Wildlife Protection in Volunteering and Tourism
Whether you’re volunteering, on safari or working in the rescue centre, being close to animals is an unforgettable experience.
But, do the animals feel the same way? And is being so close to humans actually good for them? Here at RGV, we value animal welfare and biodiversity conservation; we want to show you why animal welfare is important in tourism and to give you some tips on how to get the most out of your wildlife encounter, whilst putting the animals first.
Why is animal welfare important in tourism?
Unforgettable wildlife experiences are near the top of most people's bucket lists. You no doubt have heard of lots of people going to explore the impressive landscapes of Thailand on elephants, or to visit and feed them in so called ‘elephant orphanages’. Although some may think this sort of close encounter is a unique experience for them, a little more research on it may show you the real impact these trips have on these incredible animals.
Be aware, a wild elephant barely tolerates close contact with humans - and they certainly wouldn’t carry one on it’s back. In Thailand, there is a word for the ‘taming process’, which is “Phaitan”, which means ‘to break the love between two”. In English, it also comes out as ‘the crush’, so this is not a loving process; but a violent breaking of the will of the elephant through pain or hunger. Without going too deep into this violent process, it’s vital to know that one one in three elephant cubs survive it. If an elephant is conditioned to be around humans, and for their use, then they have been through this cruel process. Another stat you might not know; more elephants live in captvitity than in the wild, so it’s so important you work with providers that allow elephants to be in their own habitiat.
The exploitation and cruelty towards elephants in tourism is just a single example of how animals suffer at the hands of tourism. It’s so important to educate each other on this, as many do not mean to exploit animals, but are just unaware that their involvement contributes to this industry. Increasing demand means increasing supply! From 2010 to 2016, the number of elephants in tourist facilities in Thailand alone has risen 30%, and we need to reverse that.
The protection of animals in tourism has become integral to us here at RGV in the past few years, as unfortunately a lack of understanding on the parts of the travellers does not help the animals, it actually promotes the process to those who seek to exploit them.
Yet it’s so important to point out that not all projects that deal with widlife are bad. There are a host of positive projects and facilities who combine a unique experience, but with animal welfare at the heart of what they do.
How to still have the ultimate wildlife experience
Do!: Observe animals from a distance, in their own natural habitat. As such, safaris are a fantastic opportunity to do the above and have an unforgettable wildlife experience. Whether in Africa or Asia, it will provide the highlight of any trip; hearing the rustle of some bushes and wondering what animal comes out is an exhilirating experience. What a privilidge it is to experience these animals in the wild, and to see the overall beauty of nature the way it’s meant to be. We belive that these sorts of encounters are much more memorable and mean a lot more. You may not get that upclose selfie, but you’ll be central to an experience that not many get to have.
Do not!: Don’t go near the likes of elephant orphanages, lion walks or similar animal experiences that keep you within ‘touching distance’ of wild animals. Unfortunately, the providers lack transparency and you never know where these animals come from (are they cruelly snatched away as babies?) or what happens when they become ‘too big to cuddle’ (do they then become part of the barbaric hunting tourism?)
Volunteering in the field of wildlife: How to recognise a good project?
Unfortunately, there are loads of wildlife projects that focus exclusively on what money they can make off volunteers. Often the wildlife is ‘procured’ illegally, and are kept within terrible, low cosr conditions, all for the sake of profit. Therefore, how you proceed is super important:
What Does RGV pay attention to when working with animals?
We want to set a good example and demonstrate transparency, so you can see what values a project has. You can also use the below list as an aid for the project and for which organisation to choose:
- The well being of the animals MUST come first
- The care of specific animals must be as appropriate to the species as possible
- The sustainable protection of bioversity is a top priority in the project
- Animals that are wild, STAY wild
- Elephants should NEVER be in chains
- Volunteers have a supporting function if they are not trained zookeepers or vets
- The project work transparently (informing all where their animals come from and what will happen to them)
- If possible, the local population should be involved, knowledge about animal welfare and behaviour is then passed on
Our tips for your wildlife experience
1 - Be especially wary of projects in which volunteers without proper training take over tasks of caretakers or vets - This should not happen, and volunteers should be there to support fully qualified professionals. 2 - Project Choice - Before you decide on a project, get more information. Read the descriptions, as well as the reports from other volunteers, and take a look at photos and videos. This gives you a real life view of it. 3 - Choice of organisation - Do some research to see if organisations are adhering to guidelines and whether they’re working with animal welfare organisations 4 - Think about what you want to do - It’s going to be tough, physical work, where you’re making a difference, you’re not going for a petting zoo! Make sure that your intentions are on the animals, and you’ll be able to have an incredible time.
Since November 2016, RGV has been a member of the South African ‘Campaign Against Canned Hunting’ (CACH) and are listed on their website as an ‘Ethical Volunteer Placement Agency’. Together with CACH, we are committed to socially responsible volunteering in animal welfare and wildlife projects. We practice this throughout - even beyond South Africa and in all of our countries. We also work with ProWildlife, who also check our animal welfare guidelines. They are experts in animal welfare and we trust their opinions and advice.