What I’m going to talk about here isn’t exclusive to traveling; it’s about the organizations and communities we choose to support through our financial involvement.
I want to talk about this because today we went to a nature park devoted to rescuing and rehabilitating abused and neglected animals- for the elephants, the abuse came from either logging careers or unethical tourism.
The reason this seems to be an issue while abroad is probably due to the fact that we as humans have a fascination for the foreign, exotic, and even dangerous; this leads us to support questionable organizations and events, because as “tourists”, we are ignorant and not responsible for the laws and regulations of the country we are visiting.
Okay, so I’m preaching. But the second you pay to experience another life-form entertain and amuse you, even if it’s not against the country’s law, you are morally responsible for supporting that industry.
– Getting a Thai massage. The massage therapist has chosen this job, they are personally selling their services and reaping the benefits.
– Riding an elephant. I’m going to take a wild guess and say that elephants, if given the choice, would not be swathed in chains and prodded with sticks while you munch snacks on their back.
– Petting tigers. Unlike elephants, these animals are evolutionarily designed to kill or hide. So logically, if you are petting one, there is clearly something wrong in that situation.
So obviously do your homework/ feel it out before you get a Thai massage, do extra homework and don’t ride an elephant (care for one, feed one, wash one), and just avoid the tiger temples entirely. Believe it or not, humans weren’t meant to do/see/touch/taste everything! Just because we can modify the circumstances to make it happen doesn’t mean we should do it.
Executing a highly elaborate escape plan would be the the only way I would touch a tiger. And that’s probably because I’d be running away after the drugs wore off.
No matter how cute and fluffy they look. Yeah. That’s coming from me, someone who freezes, drops everything, and loves them instantly so much I want to cry.
Trust me, doing it ethically, you get to experience a happy, healthy, and social being that is as curious about you as you are about it (the more watermelon you have, the more popular you are, it’s just how it goes).
We went to Elephant Nature Park for the day, where hundreds of dogs, cats, water buffalo, and exactly 66 elephants roam completely free (not a fence in sight, spare the ones to protect a few trees) in the huge expanse of land set aside just for the park.
Volunteer opportunities and a tourism industry designed to educate- rather than utilize- make this place a fantastic way to see the local wild life up close and personal, and most importantly, happy/healthy.
We were lead around the park by a tour guide named Andy who knew tons about the elephants including their names, back stories, and which family they belonged to (the park had 5 functioning elephant families, formed by the elephants themselves). We were taught safety rules, as we were literally walking around hulking Asian elephants while they went about their day, eating, flinging dirt on their backs, and playing with roped tires.
Each elephant had a mahout, a trainer/guardian of sorts to which it was clear the elephant had bonded. We also bathed an elephant, just to watch her walk ashore and fling dirt all over herself again.
We were given a glimpse of how much food they consume, how valuable each worker was to the park, and overall, how simply choosing one organization over another really made a difference.
I urge all friends, family, and readers, do the homework- keep your adventures abuse free.
All the best,