This is something that in recent years has exploded as people have become more aware of the conditions and the impacts of animal tourism is having on the well-being of the animals. When I was younger I had the picture with the boa constrictor snake in Thailand, visited crocodile farms and swam with dolphins. I’ve ridden animals in the dessert from the roads of India to even at local Virginia State Fairs as a child. I look back fondly at those memories but some of them are tainted with this knowledge.

Animal Tourism

Last year, Sean and I found ourselves confronted a few times with animal interaction experiences. Some of them left me feeling gross and others had me feeling conflicted. So the short answer to is there such a thing as ethical animal tourism is in fact no. There is no such thing as ethical animal tourism but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. Confused? Keep reading.

The Ugly Side Of Animal Tourism

The fact is as long as people are willing to pay to interact or even just view an animal we are impacting their environment. There are also people who don’t care about an animals well-being so visiting these open zoo’s where the enclosures are far too small doesn’t matter to them. They don’t understand that riding an elephant with a saddle is bad for them. That it hurts them.

Image from World Nomads

You are of course free to not participate in any form of animal tourism but also it’s okay if you sorta do want to play with an elephant. Find places and organizations that truly do care but also need the money from these experiences to take care of the animal. Read reviews and if a place is on a watch dogs list, don’t go.  Instead, go on the ones that are trying their best and don’t skimp out on price. If a place is offering an interaction as a really low price that is a BIG RED FLAG.

This elephant was so unhappy and was part of the zip-lining experience that made me miserable. The elephants were all chained up and swaying very intensely. Did you know that if an elephant is swaying back and forth or bobbing their head it means they are mentally distressed, which leads them to perform abnormal behaviors?


Rewarding Those Who Try To Do Good

My thinking behind the choices that I make is to reward the people who are trying at least to do their part. Trying to take care of them but also needing to pay those expensive because animals are expensive. Reward the places that love the animals but acknowledge that they have bills to pay. Don’t go to the places where its all about profit and they charge money for the sake of making money, not for taking care of the animal. You will be able to tell when that is the case.

There will never be a good answer and I won’t lie, it is one that I struggled with the whole time we were at Chai Lai Orchard in Chiang Mai. I loved every minute of my time there but it was also hard because at night the elephants were chained up and that felt wrong but also, where else would they go? You are of course told different reasons why and its hard to not 100% believe them but at least I know they are truly loved and cared for but also safe. Chai Lai Orchard has a great way of explaining their elephant experience here and I highly suggest you read it either way.

I would recommend Chai Lai Orchard to anyone wanting an elephant experience when visiting Chiang Mai but would warn them that they have to figure out how they feel about it. I’ll have a whole blog dedicated to my time there soon.


Conflicted Feelings

Compared to other times I have been around elephants, I didn’t feel like they were mistreated. I talked about how when I went zip-lining we were also taken around an open-air zoo and I hated every minute of it. It was awful. I didn’t want to be there and I hated that I was forced to do this before doing an experience that I loved as it is semi-tainted because of it. There have been other times when traveling you are confronted with animal tourism or you see cages that are too small and it hurts. You still see people riding elephants and camels with chains through their noses. I talked about how dolphin watching in Lovina, left me feeling conflicted and how I would not recommend it here.


Go With Your Gut

Ultimately, this is a personal choice and you have to decide what you are comfortable with because it is you who has to live with the memories. Where do you fall under animal tourism? PS I am always willing to learn more so if you have any great posts on this topic, please share them with me!


Liked this article? Please share it or pin! 

Animal Tourism