Animal Tourism (Elephants, Tigers, Dolphins)


When traveling in places like Thailand, India and Vietnam, its tempting to participate in wildlife attractions like riding elephants, taking selfies with baby tigers or swimming with dolphins. But many of these places use cruel and inhumane methods to trained and/or care for their animals.

Even TripAdvisor, the popular travel review website, and its ticket sales company, Viator, said Tuesday, due to a 1.5 year campaign from the World Animal Protection, they no longer will sell tickets to hundreds of tourist attractions that are widely accepted as cruel to wild animals.


According to the World Animal Protection:

Riding elephants

In order to make elephants submit to elephant rides and other human interactions, they are taken from their mothers when babies and forced through a horrific training process known as ‘the crush’. It involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water. By the time tourists come to ride an elephant, it may look at peace, but this is because its spirit has been broken. The bullhook, used permanently, reminds the animal of human dominance.

The cruelty does not end after the crush. When not performing or used for rides most elephants are kept on chains, unable to socially interact with one another. This is hugely damaging to their physical and psychological wellbeing.

Taking tiger selfies

Tiger cubs are separated from their mothers at an early age so they can be used as photo props. They are handled and hugged by tourists and typically kept chained-up, or in small barren cages.

In Thailand we found 17 tiger entertainment venues housing up to 830 tigers. Although cruel tiger tourism venues can be found throughout Thailand, this is a problem around the world.

Our recent report, ‘Tiger selfies exposed: a portrait of Thailand’s tiger entertainment industry’, was released in the run-up to International Tiger Day (June 29 2016). It is the first of its kind, delving below the surface of Thailand’s wildlife tourism industry, and showing just how many tigers suffer when forced to act as props for tourist photos.

Walking with lions

Lion cubs are bred and taken from their mothers typically within a month of birth to supply the growing lion tourism industry, mostly located in Southern Africa. Tourists handle the cubs for hours and pose with them for photos. They are also often told to hit the cubs if they display aggressive or unwelcome behaviour.

When the cubs grow too big for tourists to pick up and hug – but are still young enough to control – they are used for the relatively new walking with lions tourist experience. The lions are trained to ‘safely’ walk with tourists, sometimes on leads.

These lions face a lifetime in captivity as they cannot be released into the wild.

Holding sea turtles

The world’s last remaining sea turtle farm that acts as a tourist attraction is in The Cayman Islands. Here, tourists can hold turtles and even eat them during their visit.

Suffering from stress and disease, sea turtles live a tortured life at the Cayman Turtle Farm. They often panic when they are handled and it has been known for tourists to drop them, causing significant injuries which can kill turtles.

Performing dolphins

Millions of tourists visit dolphinaria, but they are unaware of the cruelty and abuses the dolphins endure to perform in shows.

Whilst it is banned in countries like the US, many performing dolphins around the world are still captured in the wild. They are often chased by high-speed boats before being hauled on board or caught in nets. For many, the stress is too much to take and they die during transportation to their intended destinations.

Whether wild caught or captive bred, dolphins in dolphinaria face a lifetime of suffering. They spend their entire lives in a space not much bigger than a swimming pool – completely unnatural and restrictive compared to their natural open sea environment.

Other Animals

Up to 550,000 wild animals are currently enduring lifetimes of suffering at tourist entertainment venues globally. Monkeys are forced to dance, civets are caged and force-fed to make high-end kopi luwak coffee, and intensive crocodile farms are drawing crowds of holiday makers.

For more information check out the World Animal Protection Report: Checking out of cruelty’ report




Costa Rican “Sloth Sanctuary” Controversy

Read both articles and make your own conclusion

Inside Costa Rica’s Sloth Sanctuary: Horror show or a solution to a complicated issue?

Famous Sloth Sanctuary Is A Nightmare For Animals, Ex-Workers Say




Learn More

The world’s cruelest attractions

Elephants in Thailand


Follow Campaign

World Animal Protection

Endcap (fight against dolphinaria)




1. Do your research

You can avoid being duped by false organisations that do more harm than good by doing your research. When you know about the suffering involved you won’t want to take part in activities like walking a lion in South Africa or touring civet coffee plantations in Vietnam.

As travellers, it is our responsibility to be informed and to make the right choices that benefit wildlife. In the age of Google, “I didn’t know’ isn’t much of an excuse anymore.

2. Don’t support hotels, bars or entertainment venues that display captive animals

Avoid staying at a hotel or eating at a restaurant that displays captive animals or offers exotic animals on the menu. If you have already booked and then find out on arrival, let the management know your disapproval. If they get enough of these comments there is more chance of them stopping the practice.

3. Don’t support the use of animals as photographic props

Almost all of these animals have been taken as babies from the wild and those that grow too large to handle will ultimately be killed. Endangered animals like the Slow Loris suffer because of their cuteness. These small, wide eyed creatures are captured from the wild and are subjected to having their teeth cut off or pulled out so they cannot bite tourists. Unfortunately many die from infection following the procedure.

Gibbons are also commonly used as photo props for that ‘all-important’ selfie and yet the Gibbon Rehabilitation Project estimates that 10 – 15 gibbons are killed for every 1 you see on the street.

Taking these protected species from the wild is illegal in most countries. If you see them being used as photo props in the street please report it to the local police.


4. Humanised behaviour is a no go

As a rule, avoid any animal attraction where animals are trained to perform tasks that have humanised behaviours for example riding bikes, cleaning teeth, painting etc. As Born Free explain these unnatural behaviours involve substantially more training and can have serious animal welfare implications. 

5. Culture is not an excuse for cruelty

Even if an activity is considered part of a countries cultural heritage it doesn’t excuse animal cruelty. Avoid cockfighting, bullfighting or any festivals or any occasions that involve animal cruelty.

6. Consider your own welfare

You’re in a foreign country where medical care may not be fantastic. Always bear in mind, especially if you want to be around large animals, the harm that they could potentially cause you. This is another big reason to do your research and only choose to visit well managed, ethical animal attractions where visitor safety is important. 

7. Use a responsible and trusted tour operator

If you are using a tour operator for part or all of your trip then once again do your research! Ask questions about the kind of attractions they offer and see if they have signed up to any wildlife protection bodies. Responsible operators like Intrepid won’t offer activities that involve animal welfare issues like riding elephants. Intrepid has committed to animal welfare (we were one of the first to put a stop to elephant rides on our trips).

8. Make the most of responsible travel resources

There are a handful of great responsible travel resources that you can use to help identify ethical animal attractions and activities.

Set up by Care for the Wild, the Right Tourism website is a great resource to find out more about animal friendly travel, things to avoid, as well as a responsible organisation directory.

For more info on our responsible travel policies, check out our website