Why TripAdvisor's wildlife attraction ban is awesome news
All we can say is FINALLY.
Over the past nine months, we've seen countless examples of tourist attractions treating animals cruelly.
In Bangkok, we walked past posters promoting the horrific Tiger temple in Kanchanaburi; in Laos we saw monkeys chained and forced to perform for tourists, while in South Africa, private game parks happily promoted their hunting expeditions for canned lions.
Ten years ago in Thailand, Mark witnessed an elephant with its tail freshly chopped off because it was 'naughty' and did something its Mahout didn't agree with.
Recently, at the Elephant Breeding Centre in Chitwan National Park, Nepal, we watched as a chained Elephant mother rocked backwards and forth, trying to reach her distressed 12 day old calf chained to a pole.
They were too far for physical contact, but so close they couldn't stop trying.
We saw elephants with two legs chained because of 'disobedience'.
It was right before this sad backdrop that a group of young women happily ran around posing for selfies with elephants, giggling and exclaiming "how cuteeee!". Throughout the town, tourists petted and rode elephants with glee, completely oblivious to the cruelty inflicted under their seats.
Perhaps they just weren't aware that what they were doing wasn't right (after-all, the breeding centre markets itself as a caring conservation centre), perhaps they had an inkling but just didn't realise the full scope of their impact.
What we do know is the more we travelled, the more we realised how big the wildlife attraction industry is - and how much abuse and ignorance surrounds it. In fact, World Animal Protection claim that 80% of people leave positive reviews on TripAdvisor for venues that are having a negative impact on animal welfare. WHAT?!
Think there's no harm in petting a Tiger at a temple for your next profile photo?
What if we told you that this superior predator had to be drugged to allow you that close?
Or that in some temples (yes, temples), they're speed-bred and shipped to other countries for their body parts?
Think an elephant ride is the coolest thing to do in SE Asia? How does severe abuse, neglect, and cruelty-based training sound?
Think there's no harm in paying to watch a monkey dance in a marketplace? Think again.
If any of this came as a surprise to you, that's exactly why this recent announcement by TripAdvisor is awesome.
With animals still in chains around the world, we know who is on the losing end of the battle. But by no longer promoting them as attractions for tourists, TripAdvisor are building awareness and making bold moves. Such a big voice in tourism publicly declaring that this is unethical and unworthy of support changes the dialogue of what's okay to do when we travel.
And that's huge.
Their voice scares tourism operators because it also carries the weight of millions of traveller opinions. The implications of publicly pulling their support will be far-reaching, and eye-opening to many.
At the end of the day, beyond the big decisions made by big corporations, caring for the living things in this epic world comes down to you and us. It comes down to the decisions we make when we travel, how we treat the world ourselves, how well educated we are on how to treat the world kindly, and how to gently educate the people around us on how to treat the world better.
Basically, the biggest changes start with you.
What did you think of TripAdvisor's decision? Agree or Disagree? Tell us in the comments below.