Animal ethics

Animal ethics might be important to responsible travellers.

In the best case, physical souvenirs, agritourism, and wildlife watching can support local conservation efforts and provide knowledge and awareness about animal life. In the worst case, they are produced through cruelty to animals, or exploitation of endangered species.

Treatment of animals is a classic among sensitive topics; criticism of practices such as bullfighting or hunting might be a taboo in countries and regions where they have strong traditional roots. Criticism of farming practices is controversial around the world, and especially so when it involves cultural differences.

Captive animals

A lion in captivity

Wild animals are held captive and put on display for visitors by zoos, safari parks, circuses, animal shows and others. While zoos can contribute to the public knowledge and conservation of endangered species, there are nevertheless concerns about the welfare of captive animals at some institutions.

Although many institutions in high-income countries market themselves on animal welfare, there are significant impacts on animals that either by nurture or nature find the restrictive conditions of a small enclosure or water area very distressing. Their plight can be seen in such documentaries as Blackfish highlighting inhumane conditions at Sea World.

There are many opportunities to have a live animal encounter in Southeast Asia, such as hugging a tiger. The animals are tranquilized. As doing this is very much harmful for them, it's best to stop such practices by not patronising these vendors.

Elephant riding and elephant shows are offered around Asia. As elephants are among the most difficult animals to handle in a responsible manner, and their training and riding typically involves severe suffering, many travel agents no longer provide events with elephants. Consider visiting an animal sanctuary or a national park to see elephants instead.

Horse riding and horse cart rides are offered around the world, often in old towns. Horses need expert handling to keep healthy in cities, coping with noises, pollution, hard surfaces and risks for collisions. Cities usually have more practical modes of transport; the countryside gives a better experience of riding and drawing, both for horses and people.

In many countries, the majority of farm animals are treated very poorly; do your research if this concerns you. If you choose to avoid some or all animal products on your trip, see Travel as a vegetarian for advice.

Some zoos have a donation service for conservation of the hosted species.


See also: Birdwatching, Ramsar sites, Wildlife photography
Boardwalk to the bird lake Siikalahti. Arrangements like these allow access to watching towers with good views without disturbing nesting birds.

Observing wildlife in the wild is less intrusive than holding animals captive as entertainment, but there are still concerns. Tourists want to get a close view without spending too much time waiting, which may mean the animals are given food, or that tourists are led too close to sensitive areas. On the other hand, restrictions on access may make it hard to get to some localities.

Although some wildlife can be easily observed, you should accept that viewing some requires luck, a lot of patience, and perhaps even much skill. Any short cut may have ethical problems. If you want to get close with an animal in order to take a selfie, the animal may not appreciate this. Take the selfie at your own stupidity/risk.

Sanctuaries and nesting areas for migratory birds are frequently situated on remote islands or inaccessible corners of national parks where the road does not run; often these are exclusion zones closed to all but a token, tightly-controlled amount of scientific research. The number of visitors to particularly sensitive areas sometimes needs to be limited; the bird sanctuary at Machias Seal Island imposes a limit of fifteen voyagers at any one time. There are also less sensitive and more accessible locations, and unless you have a specific reason, you should consider them first.

A minimum distance must be maintained between whales and tour boats or private vessels, typically a hundred metres or more, to avoid disturbing the pod.

Off-leash dogs may pursue deer or other wildlife; conversely, pets may need to be protected from wolves and other dangerous animals. Most wild animals will take a defensive stance or retaliate if you come too close or stand between them and their offspring. Even small, timid species which would normally flee may scratch or bite if cornered.

Hunting and fishing are typically regulated to confine wildlife kills to specific seasons, limit the number of animals killed or restrain which species are targeted to protect endangered, threatened or at-risk populations. In some nations, criminal gangs support widespread illegal hunting (poaching) by providing a ready market to smuggle rhinoceros horns, tiger bones and parts or ivory from elephant tusks out of the country.

Invasive species

Painting of a dodo head from the chest up
A dodo, as depicted in 1638

An invasive species can be either plant or animal, and can be either a pest or predator – or even a direct competitor for territory or food. Local species at risk of harm may be either plant or animal. While inspection is most likely to occur at border crossings, import restrictions on invasive species may be national, provincial (such as inspection of fruit entering California from other US states) or regional (such as restrictions on transporting firewood from forests infested with wood-eating insects into unaffected areas).

The dodo bird was first spotted by Dutch sailors on the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, in 1598. The bird had few natural predators in its native habitat, but the introduction of sailors, their domesticated animals and invasive species brought predation and eventual extinction. The last verifiable dodo sighting was in 1662.

Rabbits were introduced to Australia by colonists; some escaped into the wild and they have been a problem ever since.


European Goldfinches at a feeder in the UK

Captive animals (including pets, farm animals and zoo animals) should follow a set diet. Visitors should feed them only with the handlers' permission.

Feeding of wild animals such as birds can support them through a harsh season. The feed should be part of the animal's natural diet (for birds, it usually includes seeds and fruit) instead of processed food such as bread. Beginning the feeding too early can make migratory birds stay, making them rely on the feeding and in worst case die in the weather they else would have avoided. Regular supportive feeding is easiest at home or during a prolonged stay (long enough to cover the "bad" season).

Feeding wildlife may cause them to trust humans instead of exercising caution or to venture into populated areas which they would have otherwise avoided. A bear which has learned to associate human settlements with sources of food is dangerous, while deer and other wildlife are vulnerable to animal collisions. Visitors feeding wildlife are often coming too close to animals or disturbing their native habitat. A merchant selling carrots to one voyager "to go feed these to the wild burros" is one thing, but a thousand visitors a day all doing the same thing? At some point, this does the poor, fattened animals no favours.

Some wildlife watching tours depend on food, to have the animals come close to the observers – whether the practice is responsible in the particular case remains open for questioning.

Do not feed pigeons, gulls or other animals that can become a nuisance.

Put out the feeds at times and locations where it is found by the species that need it, without overfeeding. Remaining feed will attract pests, such as rats. Feed in a pond or lake might disturb the water's biochemistry.

Endangered species

See also: Hunting#Hunting trophies
Exhibition of illegal animal products found by the Finnish customs, in Korkeasaari Zoo, Helsinki

Many products from endangered species are banned from resale, import or export, an issue at border crossings. Various restrictions apply to the import and transportation of specific plant and animal species, including hunting trophies and items manufactured from these species (which may include whale teeth, ivory, tortoise shell, reptile, fur skins, coral, and birds). The European Union and national governments in 179 countries (including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, and Turkey) have imposed trade or import restrictions under the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ivory and items made from ivory are widely banned (with very limited exemptions for antiquities), due to ongoing poaching of elephants which are killed for their tusks. Tiger populations are dwindling with animals in the wild at risk due to poaching; polar bear hides may require a specific permit for export.

Airlines are adopting stricter policies to refuse transportation of some hunting trophies, particularly the "big five" African large game animals - lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros or buffalo.

See also


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