Avoiding animal cruelty whilst travelling

animal cruelty

Animal cruelty is becoming much better documented. You only have to turn on the TV to watch ‘Animal Cops Houston‘ or open the newspapers to see of cow, pig and chicken abuse in factory farming or pet dogs being round up for consumption in China. Yet, tourism seems to lag behind. This post is all about how you can avoid it when you travel.

Animal Cruelty Masquerading as Culture

Running with the bulls in Pamplona, the Gadhimai “slaughter” festival in Nepal and the Tlacotalpan bull torture festival in Mexico are all promoted as global “cultural” events.

Tourists flock to these events, excusing their inherent cruelty with notions of ‘culture’ and ‘tradition’. Cultural heritage and tradition are important aspects of a nation’s identity, however, consciously participating in activities that promote animal torture is encouraging their growth.

In today’s society, we find human torture such a female genital mutilation and child brides unacceptable when presented under the guise of cultural tradition. So why is animal torture acceptable?

The detriments of animal misery and suffering aren’t outweighed by any perceived positives promoted by animal festival promoters and cultural tradition.

Wild animals have no place in captivity

Wild animals were originally stolen from their natural environments and whilst future generations were bred into captivity that doesn’t detract from the cruelty they’re subjected to on a daily basis.

Here is a list of  animal activities that you could avoid whilst travelling:

1) Tiger petting

Tiger ‘selfies’ have become a popular fashion accessory but reports suggest that many tiger cubs are stolen from their mothers at just a few weeks old for handling by thousands of tourists. This leads to stress and sometimes injury to the tigers.

Tigers are frequently beaten into submission by their owners in order to prevent their natural behaviour with many also being doped to make them more ‘handleable’.

Tigers, like many animals are housed in cramped, concrete houses with no stimuli and are prone to other tiger attacks. Tigers in these conditions frequently develop a form of psychosis and behavioural problems. They frequently have teeth or claws removed to stop them hurting tourists.

Do THIS Instead

Eight Responsible Alternatives to the Tiger Temple

2) Lion walks

Lion walks only include cubs. Once a cub has outgrown its use it cannot be used, resulting in an ever breeding population of cubs. Adult lions are then either penned up in  overcrowded conditions with little food and care, resulting in death, or are sold off for canned hunts.

Some lions are drugged making them drowsy and less likely to attack. There are many lion sanctuaries around South Africa/Zimbabwe/Zambia that receive severely ill treated, neglected, and emotionally damaged lions from companies that promote walks.

Read More

If you’d like more information on lion walks, please read Kirsten’s diary.

3) Horse drawn carriages

Horse drawn carriages pull in big money from tourists and they’re most common around city centres; Berlin, Krakow, Budapest, NYC…  however they also operate on tourist islands where motorised transport is not allowed.

Horses (often not designed for pulling carriages) are forced to work long hours, pulling heavy loads, in the baking sunlight with no shade and little water. Exhausted animals suffer heat stress, injuries, dehydration, beatings and wounds as part of this ‘holiday experience’. Horses are frequently involved in collisions with vehicles, leaving excruciating injuries resulting in being euthanised.  Some horses are forced to wear wooden blocks under their hooves to extenuate the ‘clip-clop’ sound. This causes lameness and intense pain as the horse is forced to stand at strange angles.

Although owners will full your head with tales of how these animals love their work and come from green and loving pastures, it is too frequently a lie. Old horses are slaughtered and turned into food for dogs, zoo animals or overseas for human consumption.

Life expectancy for many of these horses is 1-5 years.

Further Info

Read our post on why we think horse drawn carriages in Spain should be banned.

Two minute video on horse cruelty in NYC

animal cruelty
Horses in Berlin

4) Bear parks

Bears are kept in sterile cages or ‘pits’ which are frequently overcrowded (bears are naturally solitary animals). In some parks, bears are forced to dress as clowns or perform circus tricks.

The stress associated with these venues can increase the susceptibility of the captive bears to bacterial infections and mental health problems.  Whilst you may think this practice is limited to ‘developing countries‘, frequent rescues occur in countries such as America.

Consider doing this instead

Visit a bear sanctuary in Romania or consider hiking in the north of the country and watching them wild.

If you’d like to see bears in their natural habitats, maybe consider a bear safari.

5) Holding sea turtles

Sea turtles are timid and shy creatures and naturally panic and intensively flap their flippers when handled by humans.

Tourists have been known to drop struggling turtles, causing significant injuries such as broken shells, which will probably kill them.  The turtles are often held in cramped tanks with hundreds of other turtles; used to swimming huge distances the turtles become stressed and cause each other injuries through biting.

Sea turtles frequently get sick because of human contact and ingesting sunblock and insect repellent.  Selfies with any wild animal should be discouraged, especially when they frequently result in the death and injury of wild animals.

Why not do this instead?

Visit and support a sanctuary that rescues and rehabilitates turtles.

Instead of holding them, why not watch them in their natural habitats, book a turtle conservation holiday or volunteer to protect them.

6) Dancing monkeys

Monkeys (frequently macaques) are captured from forests and then trained to take part in street performances where they’re forced to wear masks, clothing & riding bikes to mimic humans. Often forced to wear heavy chains to prevent their escape they are brutally attacked and deprived of food until they perform.  Teeth are regularly extracted they cannot defend themselves.

This is just one of many videos on Youtube demonstrating their cruel treatment.

What can you do to help?

Don’t give them money and confront the trainer! Monkey training is banned in many countries but trainers regularly flout the law.

7) Snake charming

Snakes might not be everybody’s cup of tea but even the biggest ophiophobic would agree that having your teeth yanked out without a painkiller, sewing your mouth shut and piercing venom ducts with seering hot needles is horrendously cruel. Not to mention that they’ve been stolen from their natural habitats and that death to ‘show snakes’ is slow and painful.

The “dance” these snakes perform is actually a reactive sway as a means of self-defense from “attack” by the pipe.

Although snake charming is banned in many countries, including India, it is still a frequent sight.

8) Bull fighting & running

Bull fighting is common in many countries including America, Mexico, Colombia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Peru, Costa Rica, Portugal, France and Spain.

Progress in limiting these tourist traps has been slow but does seem to be gathering momentum with parts of Spain banning it since 2010.  In 2015 the European parliament voted to prevent Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidies going to breeders of fighting bulls – potentially affecting bull-breeding estates in France and Spain, where bulls die in the arena however it is proving almost impossible to govern.

Most tourists don’t know that all the bulls who run in the streets of Pamplona, Spain, are later killed in the bullring. Before the runs, the bulls are kept in crowded, dark enclosures, and when they are prodded onto the streets, they are momentarily blinded by the sunlight. Participators hit them with rolled-up newspapers, throw water at them and try to enrage them with poking. The panicked animals can lose their footing on corners and crash into walls, possibly breaking bones or otherwise injuring themselves. They’re then used later in the day in the ring.

Upon entering the ring, the bulls don’t stand a chance. They may be weakened by beatings, have their horns shaved to keep them off balance, or have petroleum jelly rubbed into their eyes to impair their vision. Lances will be driven into the bull’s back and neck muscles, impairing the bull’s ability to lift his head. Harpoon ended sticks are thrown into the bulls back ensuring blood loss and dizziness. Finally the dying animal will be struck with a sword, mutilating and finally killing the animal. The sword is supposed to cut the bull’s spinal cord but often this fails and the conscious but paralysed bull is chained by its horns and dragged out of the arena.

If the crowd is happy with the matador, the bull’s ears and tail are cut off and presented as trophies. A few minutes later, another bull enters the arena and the sadistic cycle starts again.

animal cruelty
Bullfight Bull Preparation Chart Mexico English Crop 488 #1

9) Captive birds

Capturing wild birds is widespread in most countries despite legislation. The most common capture method is through ‘mistnets’ where nets are spread across flight paths capturing the birds. Attempts to escape frequently result in broken legs and wings, shock, dehydration and starvation.

In the wild, birds flock together; they preen each other, fly together for miles and miles, play and share egg-incubation duties. Many bird species mate for life and share parenting tasks. The evidence of their close companionship and concern for one another is plain to see.

Captive birds frequently show signs of stress with disease, feather loss, skin conditions and self-mutilation because they are so unhappy.

10) Aquariums & Sea Parks

The capturing, breeding and keeping of tropical fish is virtually unregulated. Although many species of coral are protected, the fish that end up in aquariums are not. 95% of saltwater fish have been stolen from the waters of  Indonesia, the Philippines, Fiji, and other Pacific islands.  More than 20 million fish, 12 million corals, and 10 million other types of marine life—such as anemones, shrimp, and mollusks—are captured every year to support a $300 million worldwide “hobby.”

Fish are captured illegally by dousing coral reefs with cyanide. As reported in Scientific American, “the resulting asphyxiation stuns some fish and sends others into spasms, making them easy to grab by hand or net.” Half the affected fish die on the reef and 40 percent of those who survive the initial poisoning die before they reach an aquarium. Cyanide also kills the coral reefs and marine biologists rank it as one of the biggest dangers in Southeast Asian waters.

Aquariums and sea parks are built on a billion dollar industry that thrives on the suffering of intelligent, social beings who are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Orcas, dolphins and whales are captured in the wild at a young age, being torn from their social groups. Denied the right to swim vast distances every day they swim in tanks the size of bathtubs.  They are forced to perform meaningless tricks for dead fish, deprived food when they don’t perform well and they’re often torn away from family members when they’re shuffled between parks.

Captive orcas, whales and dolphins suffer physically and psychologically with many partaking in abnormal behaviour such as self harm, non-movement for hours at a time and aggressive behaviour.  ALL male orcas in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins, a condition that never occurs in the wild.

Wild orcas can live for decades (one matriarch named Granny is more than 100 years old). The median age of orcas in captivity is only 9. At least 44  orcas have died at U.S. SeaWorld facilities from causes ranging from severe trauma to intestinal gangrene; not one has died of old age. More than 60 bottlenose dolphins died at SeaWorld parks in 10 years alone, including 16 stillborn babies.

Touch tanks and “swim-with” programs allow the public to pet, kiss, or even “ride” dolphins. Such programs invade the animals’ already diminished worlds and are intrusive, stressful, and even dangerous for the animals. Animals in “petting pools” are frequently exposed to foreign bacteria and other pathogens, and they can become anxious, frustrated, aggressive and even neurotic as a result of being confined to shallow tanks and exposure to constant interaction with humans.

What can you do instead?

Learn about their natural behaviour by seeing them in the wild, their home. Swim with sea lions, take a whale watching tour, you can even volunteer to tag and measure whale sharks

11) Animal circuses

Life under the big top is not the “wholesome, fun-loving, educational experience” the circus industry would like you to think it is. For the animals, life is a monotonous and brutal routine of boredom, stress and pain. Traveling animal acts perpetuate animal cruelty, inhumane care, public safety hazards and distorted images of wildlife.

Circus animals are confined virtually all of their lives in cages or chains while forced to suffer extreme physical and psychological deprivation. Trainers use whips, tight collars, muzzles, electric prods, bull-hooks and other painful tools as extreme discipline to ensure the animals perform.

This horrifying  footage  shows elephants beaten with bull-hooks and shocked with electric prods. Circuses easily get away with such routine cruelty because Governments do not monitor training sessions and handlers are cautious when they’re in public.

How can you help?

  • Just don’t go to circuses
  • Peaceful protests outside circuses
  • Add flyers to people’s cars highlighting animal abuse
  • Tell all your friends

12) Zoos

Imprisoned animals are miserable. Captive animals are deprived of everything that is natural to them; no matter how big some zoos try to make the enclosures, no matter how many branches they put in them, no matter how beautiful they make the background paintings on the wall, they don’t compare with the natural habitat the animals were meant to be in.

As a result animals are frequently bored and lonely and suffer from a condition called “zoochosis.” If you’ve ever witnessed a captive animal rock and sway back and forth, you’ve seen the disease firsthand. This condition is so rampant in zoos that some zoos give animals a mood-altering drug, such as Prozac, because the public has started to catch on.

Some animals are so unhappy that they risk their lives in desperate attempts to free themselves or self-mutilate.

In reality, most people only spend a few seconds at each display, waiting for the animals to do something “exciting,” but they gain little, if any, true understanding of the animals. In addition, captive animals don’t get to choose their mates, and they are sometimes artificially inseminated so that their babies can be sold or traded to other zoos. This often results in miscarriages, death at birth, or the mother’s rejection of her young.

Zoos thrive on cute babies but what happens to the animals when they’re surplus to requirements?  Unwanted animals may end up in roadside zoos or traveling circuses. Others are simply sent to livestock auctions or killed. Every year, around 3,000 to 5,000 animals are culled in European zoos, and for logical reasons. If you encourage animals to breed in zoos, you can’t order a certain quantity and gender on demand. So you will inevitably end up with surpluses.

You might think that only third world zoos are cruel to their animals however reports from the RSPCA in the UK repeatedly show zoos failures to protect these animals.

See More on This Subject

Ten Reasons not to visit the world’s top ten zoos.

13) Elephant rides

Elephants are some of the world’s most awe-inspiring animals however they are also one of the most abused. Whether they are born in captivity or stolen from the wild, elephants must be emotionally and mentally broken before people can climb onto their backs.

Handlers use force and domination to keep elephants afraid and submissive. Elephants are repeatedly hit and learn to obey commands or face the painful consequences. Even though elephants are meant to roam with their families over vast distances, captive elephants are typically kept tightly chained and separated from their friends and loved ones.

Baby elephants are ripped from their mothers and confined to cages or holes in the ground where they are unable to move. The baby elephants are then beaten into submission with clubs, pierced with sharp bull-hooks and simultaneously starved and deprived of sleep for many days. You can watch a disturbing video of the process if you’re brave enough or see how photographer Brent Lewin won an award for capturing this appalling image of the torture.

“In Myanmar, domesticated elephants are used to corral wild animals into pit-traps where older protective members of herds are often killed and the higher value, younger animals taken. The young are then transported to Thai-Myanmar border areas and then mentally broken and prepared for training before being sold into the tourism industry in Thailand where they are put to work at tourist camps or hotels.”

—2014 TRAFFIC report

A fully-grown elephant can carry up to 150 kilograms on its back, but when you consider the weight of two people, the chair and the mahout (who rides on the neck) you can see how this starts to be a heavy burden on the elephant. Elephants are frequently denied water and food (elephants should spend between 14 to 18 hours a day eating!) and this results in either the death of the animal or when the elephant has finally had enough, death and injury to humans.

What should you do instead?

Washing elephants can be a great experience but we got caught out with one ‘sanctuary’ and had a horrible experience.

Don’t Ride Elephants, Wash Them Instead!

Ethical elephant experiences.


14) Dog sledding (mushing)

Dogs love to run. Anyone who shares life with a canine companion knows this and some breeds are especially athletic however dog sledding can be incredibly cruel.

 In Greenland, sled dogs are stuck in a situation where modernization and the displacement of indigenous people has taken the traditional use of sled dogs nearly out of commission. Where they were once a part of the community and used regularly for hunting and travel, there are now 21,000 dogs chained to stakes on the edge of the town when not in use.

In 2011 the slaughter of 100 sled dogs  shocked Canada. Surplus to requirements (the company had bought too many) the 100 dogs were slayed inhumanely by having their throats slit or being shot and buried in a mass grave.

In Canada, the Iditarod race puts dogs’ lives at risk. A race that covers 1000 miles of treacherous mountain ranges, frozen rivers, forests and tundras at temperatures well below zero, over 9-15 days, 10+ hours per day. Dogs frequently incur injuries to their paws, fluid in their lungs, fractured bones, muscle tears, dehydration and frostbite. Big game animals like elk and moose, who get in the way of the race may be killed too or just injure the dogs. Injured or “dropped” dogs are left alone at checkpoints with their paperwork, four pounds of dog food and a chain. All dogs remain tethered at all times.

Sled dogs that work for tourist purposes are frequently mistreated; spending all of their lives tethered, in close proximity to others, fighting with each other, living outside in freezing conditions, frequently beaten or killed,

The statement-question of  “But they love to run, don’t they?” is a notion we’ve been fed our whole lives, but the answer is simple:

If you lived your whole life on a 4 foot chain, you’d run when you got off it too. You’d probably love anything that wasn’t that chain. But what it comes down to is that you’d run whether you wanted to or not, because in their situation they simply don’t have a choice. A dog that doesn’t run is a dog that doesn’t live.”


Read this too

Read this post from Melissa who lived in Greenland and was appalled at what she saw.

15) Diving with sharks

Whilst diving with sharks in itself is not cruel, it is the enticing of the animal with food that causes a problem. Feeding wild animals influences and disrupts their natural behaviour.

Links have been made with chumming (feeding) and human attacks by sharks too close to beaches.   Cape Town’s Shark Concern Group says: “It is not a good idea for humans to taunt an apex predator by throwing food and blood into the water. It is no surprise that human interaction is leading to more attacks.”  Sharks should also ideally be allowed to approach the cages without the enticement of chum.

In Gansbaai alone, there are 8 different shark cage diving operations, each averaging 3 trips a day. Depending on the most conservative numbers that equals 5,000 visitors per week. This adds up to over 250,000 human encounters with sharks per year, which equals an inordinate amount of blood and chum being dumped along the South African shoreline every day.

What can you do instead?

Look for eco projects that do not chum and be prepared to ask a lot of questions.

We swam with sharks off the coast of Belize and our company did not chum, although others did.

16) Horse & Greyhound racing

Behind the romanticised facade of horse and greyhound racing is a world of injuries, drug abuse, gruesome breakdowns and slaughter.

Horses used for racing are forced to sprint—often under the threat of whips, nails and even illegal electric-shocking devices—at speeds so fast that they frequently sustain injuries and even hemorrhage from the lungs. Not surprisingly, every week, an average of 24 horses experience fatal breakdowns at racetracks across the country.  This number doesn’t even take into account the horses who are discarded and sent for slaughter by the racing industry when they’re no longer considered profitable. Between 2009 and 2011, roughly 3,600 horses died during racing in the US —635 in California alone. In 2015, in New York alone, more than 250 Thoroughbreds endured injuries or fatal breakdowns during races. 11 horses have died at the Grand National Festival since 2011. Seven died at Cheltenham.

The greyhound racing industry treats dogs like machines. For the few minutes that they spend on a track during a race, they will spend many hours a day confined to a cramped cage or kennel. Countless numbers of greyhounds die each year—some in the name of “selective breeding”—before they ever touch a racetrack. Dogs start racing at 18 months old and many don’t make it to the nominal “retirement” age of 4 or 5.  Since 2008, more than 11,700 greyhound injuries have been documented in Queensland, Australia, including heart attacks, heatstroke, electrocution, fractured skulls, broken necks and more than 3,000 broken legs.

Live bait will taunt and incite the dogs to chase, attack, and ultimately kill small animals. Terrified piglets, rabbits and native possums are all victims of live baiting — tied to lures, flung around racetracks at breakneck speeds, and then mauled to death by the dogs.  Some animals who survived their first attack were ‘re-used’ multiple times.

If dogs fail to ‘perform’, they too may be killed. Industry-wide, some 18,000 greyhounds are killed every year because they aren’t deemed fast enough to win races.

What can you do instead?

Don’t bet or attend horse races or horse race events.

Instead why not volunteer at a greyhound rescue centre or even consider rehoming a greyhound?


I will end on this note:

If your enjoyment revolves around the cruelty of an animal, there’s something wrong with you!

animal cruelty

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How to prevent animal cruelty in tourism and whilst travelling. Lots of tips on what else to do.

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