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Ethical animal tourism: how to know if you’re doing the right thing

This story first appeared in Escape

There are photos from my travels I wish hadn’t been taken. They make me flinch when I see my smiling face.

There I am, crouching next to a tiger in Thailand, then laughing as a baby elephant puts its trunk around me. Sure, it was more than 10 years ago, and at the time I thought I was supporting sanctuaries that cared for rescued animals, but now I cringe when I think about those days. It’s only natural that animal lovers want to connect with creatures big and small on their travels, but there’s a right way and a wrong way to add animal encounters to your memories and photo collection.

World Animal Protection says around 550,000 wild animals are in captivity for our entertainment, with elephants, tigers, sloths, dolphins, and many others forced to live in conditions that don’t meet their basic needs. Fortunately, the more people understand about the impact they’re having, the more the travel industry is adapting. Here’s how you can be part of the change.


When Chris Hemsworth shared a quokka selfie on Instagram it clocked up more than 4.2 million likes. His next post, a quokka video, has been viewed almost 12 million times. The super cute Rottnest Island natives have starred in snaps with tennis ace Roger Federer, Aussie actor Margot Robbie, and so many other visitors there are now more than 30,000 #quokkaselfie results and rising.

Though quokkas are trusting, friendly, and can be great little posers for the camera, they are still wild animals and need to be treated with respect. Rottnest Island Authority’s general manager of environment Holly Knight says you shouldn’t approach a quokka but instead sit, wait, and let it come to you.

Read: How to (safely) go walking with polar bears

Tempting them with food is not OK. Even a seemingly innocent slice of apple can ferment in their stomach and make them sick and if you touch one they could be rejected by their mothers if they carry a human smell. You could also be hit with a $150 on-the-spot fine if you feed or interfere with any wildlife on the island.

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