Wildlife Tourism, what isn’t seen on camera

Simon Evan The Conversation. (2016, June 3)


Wildlife Tourism is becoming really popular. People going on safari’s, having animal encounters with tigers, or tourists riding an elephant. As fast as possible a picture or video is taking and people hop on to the next stop of their vacation but what’s behind the lens can’t be seen. Animals are suffering and this blog tells you more about it.


Social Media is the place you share your vacation pictures and videos. So, all your friends and family see what an amazing time you had in Thailand for example. Of course, everyone uses Social Media like Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest. You did have an amazing experience in the country and you wanted to show that obviously. But seem people want to have a special experience in their holidays. Wild Life animals are what people also want to experience and post and share. They do elephant rides or make a ‘dangerous” selfie with a Bengal Tiger! Everything seems so great and the animals looked so happy but behind the lens and scene of the wild animals, there is a dark truth people simply have to know about. These animals are suffering immense and a lot of people don’t know about it. In this blog, I am going to talk about the issue, what should change, and how it can be different.

What is Wild Life Tourism?

Wild Life Tourism is, as you can guess, tourism in which people want to experience a tourist event with wild animals. As the names say, these animals normally occur in the wilderness of the country or region, at least not any near to humans. But for this form of tourism, the wild animals are being presented in a different matter and not in nature they origin from. These captive animals are sometimes being caught and directly presented. However, most animals nowadays are already for dozens of years part of a breed-program for the sake of this tourism in which they haven’t been wild for their entire life. Still, these are magnificent animals but are now being used for the purpose of entertainment in the tourism sector. This is done in the form of life encounters, playing with animals, and shows in which animals perform something. A picture is taken and people move on. While the animals do it all day long.

Wildlife Tourism is popular and growing

Wildlife Tourism is really popular.  A lot of people go on vacation to foreign countries whether it is relaxing on the beach or an amazing city-trip and you have people going for an adventure in the jungle. But besides these tourist places, people also want to see and experience the local things. Next to eating traditional food or go see the beautiful nature, people want to see animals as well. Especially rare wild-life animals such as elephants, monkeys, and dolphins are really popular amongst tourists. As they are rare and cannot often be seen, I understand tourists will see this a once in a lifetime opportunity to interact with the animals.

Obviously, people want to have a unique experience while traveling. People usually spend a lot and families and friends want to have a full package and never-forgetting-moments. Pictures with local animals are seen as a highlight of people’s vacations and this leads to a massive market where wild animals are being part of. Tourists visit these wild animals in captive environments thinking everything is fine. They see the animals and embrace the moment with their cameras and just move on to the next touristic attraction. In this way, people hop on and off and makes the business keep running while people enjoy short moments with the animals. (World Travel and Tourism Council, W. (2019, 08))

What is going on with wildlife animals?

These are wildlife animals, no business model. What happens with elephants for example is that they are born in elephant farms. At a young age, they are separated from their mothers and being trained to do certain things as standing still and learn to be calm among people. This is trained by torturing the animal with a lot of stress and even using metal hooks so they behave in a way the trainers want to. After a few years of horrific mental and physical circumstances, they are used for wildlife attractions. Here they seem calm and friendly but in fact, are under huge stress. But elephants are not the only animals this happens to. Tigers having their claws removed, bears with a ring in their nose, the monkey being chained in small cages, birds having their wings disarmed and the list, unfortunately, goes on and on. The world animal protection estimates that 550.000 animals are suffering on a daily basis for the entertainment of tourists. This has to stop.

Source: National Geographic (2019)

The problem is all over the world in popular vacation destinations. From elephants and tigers in Thailand to dolphin excursions in Brazil to bear circuses in Russia. Unfortunately, most animals are being treated morally unacceptable. But there are also good things happening. In Thailand, there are special sanctuaries for animals that have suffered in wildlife tourism and are being taken care of in these places. People can visit this by paying as well and do see the animals but the stupid performances are not there. Tourists can still have encounters with them but in good conditions and no stress to animals. There are also primate sanctuaries where people can see the monkeys from a distance but also provide a unique experience to see them really living. This form of tourism should be the solution. Which would stop the oppression and horrific things happening to wild animals while still giving people a nice experience and a living for the local people. (Natasha Daly, N. G. (2019, June))

I myself saw some footage on National Geographic and have seen the documentary of Blackfish, concerning the orca shows in Florida. On a personal level, I was absolutely shocked by what I saw. The most horrific situation possible caught on camera in which animals are suffering immensely. This is so wrong on so many levels that I got left speechless after seeing each video. I felt suspicious, angry, and emotional when I saw what was happening. I knew that there were things going on concerning the well being of animals in wildlife Tourism. I actually did visit the park to which Blackfish is referring. I felt guilty and I understood that I wasn’t aware while I should. I had a block in my throat but this also gave me the motivation to write about it in this blog.

Source: National Geographic (2019)

Statistics of wildlife Tourism

According to the World Travel and Tourism Council, in the year 2019, Tourism accounts for 10.3% of the global economy. 3.9% of this is raised by wildlife tourism being a total of 343.6 billion US dollars, an astonishing number.  This also means that more than 20 million people work in wildlife tourism as being their job. However, these numbers are also growing and economic growth and social media play a significant role in this. Tourists have more to spend and do more “exclusive” activities such as wildlife tourism as they perceive it as a luxury. In numbers, National Geographic states that more than 100 million people each year do Wild Life tourism which shows how large the industry is and that, of course, has a huge impact on the situation on wild animals. (World Travel and Tourism Council, W. (2019, 08))

Situation local people working in Wildlife tourism

As Wildlife tourism is a booming business, more and more local people see that they can earn money from tourists. Tourism in general is a huge business for most developing nations. Sometimes even whole countries depend on tourism for its thriving economy it could bring. As the industry is growing Wild Life becomes also attractive to do business in and people simply need to find a way to pay their bills. So there is always a reason to do it being money and this stimulates local people to work in Wild Life tourism, or for making a lot of money or simply because there is no other option. Local people become dependent on tourists and as long as tourist books and do such activities with life then the business will exist, unfortunately.


The wildlife tourism industry caters to people’s love of animals but often seeks to maximize profits by exploiting animals from birth to death. The industry’s economy depends largely on people believing that the animals they’re paying to watch or ride or feed are having fun too.  It succeeds partly because tourists—in unfamiliar settings and eager to have a positive experience—typically don’t consider the possibility that they’re helping to hurt animals. Social media adds to the confusion: Oblivious endorsements from friends and trendsetters legitimize attractions before a traveler ever gets near an animal. (National Geographic, (2019)

Source: National Geographic (2019)

Social Media and its impact

If you search for elephant rides or selfies with tigers, lions, snakes you mostly find pictures of people enjoying the scene with these animals. Everything looks perfect. The people smiling and the animals seem to enjoy it, at least that is what we believe. What cannot be seen is the footage after the picture or show is done. And the reality is that most people have no clue either. What social media further does it that you see the pictures and videos of people doing such activities. Whether it is your friend or a famous influencer, people see these images and that stimulates that other people also want these experiences, and I can completely understand. People want selfies and intimate encounters with these fascinating creatures but aren’t realizing these animals belong to the wild and not on your social media feed.

Constantly seeing pictures and people posting with animals having the reach of millions of people a day, make this industry more attractive to tourists. This creates opportunities for people working in the business as they see more tourists doing these wildlife encounters. In conclusion, it can be stated that social media has overall worsened the situation and stimulated the market. Natasha Daly, N. G. (2019, June)

There are some actions being taken by social media platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube have made certain (hash)tags and footage being covered with a notification. These notifications state that the animal in the picture might be suffering. A great improvement for sure but there are more steps to take such a banning certain footage and creating more awareness in general for the topic.

Source: Hailey Horner Pinterest

What should be done:

International Law and policies should make it more difficult for people doing business in this wildlife tourism. But as national legislation can’t be changed as an international organization like green peace, national geographic and the WWF would like to. Laws can’t change much and can’t sometimes be made. Therefore awareness needs to be created. Humans need to know the situation in which the animals are suffering. They also need to know that taking a picture with dangerous wild animals should not be happening and is wrong to do. Travel agencies and tourism agenda shouldn’t include programs which facilitate tours and activities under these circumstances and ban certain things as well. But all in all, people shouldn’t do Wild Life tourism in which the animals are suffering. There’s a need for awareness for tourists concerning this topic but also a mindset that should change. (Enright, 2014)

Once tourists stop, the business will stop, and so the suffering of the wildlife animals.

Source: https://bordersofadventure.com/elephants-in-thailand-nature-park/


What you can/should do:

When going on vacation, you should make the best of it and do all the things you want to. Tourists should come and go as a lot of people are also depending on tourists. But when it comes to animals people have to more aware.

When going on vacation, don’t book activities in which you don’t know the circumstances and wellbeing of the animals. This goes from life encounters till shows and riding or swimming with animals. Instead, go on safari with local guides, having a certificate of recognition from a travel agency or institution. Go to sanctuaries of animals like elephants in which they are treated well. Have encounters in the wild, except for tigers because they will go for you. Always keep in mind that the animals you might see and that certain danger of you is possible and that these animals belong to the wild. Create awareness and notify when you see things that should not be like that in Wild Life Tourism.



A last word:

In the end, the tourists have to make a difference. Once there is a demand for wildlife attractions and activities, there will always be this industry and the harm to animals that goes along. People should not want to take a selfie with a tiger or to ride an elephant. Instead, people should visit wildlife sanctuaries, going on trips seeing monkeys in the jungle, and not behind bars. People can and should change it for the sake of animals and nature. So tell your friends and family and acknowledge them! We can make a difference and together we can stop this cruelty and make animals have a real smile again!

Together we can solve this so spread the word!



Cowperthwaite, G. (Director). (2013). Blackfish [Motion Picture].

Daly), N. G. (Director). (2019). INSIDE THE DARK WORLD OF CAPTIVE WILDLIFE TOURISM [Motion Picture].

Enright, B. (2014). Elephants in Thailand, cruelty, and solution for elephant riding. Retrieved from Borderofadventure.com: https://bordersofadventure.com/elephants-in-thailand-nature-park/

Natasha Daly, N. G. (2019, June). Suffering unseen, the dark truth behind wildlife tourism. Retrieved from National Geographic: https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2019/06/global-wildlife-tourism-social-media-causes-animal-suffering/

Simon Evan The Conversation. (2016, June 3). Banning of Thailand’s Tigertemple and explanation on animal abuse. Retrieved from The Conversation: https://theconversation.com/good-riddance-to-thailands-infamous-tiger-temple-60387

Travel, A. (2019, 08). the-economic-impact-of-global-wildlife-tourism-WTCC. Retrieved from Atta.Travel.News: https://www.atta.travel/news/2019/08/the-economic-impact-of-global-wildlife-tourism-wttc/

World Travel and Tourism Council, W. (2019, 08). The Economic Impact of Global Wildlife Tourism. Retrieved from Travesiasdigital.com: https://travesiasdigital.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/08/The-Economic-Impact-of-Global-Wildlife-Tourism-Final-19.pdf

WorldAnimalProtection. (2020, October). WorldAnimalProtection/ Posts on wellbeing animals in Thailand. Retrieved from WorldAnimalProtection.nl: https://www.worldanimalprotection.nl/search?query=%EF%BB%BFthailand

WorldanimalProtection.com. (2019, 04). Horrible circumstance for animals in Thai WildLife Tourism. Retrieved from WorldAnimalProtection: https://www.worldanimalprotection.nl/actueel/hartverscheurende-omstandigheden-voor-wilde-dieren-thailand


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