Animal Interactions: Responsible Travel Decisions, Page 2

Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, Florida, was started when Carole Baskin and her husband bought 56 bobcat kittens that were being raised to make fur coats.
Big Cat Rescue of Tampa, Florida, was started when Carole Baskin and her husband bought 56 bobcat kittens that were being raised to make fur coats.

Animal Interactions: Making Responsible Travel Decisions – Page Two

GoNOMAD has published numerous articles about interacting with wild animals because this is often part of people’s travel experience, but there are many important issues that responsible travelers should consider in making decisions about game parks and reserves.

Everyone can feel the sadness and suffering of animals in zoos and circuses. But then there are responsible programs that provide resources for conservation, and for local communities, and promote awareness of the plight of endangered species.

So there are many important issues involved, and GoNOMAD would like to provide an open forum to discuss them.

To add your input, leave your comments below.

“Please Ask the Difficult Questions”

These comments are from Julie Hanan of Big Cat — a non-profit educational sanctuary, devoted to rescuing and providing a permanent home for exotic cats who have been abused, abandoned, bred to be pets, retired from performing acts, or saved from being slaughtered for fur coats, and to educating the public about these animals and the issues facing them in captivity and in the wild:

“I was extremely disappointed that your publication is endorsing an animal encounter park such as Cango Wildlife Ranch. Whenever I see an organization promoting itself through tiger cub encounters or white tiger breeding, I know right away that the operation is not a legitimate conservation organization. Consulting their website, they state that:

‘Our cheetahs, Bengal tigers and Pygmy hippos are part of our breeding and educational program. These animals are endangered are being bred in captivity to ensure the survival of the species. Their residency also provides much needed education to the general public visiting the ranch on the plight of not only these particular species but animals all over the world.

Our mission is to save animals such as the cheetah from extinction and to educate people on the vulnerability and importance of our wildlife.’

According to Big Cat Rescue in Tampa, Florida, 62% of the people polled say that seeing captive big cats has done nothing to cause them to donate to conservation in the wild. Almost all of the places that use big cats for income will cite that noble cause as their excuse, and yet how much of the money raised is actually put to work in saving these animals’ wild habitats?

The tiger is the best example of how this doesn’t ring true. No big cat is more commonly kept in zoos, attractions, and back yard menageries and yet, with less than 4,000 left in the wild and one being poached per day, it is obvious that this great cat will disappear in the next decade.

All of the cats who were born in captivity for the last hundred years did nothing to stop the onslaught. The opposite may actually be true. The practice of keeping captive big cats may be leading to their demise in the wild. If you can have the convenience of visiting a facility to pet a tiger cub, then why protect them half a world away where you may never see them? This is the problem we are facing in the US.

Tiger cubs are cute enough to draw in and soften even the hardest heart to plunk down money to pet one. Visitors probably assume that the cubs stay there for the next 20-25 years (a typical lifespan) for a safe, comfortable life. Rarely is this the case, though. Soon weighing 400 pounds and costing 1000’s of dollars to feed and care for, they are usually sold off.

Why not ask this organization exactly what happens with the photo op cubs who have grown and are no longer “pettable” by the public? Where were the pictures of the adult breeders? More often than not, they suffer the fate of becoming part of the exotic animal trade, canned hunting industry, or just plain backyard trophy pets languishing in small cages somewhere around the world. Does this educate and encourage conservation – of course not.

As far as Cango Wildlife Ranch’s white tigers are concerned, this is where there is absolutely no debate among legitimate animal conservationists. This is the litmus test as to whether or not an organization is truly interested in conservation of species. In nature, white tigers are rare to non-existent. Both parents must carry a recessive gene for that color.

Normal tiger behavior in the wild prevents the kind of inbreeding necessary to produce white cubs. They don’t survive in the wild since they cannot hunt, cannot hide, cannot survive. But, when money is involved, man trumps nature. A blue-eyed white tiger once fetched $50,000 or more.

The quest for valuable white cubs led to inbreeding of mothers with sons, brothers with sisters. As a result, most white tiger cubs are born with deformities of the eyes, organs, skeletons or digestive tracts. Because of those conditions, “They have absolutely NO conservation value whatsoever,” said Ronald Tilson, the coordinator of the American Zoo and Aquarium Association’s (AZA) species survival plan (SSP) for tigers.

The next time you are looking to feature an organization that is truly promoting conservation, please ask the difficult questions, please consult with experts in the field who can save you from the embarrassment of promoting another tourist trap that is simply making money on the backs of innocent animals.

Organizations in Africa such as the Lewa Conservancy serve as models of this effort. Their safari program and what they offer tourists is the result of broad-based and in-depth consultations among all the local communities who are poor at all levels and are directly linked to wildlife. They foster local ownership in their conservancy efforts which is necessary to support and implement the development and conservation initiatives where wildlife benefits trickle down to each local community area. I doubt this is true of Cango Wildlife Ranch. I also doubt that the standard of living has been raised for locals simply due to their promotion of petting and riding wildlife at their ranch.

The pre-eminent conservation model for linking wildlife conservation efforts with local community development is the Snow Leopard Trust. The projects they offer to truly promote conservation of wildlife throughout Asia differ in response to the local needs and conditions. Due to their constant striving for improvement of conservation projects that better meet the needs of cats and humans, they are seeing incredible results at project sites where the livelihoods of families and communities have improved greatly and snow leopards are being protected. This is true wildlife conservation education and cooperative effort – not what you are seeing at Cango Wildlife Ranch.

After reading and watching some of the resources detailed at, readers will have a clearer understanding of the profit motive behind this tourist attraction. While it may be true that it is difficult to fault those who truly try to improve the economic levels of the local population through the use of wildlife, it is not difficult to educate your readership when that is definitely NOT the case, as at Cango Wildlife Ranch.

More and more breeding occurs, more and more cubs are needed to meet the public demand they create for interaction, more and more adults are dumped into supplying the exotic animal trade pipeline. This is not conservation, this is out and out abuse, and the public is being misled by calling these efforts “saving the animals from extinction.”

Thank you for your consideration,

Julie Hanan
Big Cat Rescue

Captive Dolphin Display

With these comments from Patricia Massard of Tampa, Florida, we find the issue broadens to include marine mammals and even sharks:

Dear Mr. Hartshorne,

First of all, I’d like to thank GoNOMAD for featuring this page on its website.

I know South Africa’s Campaign Against Canned Hunting has a program called “Ethos”. According to their website:

“Ethos is an initiative of the Campaign Against Canned Hunting and will ensure that those resorts that are certified can be trusted to have a proper ethical concern for animal welfare in all their activities.”

But of course it’s not just paying to play with baby tigers or lions or rhinos. And it’s not just in countries that are grindingly poor.

I spent several weeks in Mexico this summer traveling from Mexico City to Cancun. The nearer you got to Cancun (i.e. tourist central), the more animal encounter operations I saw. Swim with dolphins. Swim with sharks. Walk among sea turtle nests. I was actually shocked by the number of sea turtle nesting walks I saw offered.

Here are just a few snippets found online that mention tourist activities involving sharks, dolphins, etc.

* “Luxury resort exposed as capturing dolphins”

“Far from being rescued or rehabilitated, the dolphins, of which there are believed to be around 24, have been caught in waters surrounding the Solomon Islands and cruelly removed from the wild in order to live out the remainder of their lives in tanks in the luxury resort on the Palm, Dubai, entertaining paying guests.”

Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society article on ‘captive dolphin display’
* “Diving with sharks: a Bahamas adventure – Feeding programs provide a safe, educational experience for people, but critics warn they could be putting the sharks in danger.”

“…George Burgess, a shark expert at the University of Florida, said the sharks fed on the dives are not behaving normally.

‘They have never gathered in large groups before now,’ said Burgess, who maintains the shark attack file, a record of shark attacks over the last 400 years. ‘Right or wrong, you are changing the dynamics of the shark population.'”

GoNOMAD writes:
“And if people in poor countries find a way to make a living, we believe people in wealthy countries ought to think long and hard before telling them what they should and should not do.”

To go a little off-topic, again, when I was in Mexico this summer, I saw many European and U.S. tourists buying things from small children. It was the summer, so school was out. But as a Mexican companion said, “The American and European tourists think they are doing a good thing by giving money to these poor children. What they are doing is getting them to drop out of school, because in the short term they can make a lot more money selling trinkets than sitting in a classroom.”

So, if you take a long-term view, as a tourist in a monetarily poor country that has a unique and rich natural heritage, aren’t you helping them in the long-term by paying money to support valid eco-tourism ventures rather than by throwing a few dollars to some guy so you can play with a tiger cub?

Thanks for wading through this email. I do tend to be wordy!

Patricia Massard
Tampa, Florida

Travel Philanthropy

Kristie Giannetto
Special Projects Coordinator
Elevate Destinations

As Elevate Destinations is a travel philanthropy company that gives back to the places that we visit, we are very concerned with the rights and well-being of all animals, organisms and ecosystems in areas that we travel to.

Everyday people trek across the world despite the fact that we are in a time marked by crises between individuals and communities. Elevate Destinations believes responsive travel to be a bridge between cultures and historical mentalities. It is a way to have varying opinions and groups connect on a personal level and forget the isolated beliefs common in today’s society.

Many of these small animal reserves and nonprofits in developing countries do serve as a source of income for the local people, however they also provide refuge to animals that would normally be affected or damaged by the normal run of tourism. The local people form relationships with the wildlife and protect them in return.

If the organization is accredited and are helping to rehabilitate these animals and/or give them a better chance of survival, why fight them? It is true that they might turn a profit off of the care they provide these animals, but are you really going to deny this symbiotic relationship that has existed between animal and man forever.

People are going to travel no matter what and romp through ecosystems, so Elevate Destinations would like to promote traveling in a responsive manner.

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Want to add your views to this discussion? Email Stephen Hartshorne, GoNOMAD Associate Editor.

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