist’s dream to become reality?
Most “dolphin encounters” take place not in their vast ocean home, but in the cruel confines of an aquarium. And most tourists don’t realize that such small and barren environments can never replicate dolphins’ natural habitats or allow them to behave naturally.
The smooth-sided pools are also very different from the rocks and corals of natural ocean landmarks and interfere with the dolphin’s natural way of navigation through echolocation.
The other harsh reality is that the life expectancy of a captive dolphin is much less than that of a wild one, who could live up to around 50 years old.
So when you plan your next getaway this year, focus your attention on animal-friendly activities, such as hiking in the woods and enjoying the wildlife in their natural habitats. Or go to the beach and try snorkeling in order to see all those wonderful sea creatures up close in their native homes.
How about spending some time at an animal sanctuary or animal shelter and volunteering to help animals who are in need of kindness and love? We guarantee you will look back on your trip guilt-free knowing that you did not contribute to any animal suffering.