Mar 12, 2018
While wildlife tourism can be a great tool for conservation, it can also have significant negative effects on animals, their behaviour and habitats. Follow these tips to be a responsible traveller.
Read up on your destination. Research which tourist activities exploit animals, and which support the conservation of wildlife. If you plan to visit a zoo or aquarium, where animals are kept in captivity, check that it is a member of an organisation such as the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums, which requires its members to comply with specific animal-welfare standards.
Beware of any attraction that allows you to ride, touch or have a selfie taken with an animal. Many of these creatures are inadequately cared for and sedated to ensure their compliance. Responsible facilities will house critters in enclosures designed to replicate their wild habitats, where you can view them only from a safe distance.
Keen to get involved in voluntourism? “You want to ensure you are going with an outfit that is low impact and has a genuine conservation ethic, benefiting local wildlife and also communities,” says Don Church, president and director of conservation at non-profit organisation Global Wildlife Conservation. Ask the company to provide a breakdown of where the money you pay will go, and request evidence of how previous volunteers have made a difference.
Leave no footprint
Be respectful when you visit a new location. “Be on the lookout for any signs indicating how to behave to keep the animals safe. For example, artificial lighting on marine turtle nests can prevent hatchlings from finding the sea, so some governments have asked tourists to turn their lights off during certain times of the year,” says Church. When visiting a key wildlife habitat, it is best to go with a trained guide who will be able to ensure your safety and the welfare of the creatures.
Keep noise to a minimum and maintain your distance. “Make sure you do not get so close to an animal that you flush it out of its space and cause undue stress,” advises Church. This is especially important when you are near breeding sites or wildlife with young.
You can also take steps to be unobtrusive while on safari. “The elephant, buffalo and rhino have the poorest eyesight. Therefore, it is a good idea to wear subtle-coloured clothes and hide behind obstacles for protection. However, these creatures make up for their weakness with an incredible sense of smell, so it is important to always stay downwind of the animals,” says Zimbabwe safari expert Beks Ndlovu.
Camping or spending the day at the beach? Take your litter with you when you leave. Every year around the world, about one million birds as well as 100,000 marine mammals and turtles are killed when they ingest or become trapped in plastic. Litter can also affect ecosystems by attracting insects and rodents, which bring germs and disease to habitats.
SEE ALSO: 4 eco holidays for responsible tourists
When it comes to keepsakes, avoid purchasing those that come from wildlife hunting. “Poaching is one of the most serious threats to wildlife, especially in Asia and Africa,” says Church. Products to avoid include ivory, tortoise shell and wild animal skin used for handbags, belts and more.
– BY NICOLA ISEARD
ILUSTRATION: SAMUEL CASTANO
This article was originally published on April 11, 2017.