Suffering Unseen: The Dark Truth Behind Wildlife Tourism – National Geographic, June 2019, Natasha Daly
“I’ve come back to check on a baby. Just after dusk I’m in a car lumbering down a muddy road in the rain, past rows of shackled elephants, their trunks swaying. I was here five hours before, when the sun was high and hot and tourists were on elephants’ backs.
Walking now, I can barely see the path in the glow of my phone’s flashlight. When the wooden fence post of the stall stops me short, I point my light down and follow a current of rainwater across the concrete floor until it washes up against three large, gray feet.”
Through the WI lens
This investigative feature lifts the lid in sometimes horrifying detail on the wild animals who are tamed and brutally trained to become objects for human interaction, under the label of ‘wildlife encounters’ or simply to adorn a thousand Instagram accounts. In a world where the ultimate selfie involves lying down with a tiger, or posing on the beach with a baby elephant, it seems that few of the participants consider what was done to the animal to make it so benign and to tease out its performance. The harsh reality, uncovered by National Geographic’s team, is that animals – elephants, tigers, bears, sloths, anteaters and many more – are too often trained through pain and fear to appear as loveable props in human lives. As consumers increasingly seek out ‘experiences’ in preference to traditional holidays, it’s vital that any hospitality operator think very carefully before offering any experience involving wild animals, and find out exactly what has taken place in the background. Far better to focus on eco-tourism that makes a genuine contribution to wildlife while keeping the animals at a distance in their own environment – and to educate participants about the true cost of these grotesque opportunities to boost the customer’s self-esteem and selfie appeal.
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