5 Ways to Be a Responsible Tourist & Help Keep Wildlife Wild
The summer months are finally here in the Northern Hemisphere and many are feverishly planning out their next vacation. Whether traveling locally or abroad, the vast majority of tourists have one thing in common—an overwhelming desire to experience something new. What better way to quench this urge than to spend some time with wild animals? Unfortunately, these encounters can be harmful for wildlife and can even have deadly consequences.
Wildlife tourism accounts for 20 to 40 percent of all global tourism. Since 3.6 to 6 million people visit wildlife attractions each year, tourism is causing major disturbances to wildlife by modifying their behaviors, destroying their natural habitats, and by causing physiological changes in animals.
Given the rising number of species currently threatened or facing extinction, it is imperative that humans reduce their impact on the wild. Here are 5 ways you can support the conservation of animals and be a mindful tourist when visiting wildlife.
- Don’t Feed the Wildlife
- Disrupts natural behaviors – Wildlife are gradually losing their fear of humans, instead relying on them for food. Chacma baboons, primates found in South Africa, typically eat a diet rich in fruits, insects, grass, and seeds, but they have become accustomed to the human food tourists have been illegally feeding them. These interactions have caused baboons to seek out humans for food—snatching food straight from their hands and even rummaging through cars to find their next meal. Unfortunately, local authorities have begun killing the baboons instead of fining tourists.
- Bad for their health – Although wild animals may appear to want the food you’re snacking on, it is never a good idea to feed wildlife—and in many cities it is actually illegal. Wild animals, especially babies, have a special diet that requires certain nutrients human food can’t provide. If a young animal eats human food, even a few times, its growth can be permanently stunted. Ingesting human food can also cause many other health problems for animals and can even lead to disease or death.
- Don’t Litter
The simple act of littering has far-reaching consequences—harming wild animals through ingestion or injury, and by polluting their water and food supplies. Many animals, such as birds and crabs, have been known to get their heads or limbs stuck in soda cans and bottles. Plastic litter also poses a huge concern as animals mistake it for food and consume it—leading to intestinal blockages and even death. With nearly 9 billion tons of litter making its way to oceans each year, it is imperative that travelers manage their waste responsibility. Try carrying a reusable trash bag and travel lightly so as to minimize the amount of trash you generate.
- Support Tourism That Doesn’t Exploit Animals
- Don’t view animals in captivity – Riding an elephant and swimming with dolphins may seem like the chance of lifetime—but what are the consequences? Nearly 16,000 elephants, along with many other wondrous species, are being held in captivity in zoos, circuses, and other tourist attractions. Skip these deplorable attractions and visit a national park to see these animals in their natural habitats.
- Don’t partake in photo sessions with wildlife – Although a close encounter with a wild animal may make a perfect photo opportunity, you shouldn’t visit wildlife attractions that use wild animals as photo props. Not only are many animals drugged in order to reduce their chances of hostility, they are also chained and restricted to living in tiny enclosures. Animals are also removed from their mothers at a young age and are repeatedly beaten into submission.
- Wear Nontoxic Products
Tourists unhappy with sunburns and bug bites are turning to sunscreen and bug repellent for protection. Unfortunately, these products contain ingredients that are harmful to animals and the environment—polluting waterways and greatly disrupting ecosystems. Oxybenzone, a common ingredient in sunscreens, is bleaching coral reefs worldwide—leaving them vulnerable and at risk of death. In order to protect wildlife from these harmful chemicals and while still keeping your skin safe—try making your own sunscreen using fruit and vegetable oils that naturally contain SPF. There are also many natural alternatives you can use to protect yourself from pesky insects!
- Don’t Buy Souvenirs Made from Animals
Many tourists visit gift shops to purchase souvenirs as a memento of where they’ve been. Unfortunately, many souvenirs are derived from animals—many of which are endangered species. Removing seashells from shores or purchasing trinkets made from them is a popular habit of many beachgoers, however this is destructive to local ecosystems and makes marine life vulnerable as they rely on them for shelter. Be a mindful tourist when purchasing keepsakes and only purchase ethically made products. Avoid buying common items derived from animals such as ivory, turtle shells, seashells, fur, and coral.
Photo: Baboon Matters, Pixabay, Pexels
With grateful thanks to our guest blogger, Audrey Enjoli
Audrey resides in Los Angeles, California with her two dogs, Gullah and Jupiter, and is an avid reader and writer. She is passionate about animal rights and is an advocate of sustainable and ethical living.
Follow Audrey on Instagram @audrey_enjoli.