Travel companies around the world profit from some of the cruellest types of wildlife tourist attractions on earth.
Whether it is riding elephants, taking selfies with tigers, or performing dolphin shows, these activities can cause lifelong suffering for wild animals.
Last year Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) analysed 24 different types of wildlife attractions across the world. They rated them based on welfare and conservation criteria - we used this information and combined it with our own research to identify 10 of the world’s cruellest types of attractions.
Millions of tourists visit dolphinaria, but they are unaware of the cruelty and abuses the dolphins endure to perform in shows.
Whilst it is banned in countries like the US, many performing dolphins around the world are still captured in the wild. They are often chased by high-speed boats before being hauled on board or caught in nets. For many, the stress is too much to take and they die during transportation to their intended destinations.
Whether wild caught or captive bred, dolphins in dolphinaria face a lifetime of suffering. They spend their entire lives in a space not much bigger than a swimming pool – completely unnatural and restrictive compared to their natural open sea environment.
In order to make elephants submit to elephant rides and other human interactions, they are taken from their mothers when babies and forced through a horrific training process known as ‘the crush’. It involves physical restraints, inflicting severe pain and withholding food and water. By the time tourist come to ride an elephant, it may look at peace, but this is because it’s spirit has been broken. The bullhook used permanently reminds the animal of human dominance.
Recently released undercover footage has exposed the hidden reality of the physical and psychological trauma that elephants are put through for tourist entertainment – a lifetime of horror for a ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience.
Warning: distressing content
The video makes for very difficult viewing. It includes eight young elephants being:
forcibly taken from their mothers
tied to wooden structures while beaten repeatedly
walking hobbled in chains
We are urgently calling for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated, before tourism gradually resumes following its collapse during COVID-19. You can be a part of this change and join our movement by signing up to our pledge to be a responsible tourist.
The cruelty does not end after the crush. When not performing or used for rides most elephants are kept on chains, unable to socially interact with one another. This is hugely damaging to their physical and psychological wellbeing.
Taking tiger selfies
Tiger cubs are separated from their mothers at an early age so they can be used as photo props. They are handled and hugged by tourists and typically kept chained-up, or in small barren cages.
In Thailand we found 17 tiger entertainment venues housing up to 830 tigers. Although cruel tiger tourism venues can be found throughout Thailand, this is a problem around the world.
Lion cubs are bred and taken from their mothers typically within a month of birth to supply the growing lion tourism industry, mostly located in Southern Africa. Tourists handle the cubs for hours and pose with them for photos. They are also often told to hit the cubs if they display aggressive or unwelcome behaviour.
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 walking with lions tourist experience. The lions are trained to ‘safely’ walk with tourists, sometimes on leads.
These lions face a lifetime in captivity as they cannot be released into the wild.
Holding sea turtles
The world’s last remaining sea turtle farm that acts as a tourist attraction is in The Cayman Islands. Here, tourists can hold turtles and even eat them during their visit.
Suffering from stress and disease, sea turtles live a tortured life at the Cayman Turtle Farm. They often panic when they are handled and it has been known for tourists to drop them, causing significant injuries which can kill turtles.
These are only five of the ten world’s cruellest attractions, revealed in our ‘Checking out of cruelty’ report. Up to 550,000 wild animals are currently enduring lifetimes of suffering at tourist entertainment venues globally. Monkeys are forced to dance, civets are caged and force-fed to make high-end kopi luwak coffee, and intensive crocodile farms are drawing crowds of holiday makers.