While travelling everyone loves to have hands-on experience with nature.
However, is the type of tourism we undertake respecting the animals and protecting the environment?
Nowadays, the number of options that allow tourists to have the “picture of their life”, the “best swim experience” or a “cute cuddle encounter” has risen dramatically. Unfortunately, very few people are aware of the dark background laying behind all these type of programs.
The hardest part to accept as a tourist, is probably the understanding that every single experience which include a close encounter, such as touching, feeding and interacting with the animal has a negative effect on it. As human beings we tend to prefer, for some reason, the close encounter, because it is in a way more emotional and because it is very easy to compare our house pets with wild animals instead of separating the two cases and decide to act differently.
In my personal experience, I have never been attracted by circus and zoos, but I have been compelled by activities involving animals, which from a certain perspective, seem fine because they do not force animals to play tricks to please us. However, advancing in my knowledge concerning animal wellbeing, I became aware of the fact that even those programs that leave the animal in their own environment are not always fair towards them.
For instance, in Oslob, on the island of Cebu, Philippines, there is a program started in 2012 where fishermen feed whale sharks daily in order to attract them close to the coast and let the tourists swim with them. Although those sharks are free to leave for the open ocean, the researchers based in that area (Large Marine Vertebrate Project) demonstrated, through data collection of individual sharks, that few of them remained in the area and came back to the feeding zone every day for three years now, not allowing hence the animal to migrate as it should.
This is a single example of how a program that could seem like respecting the environment of the animal has deep consequences on their behaviour, such as their diet, health and probably reproductive patterns. There are no precise rules to understand if an interaction with an animal is happening fairly. However, researching and having an objective perspective on the situation could help you make the right choice.
Even if sometimes more expensive and more complex, I believe it is much more emotional to be engaged into a highly natural experience, such as the one happening in Southern Leyte, Philippines, where tourists look for the sharks without attracting them to the coast. Indeed, no words can describe the feelings of being in the blue ocean and suddenly seeing a 10 meters’ shark passing by!