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From "cute" selfies with tiger cubs to swimming with dolphins, it is estimated that over half a million animals are enslaved worldwide in the tourism industry. These activities can cause lifelong suffering for wild animals. In this article, I'll go through 10 of the cruellest animal tourist attractions around the world.
Elephants are intelligent animals, who do not want to be carrying tourists around on their backs all day. In order to make elephants submit to elephant rides and other human interactions, they are taken as babies and forced through a horrific process known as ‘the crush’. It involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water. By the time a tourist comes to ride an elephant, its spirit has been broken. The bullhook(a stout pole with a metal hook and a metal tip on the end) is permanently used to remind elephants of the process.
Photo by Loïc Fürhoff on Unsplash
Tiger cubs used at photo attractions are usually taken from their mothers when they are just days old and subjected to extreme stress and physical abuse They are handled and hugged by tourists and typically kept chained up or in small barren cages. Once these tigers are no longer babies and are too dangerous to handle, they typically end up locked away in cages or spend a life chained and drugged to be "docile" enough for tourists to continue to get that perfect photo. This is not just limited to tigers, a similar fate awaits any animal used as a prop for tourist photos.
Photo by Chaz McGregor on Unsplash
Lion cubs face the same early life as tiger cubs, separated from their mothers and forced to spend hours a day being handled and hugged by tourists. However, 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 tourist attraction "Walking with lions". These lions are trained to walk with tourists, sometimes on leads. Due to this, these lions will spend a lifetime in captivity as they cannot be released into the wild.
Photo by Crystal McClernon on Unsplash
Snake charming has been a street entertainment activity for hundreds of years, with the latest addition being kissing a cobra in Thailand. Cobras are venomous and their bites can sometimes be fatal, to prevent this cobras are captured in the wild, defanged with metal pliers and their venom ducts are either blocked or removed. This can lead to painful sometimes life-threatening infections.
Photo by Godwin Angeline Benjo on Unsplash
The horrors of bullfighting are all too real, the bull is led into an arena, and men on horses, drive lances into the bull’s back and neck muscles, twisting to ensure maximum blood loss- this prevents the bull from lifting his head to defend himself. Then the bull is stabbed with brightly coloured darts. The matador joins only when the bull is near death and after provoking a few charges from the dying animal, the matador attempts to kill the bull by severing his spinal cord. In a final horrific act, the bull’s ears and tail are sometimes cut off as a trophy for the matador.
Photo by Diego Gómez Tejedor on Unsplash
Macaques are trained using aggressive and painful techniques to make them behave and appear more human. They are often dressed up to look like geishas and repeatedly forced to dance and perform tricks. When they’re not performing, the macaques are typically kept chained in small cages or outside on short chains- over time these chains can become embedded in the skin leading to painful infections and disease.
Photo by Ioana Mohanu on Unsplash
These animals are dragged around and forced to bear the weight of humans, carriages, and luggage. In some places, donkeys especially are made to scale and descend treacherous terrain and stairs. If they hesitate, they’re beaten. Many horses are forced to work long hours in the blazing heat and freezing cold, surrounded by traffic causing them to often collapse due to stress.
Photo by Dim Hou on Unsplash
The Cayman Islands is home to the last remaining sea turtle farm, where tourists can hold turtles and even eat them during their visit. When handled by tourists, they often panic and intensively flap their flippers which can cause fractures and detached claws, plus holding a sea turtle causes it to suffer a great deal of stress which can weaken its immune system and increase its susceptibility to disease.
Photo by Olga Tsai on Unsplash
Dolphins are torn away from their families in the wild sometimes as babies and illegally sold to parks around the world. If a dolphin is deemed less “attractive” and, therefore, less profitable, they are slaughtered during the capture process and sold as meat. For the ones who make it into captivity they are confined to cramped tanks and harassed all day long. Many dolphins develop painful conditions, such as stomach ulcers, and most die prematurely from the stressful conditions of captivity.
Crocodile & alligator farms were initially set up to supply the fashion and meat industry. They involve large numbers of animals being kept on farms and intensively bred. However, in recent years they have also been visited by tourists, who get the chance to see and even eat them. They are usually housed in overcrowded dirty concrete pits leading to the crocodiles and alligators experiencing a life of stress and disease. They will also often fight each other for basic necessities such as space, food and water.
Photo by Amber Kipp on Unsplash
In summary, anything promising an up-close experience with an animal is best avoided (and reported). The top wildlife experiences occur when you see them in their natural habitat, and you look, don’t touch! Alternatively, animal sanctuaries that follow the GFAS guidelines are the kinds of facilities you as a conscious traveller should be supporting.