Mastering the art of vegan travel is easy squeezy once you know what to look out for, and over the past week, animals used in tourism has become a red hot topic. Last Tuesday, an elephant called Sambo died of exhaustion after carrying tourists in Cambodia, bringing the issue of animal welfare in the tourist industry centre stage. Meanwhile, last week World Animal Protection ran a hugely successful #NotEntertainers campaign to help the 550,000 other wild animals like Sambo being exploited in tourist attractions across the globe. They raised awareness that TripAdvisor is profiting from and promoting the world’s cruellest wildlife tourist attractions, with 75% of wildlife attractions on TripAdvisor involving wildlife cruelty. TripAdvisor also awards some cruel wildlife entertainment venues their Certificate of Excellence, which seems highly dubious considering the circumstances. This issue is clearly one that speaks to the hearts and minds of the public, as World Animal Protection’s petition to stop TripAdvisor promoting wildlife cruelty got over 100,000 signatures. Applause-worthy work indeed!

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Whilst animal welfare charities are on the case negotiating the welfare of these animals, there are ways we can help by making informed choices about how we travel. Luckily, there are a number of ways to enjoy animal-friendly adventures across the globe.

Do a Spot of Homework

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Before you go, it’s a good idea to check out the venues you want to visit, and see if they have any animal welfare credentials. World Animal Protection recommends you ask your tour operator or travel agent if they have an animal welfare policy, and if not, politely ask whether they will adopt one in the future. Letting tour operators know that this is an issue that’s important to you could be a key factor in swaying their business practices. And just to be even more helpful, World Animal Protection has created a handy list of tour operators that have committed to moving away from elephant rides to get your research started. Useful to the max.

Avoid Cruel Attractions

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World Animal Protection has some pretty solid advice: ”If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with the wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue. Don’t go.” Any tourist attraction that involves wild animals often involves lifelong suffering of wild animals. After conducting some hardcore research, Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) rated wildlife attractions based on welfare and conservation criteria, and found riding elephants, tiger selfies, walking with lions, holding sea turtles and performing dolphins to be among the worst offenders for animal cruelty. Perhaps we’re preaching to the converted, or perhaps you weren’t aware of this tragic state of affairs. Either way, sharing this information on social media so that other people can make informed decisions about their travel is a great way to do your bit to help these animals.

Support the Good Guys

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There are sanctuaries and responsible wildlife watching venues that benefit the lives of wildlife, luckily. Oxford University’s research did find that 25% of wildlife tourist attractions to have a positive impact on animals. All of the examples they found had no performances and no direct contact with the animals. One of these animal-friendly attractions is the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF)’s Samboja Lestari Eco-Lodge. The BOSF has rescued more than 2,200 orangutans and it currently provides care to roughly 700, with the ultimate goal of returning orangutans back to the forest when possible. The orangutans live on a 1,850 hectare reserve of regenerating rainforest, which is as close to a natural environment as you can get. The Lodge is surrounded with indigenous trees near a salt lake, which naturally attracts animals. Another great educational animal-friendly attraction is the Romanian Bear Sanctuary, which takes care of 82 formerly exploited bears in approximately 30 hectares of forest. By supporting animal-friendly tourism, you’ll be part of the solution to this problem.

Report Animal Suffering

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If you see animal cruelty whilst you’re on holiday, World Animal Protection has some advice on what to do to help. First, they recommend you note the date, time and location, and the number of animals involved, and if you can, record what you have seen. Then they advise you to report cruelty locally, to local tourist offices, local police, or to your tour operator. The more everyone speaks out to the relevant authorities, the more this issue will be brought to the attention of those in power. Then, you can make sure other people know about this treatment of animals by writing a review, so as it turns out, TripAdvisor can also be part of the solution. If you write about the treatment of animals when reviewing a venue on TripAdvisor, you can help other tourists make an informed decision about what attractions they want to spend their money on.

VegVoyage: Vegan Travel at its Finest

For the ultimate in cruelty-free adventures, check out VegVoyages. They organise green, animal-friendly and vegan trips across India, Malaysia, Thailand, Laos, Bali and Sumatra. All the meals served are plant-based, and all involve real interaction with the culture and the local people of your chosen destination. As a cruelty-free operator, they explicitly avoid visiting any attractions that exploit animals, including zoos, aquariums or dubiously profit-orientated animal sanctuaries. I have heard nothing but glowing praise for VegVoyages. Highly recommended, by all accounts.

For more information on being an animal-friendly tourist, read World Animal Protection’s guide. If you’re searching high and low for more vegan-friendly holidays and cruises, check out our blog on vegan travel. To find more animal sanctuaries to visit, see Vegan Travel’s map of sanctuaries, compiling all the knowledge of the global vegan community.

Images courtesy of Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation, World Animal Protection, and Laura Henderson.

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