How can we find out if a wildlife tour is ethical before signing up?
Joyce: The only way to know if a wildlife tour is conducted responsibly, as well as one that agrees with your personal view on wildlife tourism, is to dig deep into the subject.
For example, elephant tours in Asia run the gamut from unethical, to borderline, to animal-friendly practices. There are certain objective benchmarks of what makes one tour more animal-friendly than another, but even those that are deemed ethical may still not agree with your personal beliefs. Would the sight of a chain be acceptable to you at all? Bareback riding versus wooden seats versus no riding at all? There really isn’t a shortcut to this, other than going through the debate beforehand.
James: Obviously, the best way is to experience a tour first-hand. Jacada Travel has rather strict guidelines as to what we would define as responsible, based on years of experience, research and contacts involved in wildlife conservation. Still, there is a lot of argument, articles and marketing online that is often passionate and contradictory. The best way to cut through the noise and see if it’s up to scratch is for us to go and see it for ourselves.
Conversely, how do we tell if a wildlife tour is one that conflicts with animal and environmental welfare?
Joyce: While I’m not a conservationist by vocation, common sense tells me that dirty living space and repetitive – almost robotic – behaviour of animals often suggests there has been enough damage done to the animal’s well-being, physically, emotionally and environmentally speaking.
James: Any experience that advertises itself as “hands-on” usually raises an eyebrow, as do captive breeding programmes with no clear wild release initiative. Another red flag would be activities on private game farms.
There’s been a fair amount of negative news regarding tourists mishandling wildlife. What are the dos and don’ts?
Joyce: Never put a wild animal in a stressful situation; it will just make them panic or hurt them and may even result in you hurting yourself. Always listen to your wildlife guide’s instructions; they are the ones who have spent lots of time with the animals and can read their body language. Remember, you are entering these animals’ “home”. Respect them as you would when you visit someone else’s house.
James: If there is going to be any interaction, then it should be on the animals’ terms. We only work with the best safari guides – people with a real love for the African bush – who know what to do and how to act, so I guess listening to them is a big ‘do’. Heading off on your own, attempting to get as close as possible is a ‘don’t’.
How can we get the most out of such trips?
Joyce: I personally find watching wildlife documentaries the best way to understand more about the animal kingdom. It will also get you excited about – and more prepared for – your upcoming trip.
James: I think by managing expectations and experiencing the wild with the right attitude from the outset. Additionally, by using your money and time in a considered, thoughtful and sustainable way: By staying somewhere that works with expert guides, supports an inspiring conservation project and helps the local community, it means that luxury travel can be a force for positive change.
In a nutshell, the ideal way to see and support animals is in their natural habitats. Any place where that happens is best.
– TEXT BY MANDY LIM BEITLER
PHOTOS JACADA TRAVEL
This article was originally published by Singapore Press Holdings.