Captive monkey
Captive monkey. Photo by Max Borge

Our stance on captive animals, animal welfare & tourism.

The most basic level of acceptable animal welfare standards is to meet the five freedoms. These are:
  • Freedom from hunger and thirst
  • Freedom from discomfort
  • Freedom from pain, injury and disease
  • Freedom to express normal behaviour
  • Freedom from fear and distress
In tourism, the most overlooked of these five freedoms is the freedom to express normal behaviour. While some people argue that a creature is in good health as it is nourished and shows no signs of disease, this does not mean that a captive animal is not being maltreated.

Animals should not be pacing, swaying or displaying stereotypical stress behaviour; they should not be trained to perform, they should not be stroked, petted or in any way forced to interact with humans (in a way that they wouldn’t in the wild) and animals should not be chained or tied other than for essential veterinary checks.

The only exception to these human interaction criteria is domesticated animals such as horses, camels or dogs where their normal behaviour differs from that of their wild counterpart due to generations of domestication.

Responsible Travel cannot personally check every captive animal facility to ensure that it meets these standards, so we request our tour operators to only take travellers to sanctuaries or wildlife rescue centres sheltering animals which cannot remain in the wild. This may be because they have been raised in captivity, been orphaned, or are injured or sick – or are part of important breeding programmes for endangered species. When possible, the animals should be reintroduced into the wild to sustain native populations. We do not support facilities which keep animals in captivity mainly for our entertainment, or where animals are required to perform or behave in unnatural ways.

We also ask our travellers to provide honest reviews of their trips – highlighting any situations where they think that animals have been kept in improper conditions or have been maltreated. This enables us to ensure that all of our holidays are responsible.

The issues
There are a number of attractions and activities which Responsible Travel has either never supported, or has decided to stop promoting. We never take the decision to stop promoting something lightly, as we strive not to inflict our values on other cultures. We also need to bear in mind the social and economic benefits that tourism can bring to the developing regions in which many of these activities take place. However, after careful consideration we decided that the benefits did not outweigh the costs to the animals – and in many circumstances, there are far more responsible local alternatives which would benefit greatly from receiving more tourists. We always try and direct people to these ethical alternatives where possible.

Captive animal attractions we do not promote
  • Captive orcas and dolphins. In 2013 we launched our “Stop the orca circus” campaign in collaboration with the World Cetacean Alliance in opposition to the keeping of whales and dolphins in dolphinaria around the world. Read more about it and sign our petition here.
  • Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage in Sri Lanka was the subject of a report by the animal welfare charity Born Free which led to our decision to exclude any trips that visit Pinnewela from the site. Read more here.
  • The Tiger Temple in Thailand – a traveller brought to our attention the poor welfare standards here. After a thorough investigation as well as an additional report by the charity Care for the Wild, we decided to remove all trips that include Tiger Temple in their itinerary. Read more here.
  • Elephant trekking. Other than in exceptional circumstances (when elephant riding forms part of the protection of highly endangered rhinos and tigers in national parks) we do not promote any elephant rides. Read more about how we reached this decision in our elephant trekking guide.
  • Elephant sanctuaries or orphanages where elephant riding, performing, painting or similar are permitted. The few sanctuaries which we do support ensure the animals are kept in the most natural conditions possible, and do not take elephants from the wild. Read more about the pros and cons of elephant sanctuaries here.
  • Circuses, rodeos and stampedes, bullfighting, canned hunting, walking with lions or other big cats, ostrich riding or dancing bears.
  • The use of animals as photographic props. Read more here.
Orca show
Orca show. Photo by Steven Depolo
Continuous monitoring and feedback
We are constantly trying to improve our knowledge of animal welfare in tourism and are talking to travellers, tour operators and animal welfare and wildlife organisations to make sure that we are up to date with current information. We monitor all the reviews that we receive for any potential animal welfare issues (which sometimes the traveller may not even be aware of). We often question our tour operators about their trips, the conservation value of their wildlife holidays and encourage them to increase the educational aspects of wildlife trips.

What you can do
The international wildlife charity Born Free has created the Travellers’ Animal Alert. This initiative investigates neglect, fights cruelty and works with tour operators, travel companies, foreign governments and other organisations to take positive action and help improve animals’ lives. They investigate notorious facilities, ensure public concerns are addressed, and phase out exploitative activities. There is an online form for you to send in reports and photos about animal suffering you have seen on your travels, or you can call them at any time on 0845 003 5960. The more information you can provide, the better; video footage is particularly useful.

Born Free travellers alertsRead more about Born Free at

Further reading

See our responsible wildlife holidays

Volunteer on a wildlife conservation holiday

Can wildlife tourism help conserve our endangered species?

Written by Justin Francis
Convert currencies