Like a lot of people, Raffles love animals. But unlike a lot of people he thinks twice about attractions that involve them, because we’ve seen some pretty hideous stuff calling itself animal tourism on our travels. Especially when it comes to his beloved elephants.
He was just seven when he announced that even if he couldn’t save all the animals, he would do everything in his power to help save at least one. And true to his word he has been speaking out against animal exploitation in the tourism industry, very loudly, ever since.
Needless to say, Raffles jumped at the opportunity to meet the awesome Ben Pearson of World Animal Protection Australia to chat about what kids like him can to do stop animal cruelty. Over to them…
Thanks for meeting with me, Ben. I’m really passionate about animals and a frequent traveller. And that’s kind of my problem because on my travels I’ve seen some pretty hideous stuff calling itself animal tourism. In the movie Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Newt Scamander said, “We are surrounded by millions of the most vicious creatures on the planet. Humans”, What needs to be done to make people see that we are the biggest threat to our wildlife and planet?
I think we need to change perceptions about what animals really are. Too many people see animals as things to eat or just there for our amusement. We need to make people realise that animals are sentient beings. For example, chickens enjoy nesting and being in social groups. When they’re in kept farms where they are not allowed to do that, it is distressing to them.
Elephants are the same. It’s not only cruel to hit or stab it with a bull hook, which wildlife entertainment venues do, it’s just as cruel to stop them socialising with other animals because elephants like doing that. We need to get real that all these animals have feelings and emotions and we should be clear with ourselves that they are as unhappy as we would be when we’re treated badly.
Exactly, I think we should try and put ourselves in an animal’s shoes … or should I say its hooves, paws or claws.
What kind of things does World Animal Protection do to help stop animal cruelty?
It’s a very comprehensive program of work across four main areas. We work with animals in communities helping domestic animals and ensuring that people are treating them well. We work with animals that are caught up in natural disasters.
We look after animals in the wild. Particularly animals that are caught up in captive entertainment venues, like dolphinariums or venues that keep elephants’ captive so they can be ridden by tourists. We look after animals living in the wild, protecting them from things like discarded fishing gear, which is a huge problem for ocean animals. We also help to look after animals on farms to improve living conditions for them.
So, you’re trying to make sure all animals have a life that is worth living. That’s a great ambition.
I travel a fair bit and I’m pretty horrified that people still think taking a selfie with a tiger or riding an elephant is cool. Because from where the animal is sitting I’d say it’s anything but. But I keep hearing, especially from kids, that they think it is ok because the “animal seemed happy”. Because what says happy more than a load of humans on your back and being jabbed in the butt with a giant hook, right? What are some of the worst and most exploitive animal attractions that you find people still seem to think are ok?
I think you’ve hit the nail on the head. Elephant riding is absolutely at the top of the list. To be fair to most people, a lot of the problem with animal entertainment is that a lot of the cruelty is behind the scenes. They see a few elephants and they look happy and they’re eating a bit of straw and there are some trainers standing near them. What they didn’t see was that those elephants have been taken from their mothers at a very young age, put through a very cruel training process, mistreated, and are, frankly, quite traumatised.
But having said that, I’m with you. If you want to jump on the back of an elephant, you have to ask yourself if the elephant is enjoying this, and it is pretty hard to imagine it is. It comes back to what we were saying before … put yourself in the elephant’s place … would you be enjoying it if a whole bunch of people were riding you around a park for their entertainment?Tiger selfies are another huge problem, particularly in Thailand. We are really worried about this because in a lot of cases the animals are bred purely for that purpose. They are taken from their mothers at very young age and spend all day on a chain with tourists coming along while a trainer prods them to make them show their teeth. So, the poor tiger is having a dreadful day, every day.
If you stopped for a selfie in the wild, the tiger would eat you on toast. And elephants are definitely best seen when they’re free to be elephants, in the wild. I get that people make mistakes, we’ve made mistakes too, but we’re aware and are always trying to do better.
What about marine parks?
Dolphinariums are a problem. In the wild a Bottlenose dolphins can swim 100 kilometres in a day and do 200-300-metre deep dives. So, can you imagine what it is like for them to spend their lives in a chlorinated pool? Again, they can live for 40 or 50 years, so if a dolphin is born in captivity it can spend half a century in a tiny little pool that is nothing like the natural environment it has evolved to enjoy, which is extremely cruel.
That is before taking into account the stress they suffer from all the noise they have to deal with, as they rely on echo locations and have extremely sensitive hearing, and people getting in the pool to be dragged around by a dorsal fin. Dolphins do not want to do that. They don’t want to be around humans at all, they want to be out in the wild in big complex family groups swimming and enjoying their lives. When we talk about cruelty to animals, you might think of an animal being beaten or something like that, but it’s just as cruel to prevent an animal from doing whatever it would normally do in its natural environment.
In the context of the ocean versus a pool it’s just so obviously wrong. It is inhumane to deny them the right to be themselves and do what they were designed to do just for our entertainment.
So, what can be done about stopping these attractions?
That is a great question, because now we can get to the solution. First of all, we need to be educating people that they shouldn’t go to these type of places. World Animal Protection has what we call our “Common Sense Guide”. If you go to a venue and it offers the opportunity to ride, hug it or have a selfie or jump in a pool with a wild animal, leave because that is a venue treating animals cruelly.
These are wild animals that belong in the wild. They are not animals that have evolved to interact with humans. They’re not animals that accept having a human on their back or a human sitting next to them prodding it with a stick. It is obviously wrong. People need to stop going to these venues and they need to start telling their family to stop going to these venues.
Yeah, me and mum have a three point checklist. If the animal is performing, if its cruelly confined or if you can play with or touch it, then it gets a no from us.
What else can be done?
The other thing is that we need travel agents and the travel industry to get on board as well. They have started doing some good, some have stopped selling tickets and promoting these places on their websites. But they need to go further and help us educate the public, so we’d like to see them post information and warnings on their webpages to help people avoid contributing to animal cruelty. Being proactive and clever is how to be part of the solution.
Yeah. Animals don’t have a choice. But we do. And if we don’t stand up and say stop, we’re part of the problem. And I want to be part of the solution.
So, what about a kid like me? We don’t have a lot of power but what little things can kids do to help stop animal exploitation?
Great question! Kids like you are an important part of the solution and I’ll tell you why. We find in a lot of cases with these kind of venues that they are being promoted to families. But if kids like you talked to your mates about what you know, and then say they go to Bali or Thailand and their parents suggest riding an elephant, but the kid says, “no. I am not going to do that because its cruel”, because someone like you has educated them. That would be amazing. If your family is anything like mine, the kids have pretty big veto power on what does and doesn’t happen on holidays.
Yeah, often when families go to these things it is because the kid suggested it. I reckon it would be awesome if instead kids could educate their parents on why it’s bad.
So, what about places that claim to be orphanages or sanctuaries which are literally just an opportunity to make cash out of animals. I’m thinking of elephants specifically here because a lot of places tell a story about how they’re helping and protecting the animals but they’re still allowing them to be ridden and loads of stupid stuff that’s not even remotely ethical. How does a person make the right choice?
Yeah. These places are clever. Part of the paradox about these venues is that the people who go are generally people who love animals. That’s why they are there. These places know their market so they use language like conservation and talk about rescuing elephants and protecting them and making sure the species is protected. Or that saved a dolphin that was stuck in a fishing net… but what about the other 20 dolphins that are there? Mostly it’s nonsense.
There’s a couple of things you can do if you’re going overseas and you want to experience wildlife. Firstly, do your research. Take a look at websites like ours land look for advice on the kind of places to go to and the places to avoid, and use our common step sense steps. The other thing you can do is travel with one of the great companies like Intrepid, G Adventures and World Expeditions who don’t contribute to cruelty.
Yes, this video from Intrepid Travel, who don’t allow elephant riding on their trips, shows how elephants are trained. Warning: The video has images that could cause distress but imagine how much more distressed the animals in it are.
What about Zoos? Yay or Nay.
Yay and nay. Zoos in Australia are mostly pretty good and they do a lot of important work. I was at Taronga Zoo in Sydney recently meeting with the staff. They’re an impressive bunch and do a lot of work in conservation and raising awareness of threats to wild life, like plastic pollution. So, they deserve a lot of credit.
Yeah, Taronga Zoo seems pretty good. That’s where I learned about how bad Palm oil is for animal habitats, so we don’t use any products with palm oil now.
Over time we would like to see zoos stop captive breeding animals that are not endangered. I know a lot of people say that if people can’t see the majesty of wild animals in zoos, they’ll be less sympathetic to efforts to protect them. I don’t think that’s true. I think people can create a connection with animals in other ways and the idea that someone has to see an animal up close to actually feel some interest in it can easily be disproven by talking to any kid that loves dinosaurs. They’ve obviously never seen one of them in a zoo.
So finally, What are your top tips for being an animal friendly traveller?
Do your research and educate yourself. Ask yourself what you need to look out for in certain countries. Find out where the high animal welfare places are as well as the ones to avoid. Once you arrive remember the rules… if you can ride it, touch it, hold it or take a photo with it, avoid it.
Use common sense, if you go somewhere that has met all the criteria but you can see the animals look like they’re not well fed or are kept in small cages, leave. Don’t support it. Leave a negative review on TripAdvisor, tell your friends not to go there. And talk about it on your social media channels. Be an ambassador for animal welfare.
Always. And I think all kids and parents should visit your website for your animal friendly travel tips. Thank you so much Ben for your time today and for all that you do to help keep animals safe.