Our stance on wildlife – Responsible tourism issues

Wildlife is the highlight of many a holiday – from the plains of East Africa to the jungles of South America. Responsible wildlife holidays use expert guides, who ensure you don’t just see an animal – you learn about it, understand its behaviour and the issues involved in its conservation. Many holiday companies also donate a percentage of the cost of each tour to supporting local wildlife charities or research efforts – in an attempt to conserve the very thing they are travelling there to see.

But when wildlife tourism is bad, it is – to paraphrase – horrid. Wildlife is wild – so feeding, touching and any altering of natural behaviour should never take place. Feeding sharks, for example, is believed to alter their behaviour and encourage them to come closer to shore – with potentially disastrous consequences for swimmers and surfers. Sea turtles, meanwhile, always return to nest on the same beach on which they hatched. Crowds of people, bright lights, vehicles and sunbeds left out on the sand all deter them from laying their eggs, and either laying them in less suitable areas, or aborting the process altogether.

Read more about our stance on various wildlife watching issues in the links below, or visit our page on issues affecting captive animals, including elephant trekking, here.

Wild dolphins & whales
Swimming with dolphins and whales is one of the ultimate bucket list experiences for many travellers. At Responsible Travel, we do not support the keeping of cetaceans in captivity, and we only promote responsible tour operators who abide by the regulations for both viewing and swimming with wild dolphins and whales. Many of our trips also have a greater conservation benefit – as travellers can contribute to research efforts and monitor behaviour.

Read more about our views:
Wild dolphin watching

Hunting
Trophy hunting is one of the most complex ethical issues when it comes to wildlife tourism. Animal lovers are naturally repulsed by the concept of hunting big game – especially when many of the species are threatened or endangered – and killing seems like the complete antithesis to conservation. However, controlled hunting can bring in millions of pounds per year to some of the world’s poorest regions, and – crucially – it can secure vast tracts of land for wildlife that may otherwise be used for agriculture, livestock or other forms of development.

We often have the notion that across Africa, wildlife lives safely within the boundaries of the national parks – but this is far from the truth. Firstly, in many countries – including Namibia – more game lives outside of the protected areas than inside them. Secondly, many national parks and reserves actually run at a loss and require subisidising, which is not surprising when you consider the enormous areas they cover, and the incredible costs of maintaining the land and infrastructure, plus monitoring and staffing them. One example is Tanzania’s Selous Game Reserve. Larger than Switzerland, its porous borders leave it open to poaching (two thirds of its elephants have reportedly been killed for their tusks in recent years) – and as ironic as it may seem, around 90 percent of its land is set aside for hunting in an attempt to bring in the much-needed income and surveillance to protect this huge landscape. Some of the income may also be reinvested in restocking – but the key is the conservation of habitats.

At Responsible Travel, we do not want hunting to be the solution to wildlife conservation, and always believe that an animal is ultimately worth more alive than dead – which is why we do not promote trophy hunting. We believe responsible tourism can be a sustainable alternative, providing income, incentives to preserve animals and a greater respect for them than tourism. But while poaching and habitat loss continue to pose such great threats to Africa’s remaining wildlife, we tolerate hunting as a short term solution to the problem – and continue to promote alternatives in the meantime.
  • Read more about our stance on hunting in our safari holidays guide.
  • One thing we do not support at all is canned hunting. Find out more here.
Orangutans
The orangutan is one of the world’s most endangered species, highly threatened by the rampant deforestation taking place across Borneo and Sumatra – the only two islands which it inhabits. Orangutan tours support conservation by enabling the creation and protection of reserves, supporting local communities who act as the custodians of the forests and fund tree planting initiatives. There are also a number of sanctuaries in Sabah and Sarawak (Malaysian Borneo) which rescue and rehabilitate injured, orphaned or displaced orangutans – visiting these greatly contributes to orangutan conservation and research.

Read more about responsible orangutan holidays in our guide.

Gorilla tracking
The creation of national parks and introduction of strictly controlled gorilla tourism has been a success story for the mountain gorilla. Numbers are now up to over 800 individuals across the mountains that span the borders of Uganda, Rwanda and the Congo, and high fees from gorilla tracking have been reinvested into their protection. Rules are enforced for tourists tracking gorillas to prevent disturbance to the animals and avoid disease transmission. Visits last a maximum of one hour, no more than eight people per day can visit each gorilla family and you must stand at least 7m away from them at all time.

Read more about the gorilla rules in our guide to gorilla safaris – as well as the importance of involving local communities, some of whom were displaced when the parks were created.

Wild dolphin watching
Gorilla watching. Photo by David Bacon
Tiger safaris
With just 3,000 tigers remaining in the wild, the future of the largest of all the big cats hangs in the balance. Their body parts are in demand for traditional Chinese medicine, with tiger bones costing many thousands of pounds. Tiger safaris in India and Nepal can contribute towards conservation efforts, but only if you choose a responsibly managed one which does not harass the tigers and ensures money is reinvested into the national parks and tiger conservation.

Read more in our tiger safaris guide.

Antarctica
The frozen continent is the world best-protected continent, with mining and drilling banned, no hunters and no conflict. It’s a preserve for wildlife and research scientists; a slice of heaven for nature lovers.

But even Antarctica is not immune to climate change; its melting ice is an indicator on an epic scale of the threats that our planet faces in the years to come. Additionally, while tourism is well controlled, growing numbers of tourists cannot fail to make some kind of an impact on this former wilderness. How, then, can the long haul flights and holidays to this far-flung region be justified? And what kind of effect is it having upon Antarctica’s fragile wildlife and ecosystems? Read our travel guide to Antarctica to find out more.

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