Eco Tourism: 5 Ethical Animal Experiences Around The World
Preserving our planet is at the centre of our attention these days, with many of us aware of how our habits are affecting our flora and fauna through excessive greenhouse gas emissions and the degradation of land and biodiversity loss.
It is only natural that we start thinking about how we travel, including our carbon footprint and the experiences we are choosing to have.
But I want to cuddle a koala
Having a personal encounter with wildlife is on many people’s bucket list. Who hasn’t dreamed of cuddling with a koala, swimming with sharks, or riding an elephant? But with an alarming number of reports denouncing places that either abuse animals or change the animal’s behaviour for the sake of tourism, it's time to take a step back and re-evaluate.
Contrary to what some may believe, banning wildlife tourism altogether is not the solution. Boycotting it will not only affect local communities financially, as many rely on these tourist experiences for income, but it may also put the animals at risk of being mistreated or worse, killed. Eco-conscious wildlife tourism is vital in helping threatened species thrive, and the important thing is to choose an operator that will respect the wild animals’ space and educate tourists on the conservation efforts.
Here we explore ways to still have these magical encounters in the most eco-conscious and ethical way possible.
Some endangered species, such as gorillas, may not survive without tourism. The number of mountain gorillas in Rwanda has dwindled over the years due to poaching, as the largest primate on earth is revered for its meat and its so-called healing properties.
Over time, trekking tours such as EcoTours have helped turn saving gorillas into a more profitable business than hunting them, with the money going back to conservation efforts.
While both Rwanda and Uganda are popular gorilla trekking destinations, Rwanda seems to be a favourite due to better infrastructure, easier terrain, more luxury lodges and a higher chance of seeing other wildlife on the trek.
Great White Sharks
In places like South Africa—one of the most popular places to cage dive with great white sharks—to chum or not to chum has been one of the greatest debates.
Local fishermen and surfers claim that feeding and baiting the sharks will develop a dependency that will alter the shark’s innate feeding habits and result in an association between human beings and food. This Pavlovian Effect would be to blame for the surge in shark attacks in the area.
On the other hand, conservationists and scientists claim that they themselves use chumming to study sharks and believe that cage diving will help people value sharks and support conservation efforts, as long as the operators abide by the laws.
If cage diving with great white sharks is on your bucket list, Marine Dynamics in Cape Town is a revered luxury operator that has a registered conservation trust and ensures that there is at least one marine biologist on board.
In 2010, the Rothschild's giraffe was declared an endangered species, according to an analysis by Fennessy and Brenneman. The numbers had been dwindling due to an increase in agricultural development and giraffe populations being too spread out throughout national parks to breed naturally.
Kenya, where most of the Rothschild's giraffes live, has spent the past few decades dedicating its efforts to saving the beloved giraffe by opening sanctuaries such as The Giraffe Centre in Nairobi. The Centre breeds giraffes and releases the calves when they are independent enough to survive in the wild.
The Giraffe Manor, a boutique hotel located on the property, has become famous for its picture-perfect shots of giraffes sticking their necks into the dining room.
According to National Geographic, dugongs can be found in warm coastal waters from East Africa to Australia, including the Red Sea, the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. These adorable herbivores—who always seem to have a smile on their face—used to occupy the waters around Hong Kong, Taiwan, Cambodia and more.
They have since disappeared as a result of destruction of habitat and overfishing, as dugongs were once prized for their meat—deemed superior to beef—and their tears, which are said to be a love potion.
The cousin of the manatee is now listed as vulnerable to extinction by the International Union for Conservation of Nature. While spotting a dugong is largely attributed to chance, the best place to try your luck is in Shark Bay and Moreton Bay on the east coast of Australia.
Cuddling with a koala is on many people’s bucket list, but for an animal who spends most of its life sleeping, being put into a stranger’s arms and dealing with camera flashes can cause distress. That is why cuddling with koalas is now banned in all Australian states and territories except Queensland.
The most ethical way to see a koala is by visiting the Koala Hospital, located in Port Macquarie. The non-profit organisation takes in sick or injured koalas and helps them through the rehabilitation process with the aim of rereleasing them back into the wild when ready. Here, they offers guided tours for visitors to meet some of the permanent care koalas.