What is the problem with unethical animal tourism?


It contributes to species decline

According to the WWF’s Living Planet Index, the biggest cause of wildlife decline is exploitation. Animals being captured and forced to entertain tourists is a key part of this. People who take part and share the pictures on social media are driving demand, ensuring more animals will endure the same fate.

"Wildlife tourist attractions offering close interactions are far more likely to be bad for species conservation than those where tourists are encouraged to keep at a small distance." Dr Tom Moorhouse of the Wildlife Conservation Research Unit

David Bilchitz of the University of Johannesburg claims that [unethical wildlife tourism is] "self-defeating" as its primary concern is not the welfare and conservation of the species - on which the communities that run these venues rely - but the short-term pleasure of the tourist.

It doesn't meet the basic level of care for the animals

In 2018, World Animal Protection (WAP) published a report into wildlife tourist attractions in Indonesia. It found that of 26 places surveyed, not one met even the basic needs of the animals. The animals included elephants, tigers, dolphins, civet cats and primates. Some of the most intelligent animals with the most complex requirements.

Last year, National Geographic undertook an in-depth investigation uncovering how animals like these are stolen from the wild and put through barbaric training methods or drugged to make them compliant and docile enough to be around tourists. If you can get close to a wild animal, something has happened to make that possible.

The animals aren't always able to display natural behaviours

Many animals in captivity are denied the opportunity to display natural behaviours which are essential to their welfare. They suffer physical and psychological distress due to the constant interaction with tourists as well as being made to perform activities which are contrary to their natural instincts.

It can be dangerous to humans

In Thailand alone, 17 fatalities and 21 serious injuries were reported in venues with captive elephants between 2010 and 2016. This number will only grow if interaction isn't significantly reduced.

We don't believe that tourists want to support animal cruelty and we know that a trusting public often undertake these activities because they love animals and think the aninmals are well respected and well cared for.

We think the public deserves to know the brutal truth behind certain animal activities, the unseen damage which human interaction has on wild animals, as well as the damage to humans and the ecosystem on which we all depend.




Our calls to Instagram


1. To update its 'wildlife exploitation' guidelines from encouraging people not to take wild animal selfies, to enforcing a ban on wild animal selfies and describe what constitutes unethical animal tourism, which is any activity that relies on the coercision or forcing of a wild animal to perform unnatural activities 2. To remove posts that feature any of the following activities:

  • Elephant riding
  • Elephant bathing/mud bathing
  • Orca/dolphin shows
  • Elephant tricks/circuses
  • Elephants in festivals e.g. Kerala
  • Tiger cub parties/holding
  • Dolphin swimming
  • Holding turtles
  • Holding sloths
  • Holding monkeys
  • Monkey shows
  • Bear dancing/tricks
  • Wild animals dressed up
  • Trophy hunting
  • Bull fighting
And any pictures of wild animals in zoos that do not adhere to the Five Freedoms. This in-depth investigation by National Geographic proves beyond debate that these activities are unethical. 3. To make it mandatory for animal experience venues to state on both their profiles and in their posts, how they adhere to the Five Freedoms. We believe that the public has a right to know the how the animals they will spend time with are treated behind closed doors, so they can make informed decisions on where to visit. Example: In the tobacco industry, companies have to be upfront about what they are selling and the damage it can do by stating it on their packaging. We want instagram to enforce the same transparency standards in the animal experience industry. Conclusion Instagram has the power and influence to lead the way in promoting ethical tourism and pave the way for other social media and tourism platforms. We believe that Instagram as a company cares about sustainability and conservation and does not want to mislead their public. This is their chance to prove us right. We urge Instagram to acknowledge their part in this problem and take their responsibilities seriously by refusing to promote the activities we have listed above.
We ask Instagram to respond to our initial requests and open a dialogue with us. They cannot continue to ignore the concerns of the public, governments, travel companies and conservation experts. We look forward to working with them to ensure their platform is transparent, trustworthy and not used to sell cruel experiences that often misleads the public and can put them and local people in danger.




Who are we?


A group of animal charities, individuals and not-for-profit organisations that have joined forces to form a coalition to end the promotion, and therein acceptance, of unethical animal tourism on the world's leading social media platforms.




Individuals, policy makers and travel companies want change


  • In 2016, 558,000 supporters signed the World Animal Protection's petition asking TripAdvisor to stop selling tickets to cruel wildlife attractions. They have since stopped selling tickets to some of the world’s cruellest tourist activities

  • In 2016 Trip Advisor stopped selling tickets to animal activities and have created an online portal that shares information of the treatment of animals in tourism

  • In 2016 TUI removed all excursions involving elephant rides and shows and now offers elephant-friendly excursions where their customers can instead see and learn about elephants in their natural habitat

  • In 2017, 250,000+ people signed the World Animal Protection's Wildlife Selfie Code, promising never to take a selfie with a wild animal and prompting Instagram to issue a warning pop-up whenever someone posted a wildlife selfie

  • New Jersey became the first US state to outlaw the use of exotic animals in circuses in 2018, closely followed by Hawaii. Recently, a bill was introduced in the US House of Representatives that could restrict the use of exotic and wild animals in traveling circuses across the country.

  • Virgin Holidays stopped selling and promoting tourism attractions that feature captive whales and dolphins in 2019 and “don’t sell any attractions that involve riding elephants or any unnatural interactions with elephants such as games or painting.”

  • In 2019, British Airways stopped selling tickets to attractions that feature captive wild animals and no longer promote wild animals in captivity

  • In 2019, United Airlines stopped selling tickets to Seaworld, part of a growing list of travel-industry leaders—including Virgin Holidays and Thomas Cook as well as Alaska, JetBlue, Southwest, Spirit, Sunwing, and WestJet airlines—that have cut ties with SeaWorld

  • The government of Costa Rica outlawed wildlife interactions in 2019 and launched a campaign urging tourists to not take wild animal selfies

  • Denmark launched a national ban on circuses using wildlife in 2019

  • In 2019, the UK parliament passed a bill to ban the use of wild animals in travelling circuses across England

  • In February 2020, Indonesia's Environment & Forestry Minister chose to not renew the licence of the Travelling Dolphin Circus after public pressure mounted about the 'endless suffering' the dolphins endured

  • In February 2020 the City of LA banned the use of wild animals at parties, having banned the use of wild animals in circuses in 2019.

  • The use of animals in circuses is already illegal in Greece, Cypris and Bolivia

  • Paris has made a move to ban the use of animals in circuses

  • Over 240 travel companies have committed to stop selling and promoting venues that offer elephant rides and shows

  • DEFRA is considering making it illegal in the UK for travel companies to promote and sell wild animal tourist attractions such as elephant rides and the use of animals in circuses

  • Tinder released a blog post requesting users to stop posting tiger selfies

  • After an ‘exhaustive investigation’ into hundreds of wildlife projects and businesses, Fodor updated their annual ‘No List’ to include attractions where tourists can interact with animals or watch them perform unnatural tricks to their ‘Tourist Attractions that Need to Stop’ section

  • The Sloth Sanctuary no longer allows human-sloth contact, saying they "were alarmed to discover from a scientific standpoint how stressful and dangerous it is for sloths to be held by strangers.”

  • Over 20,000 people have signed Wildlife SOS’s Refuse to Ride petition

  • Over 1.6 million people and more than 200 tour companies have signed the World Animal Protection's animal-friendly travel pledge

  • The Lonely Planet has published a Responsible Wildlife Tourist guide which advocates observation-only activities

  • Airbnb does not sell or endorse any hands-on experiences with wildlife

  • Almost 1 million people have signed STAE’s petition to end elephant cruelty in India including the use of elephants in tourism, in festivals, and at temples




When is animal tourism unethical?


Although there are genuine sanctuaries that rescue injured, orphaned or old animals and allow tourists to observe them in their natural (or semi-natural) environment, too often wild animals are captured solely for the purpose of entertainment and are forced into close contact with humans.

When we talk about unethical animal tourism, we are referring to any activity, event or attraction whereby:

  • the animal is being coerced or forced to do something for the entertainment of tourists
  • the animal is not allowed to display natural behaviours
  • the animal is not free to walk away from a situation
However, true responsible tourism goes beyond the activity the animal performs. Arguably even more important that what the animal does, are the conditions they are kept in when not performing or working. Genuine sanctuaries adhere to the Five Freedoms, which are:
  • Freedom from hunger or thirst by ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour
  • Freedom from discomfort by providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area
  • Freedom from pain, injury or disease by prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment
  • Freedom to express (most) normal behaviour by providing sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal's own kind
  • Freedom from fear and distress by ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering




What role does Instagram play?


We believe that the power and attraction of social media - particularly Instagram - is unitentionally driving and facilitating a wild animal tourism boom, as people see images of gorgeous people with beautiful wild animals in exotic locations and want the experience themselves. As Fodor's Travel states; “if Taylor Swift pets a kangaroo, Roger Federer gets chummy with a quokka, or your cousin holds a baby monkey on her hip, many people’s response is “Jealous!!!” and end up booking a trip where they can do the same.” By taking a stand against activities that are proven to be inhumane, dangerous, contributing to species decline and in conflict with genuine conservation and sustainability efforts, Instagram has a unique opportunity to be a leader in the fast-evolving field of responsible tourism. We urge Instagram to support and facilitate the recent trend in tourism that deliberately avoids hands-on wildlife experiences in favour of ethical practices that seek to protect endangered species and their habitats. We are further urging them to lead the transition to a more compassionate, humane and sustainable approach to tourism. As SATSA concluded after an intensive two-year academic investigation into wild animal tourism, “this ... is a social movement that is taking over the industry across the globe.” By looking at the long-term and not just the short-term offerings (based purely on gaining tourist money), Instagram can be custodians of the communities - often indiginous and disadvantaged - that depend on wildlife tourism. They can do this by guiding users to visit venues which seek to instead prioritise the protection the animals, people who work with them and the ecosystem of the surrounding areas.




How can you help?


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What are Instagram's current guidelines on wild animal abuse?


The information below is taken from Instagram's guidelines on wildlife exploitation: Interactions with Wild Animals We also encourage you to be mindful of your interactions with wild animals, and consider whether an animal has been smuggled, poached or abused for the sake of tourism. For example, be wary when paying for photo opportunities with exotic animals, as these photos and videos may put endangered animals at risk. Instagram works with wildlife groups to identify and take action on photos or videos that violate our community guidelines, such as posts depicting animal abuse, poaching or the sale of endangered animals and their parts. To learn more about endangered wildlife and exploitation, visit: World Wildlife Fund TRAFFIC World Animal Protection National Geographic