As many of you may know, I am a huge animal lover. My visit to Komodo National Park for example, was exclusively to view the Komodo dragon in its natural habitat. There is a growing consciousness for the humane treatment of animals in western countries, but this regard seems to be thrown out the window as soon as one steps on a plane. “I am just doing it for the experience” is an excuse travelers use too often to fulfill their curiosity and exempt themselves from the ethics. If you care about animals and the environment around you, here are five ‘attractions’ that you are better off avoiding.
1) Eating Shark Fin Soup (Chinese Restaurants Worldwide)
This famous Chinese delicacy can be seen across most of Asia, and even in places where it is technically illegal. There are two reasons why this is bad.
First, boats catch sharks, cut off their fins and release them back into the ocean where they usually sink and suffocate without the ability to properly swim. On top of how cruel this is, it is incredibly wasteful.
The second reason is that the fin itself actually does not even add flavor to the soup. People add it for texture, but the soup would taste just fine without killing a whole shark just to add some decoration.
Shark populations have sharply decreased because of this practice, pushing some species to endangered status.
2) Visiting the ‘Tiger Temple’ (West Thailand)
Every single tourism booth in Bangkok promotes visiting the ‘Tiger Temple’ where seemingly domesticated tigers live in harmony with the monks that tend to them. If only reality was so rosy.
An eye opening article by Turner Barr who volunteered at the temple shows the reality.
Baby tigers are such a draw, they are continuously feed to please tourists until they no longer can hold in any more milk and just puke it all out. This happens many times per week. All that money you’re donating to help the tigers? They are building for themselves one of the most elaborate temples in the world.
3) Eating Dog Soup (South Korea / Vietnam / China)
Dog soup is a specialty in some East and South East Asian countries as it is thought to give men increased virility. Despite is not being a huge thing, Korea even has a dog eating ‘holiday’ and I have met plenty of people (foreigners and Koreans) who have tried it at least once. Some people will point out that dogs are intelligent and affectionate animals that should not be eaten while others will counter that pigs and octopuses are thought to be more intelligent and we eat those without thinking twice. The difference is in the brutality that comes with making the soup.
A dog is beaten, hanged, electrocuted, or burned to instill a great amount of fear before death. It is thought that fear releases a hormone that makes the meat tastier and gives you more of those ‘virility benefits’ from eating this delicacy.
4) Riding an Elephant (Many places in Asia, mainly Thailand)
This is the most controversial one because, to be honest, I am at odds of how bad it really is. Proponents claim that elephants have been domesticated for centuries in the region and using them as laboring animals is no different than using horses or oxen. On the other hand, the methods for ‘breaking an elephant’ are downright brutal. A baby elephant is kept in a box where they can barely move. This teaches them ‘who is boss.’ In addition, elephant ‘trainers’ often carry around a gruesome looking iron hook to dig into an elephant’s thick skin and direct them around a trekking course.
So far, this is bad, but the same can be said with the taming of a number of other animals. A difference that has been noticed by conscious tourists is downright scary. Elephants are big money and the more they work per day, the more an owner makes. Some elephants work until they literally collapse from exhaustion and die. On one occasion, a traveler retold his experience of how he was riding an elephant who suddenly started acting weird and laid down. The angry trainer hacked at it, but it was of no use. He explained that the elephant was dying, apologized for the inconvenience, and called for another elephant to finish the wonderful trekking ride. The dead beast was just left there as everyone walked away.
5) Visiting Sea World
Sea World is a set of three different amusement parks across the US with the main attraction being killer whale shows. Despite having been in business for a long time, the company has gotten a lot of bad publicity with the release of Blackfish, a documentary style movie showing how stress in these orcas have caused some to become dangerous and aggressive. One of the main undisputable facts was that there were a number of cases where orcas have attacked and killed their trainers.
There are some who instantly criticized Sea World for its tiny facilities compared to the size of these animals. Furthermore, virtually all orcas in captivity have collapsed dorsal fins, which some experts claim is a direct result of stress levels, something Sea World denies.
The biggest question though is, ‘Are they better off in captivity than in the wild?’ The main argument on why captivity is good for pandas is that they live a lot longer in captivity (9 yrs compared to 25). Captured orcas do not live more than 5 years on average after being captured. While trying to dispute the lifespan of wild orcas publically, a 103 yr old specimen was spotted off the coast of Canada proving that killer whales do indeed live much longer in the wild. Recently, the company is trying to clear up its image and are redesigning their tanks, but it is obvious these animals are just not meant to be raised in a box.