We have all seen it, and many of us, me included have partaken in various forms of animal tourism during our lifetimes, but just how cruel is it really?
I know personally I have had more than my fair share of animal tourism. As an animal loving child my parents took me to every zoo or wildlife park they could on holidays and here in Northern Ireland, I've also been to the infamous Sea World, had a camel ride and even had my picture taken along side my brother with a Tiger Cub... And I am horrified by all of this.
What many of us fail to comprehend is that these animals that humans have turned into amusement park rides and simple money grab ideas actually have a heart and a mind and a soul just like us. They have loved ones, form intimate relationships, feel pain and fear, have desires that go beyond just food and shelter and most importantly have lives that they fully deserve to be lord over for themselves.
Lets start with the Tiger cubs. We have all seen the images on social media of drugged tigers and lions, both young cubs and fully grown adults, with the smiling tourist posed alongside them. Majestic animals totally out of their minds and depressed, often dehydrated and almost definitely damaged by the actions of humans all so they can sell others the opportunity to get a picture next to these big cats. This is not normal lion or tiger behavior and they certainly do not benefit from these actions, stuck in a small cage or enclosure day after day, drugged and fed a poor diet and with almost zero stimulation or exercise. This form of animal tourism is obviously wrong and many of us, even those who don't care for animal rights and aren't vegan can see this is wrong.
Moving on to Zoo's and places like Sea World we encounter a strange resistance. Many people will argue that without the existence of Zoo's many of us would not love animals the way we do. Without that exposure to them as children we would not develop this deep wonder and fascination with animals. Other argue that the animals were bred in captivity and know no other life. Or that it is a place of education and a sanctuary for species going extinct in the wild. But we can also see the other side of these arguments. Firstly there are many children and adults out there who can tell you a hundred facts about sharks, whales and other sea creatures that they have never seen with their own eyes, an even more people who can talk in detail and with passion about dinosaurs that have been extinct for millions of years so to say that people need these places to be educated and fall in love with animals is simply not true. As for the view that children wouldn't like animals if we didn't take them to zoo's the opposite is true, children love animals and are fascinated by the simplest of life forms from ants, snails and bee's in their gardens to the household dog or cat, to the birds flying overhead. They love books about animals, movies and TV shows, and often develop a strong attachment to a soft cuddly animal that shares their pillow every night. As for the raised in captivity part, yes they may have no experience of the wild, and if released many would struggle to fend for themselves, but who started this problem, humans. When we locked them in cages and bred them for profit. What of the Whales at Sea World, hunted and captured from their mothers and family groups to swim in an enclosure smaller than the car park? Even those who have lived their whole lives in the park suffer from lack of space to move and often end up fighting among themselves out of frustration. And it's not just sea world, there are many, many other parks, and zoo's out there that essentially enslave animals and keep them locked up in cages simply to make money of their presence or the occasional performance. Even the argument that Zoo's and places like this donate to wildlife conservation charities is not entirely true and massively hyped up. They are required to make a donation but it has no set amount with many giving the bare minimum just so they can say that they support this work.
Finally I wanted to touch on the use of animals as rides. I have experienced this twice already in 2018, and as a Vegan it's not that I go looking for it, but it just so happened to be present on both trips. The first was in Fuertaventura where there was a man selling rides on his camels which he had chained up in the gravel until some tourists payed for the ride. The second was in Lindos a city on the Greek island of Rhodes. The town seems very proud of its donkey rides as almost every tourist shop was selling donkey merchandise from magnets to cuddly toys and towels or crafts of the donkeys. But in reality the donkeys are miserable and nothing like the harness and chain free donkeys smiling on the cheap tourist items. Walking along the streets you watch as 30-40 donkeys were all chained together in the heat, as men bartered and shouted out advertisements for the chance to ride one of these poor creatures. Then tourists climb onto their back, some tourists weighing more than the donkey by the looks of it, and the donkeys were then led through the blistering city streets towards the acropolis, a steep climb up to the hill top where the temple of Athena sits. Their faces tell the story, sad eyes kept constantly on the floor as depression is exuded from their every movement. As we walked through the streets a pair of donkeys were led past which then ha terrible diarrhea, covering my ankle, and my only thought was that the donkey might be suffering from heat exhaustion and may be at risk of dehydration due to the extreme heat and lack of water. Later as we climbed the steep hill back to the bus stop my heart almost ripped in two as the cries of first one donkey were soon joined by several voices all crying out across the city. As you can see in the images I snapped there is no happy donkey in this scenario.
The thought of putting birds in cages, tigers on chains and whales in a pool seems both insane and heartless to me. Animals that roam and travel thousands of miles endlessly pacing an enclosure no bigger than a football field. Imagine trapped in your bathroom for the rest of your life and you start to get the picture. No phone no friends, just food and a place to go to the toilet. Is that really a better life than the one you could have in the wild? Or how about being chained up and ordered around all day, is that a fair and happy existence?
In the future I urge you to pause and consider just what you are paying for the next time you consider visiting or partaking in any form of animal tourism. Don;t just think of the price or the experience for yourself, think of the animals that you are paying for, the experience they will have, and what they money you hand over will be used for...