Wildlife Interaction Ethics: What to Do, and What Not to Do

The thrill of going on a wildlife safari has no equal. There is something about seeing majestic beasts in their natural habitat that is very adrenaline-inducing.

But, when you are interacting with wild animals, you should be conscious of what is ethical and what isn’t. Unnecessary human-animal conflict usually ends badly for the animal in question.

To prevent such an incident, read up on the rules of wildlife interaction before you pack for your trip. The following are the mandates on how to be a responsible wildlife tourist.

Be Aware That You Are in the Animal’s Space

Whether in a zoo or a wildlife sanctuary, be aware that you’re entering the animal’s home. This can cause the animal to feel stress.

So, it’s important to be mindful of the animal you’re viewing. Treat it with respect, and don’t try to taunt it. Be as respectful to the animal as you would to another human. Give them their space, and don’t try to approach them.

Don’t Be Unruly

Banging on the glass enclosure is a popular practice at the zoo. As is screaming and yelling to catch an animal’s attention.

This is a very inappropriate thing to do. Loud noises often cause animals distress, which will make their behavior unpredictable. One moment, you may be screaming at an animal, and the next it may be charging at you.

When you’re in the presence of wildlife, be silent.

If you are likely to find a noise irritating, so will the animals. Keep that in mind before you do anything.

Don’t Disturb the Habitat

Disturbing any part of nature is a disrespectful thing to do. But, if you know an animal lives there, take extra care to not alter anything.

If you find a nest or a den of an animal, leave it alone. It is not okay for you to approach it and draw the animal out. The animal inside will most likely see you as a predator, and may attack you.

Don’t carve your name into trees, disturb the environment, or take anything from the habitat.

Keep Your Waste to Yourself

It is disheartening to see the amount of plastic waste that is carelessly littered on a safari. People open battery packaging, and without a second thought, throw the plastic on the ground.

Littering is intolerable anywhere in the world, but especially in wild animals’ homes.

If an animal comes across the plastic, there is a great chance it could eat the object. This causes a world of problems, and enough pollution can harm the ecosystem and other resources. 

If you’re on a safari, keep a bag to discard waste. That way, you won’t have to keep bits and pieces on your person. Once you get to your hotel, you can throw away the bag.

Take a Wide Berth of ‘Domesticated’ Wild Animals

Any animal that has been tamed so humans can approach them should be avoided. No one can be completely sure how these animals have been treated. They could be punished or malnourished as an inhumane form of training.

So, the tiger you’re allowed to pet? The animal is not enjoying it one bit. In fact, such interactions are extremely distressing to the animal.

The same goes for monkeys or birds that climb on your shoulder to take pictures. You need to understand that this isn’t a natural practice for them. They are only approaching you because their options are bleak; take a selfie they don’t want to, or be starved for a day.

In general, try to avoid institutions that allow such close interactions with animals. If they are abusing one animal, there are high chances that every animal in their care is mistreated.

Keep Your Food to Yourself

It may seem like the animals are begging for food, and giving them a bite of yours may seem like the logical thing to do. Do not do it.

One tourist feeding a wild animal sets a dangerous precedent for all other tourists. You’ll feed the animal what you have, then, the animal might approach another group of tourists who may not have any food to spare. This can trigger violent reactions from the animal.

To prevent this, make it a rule to not feed the animals.

Another danger with this is that the aforementioned delicious sandwich probably doesn’t suit the animal’s diet. This can cause negative bowel reactions. The food can make the animal very sick, and might even kill them.

Some places allow you to feed some animals in a controlled environment, and with food that is good for the animal to eat. This is the only situation where you can feed them.

Research the Facility You Are Visiting

This dramatic part of being a responsible wildlife tourist is usually forgotten. It isn’t enough if you are only respectful to the animal once you get there.

You need to ensure that the facility you’re visiting is an ethical one. If it isn’t, you are essentially funding wildlife abusers.

Research the sanctuary and see the type of work they do. Keep an eye out for negative press about them. Even mentions of so-called minor abuses are red flags.

Positive signs are well-fed and watered animals. A tourism website might give the zoo a high rating, but that doesn’t necessarily put it in the humane category. Read blogs from conservationists and see what they recommend. You can usually trust reviews from them.

Avoid Places That Breed In Captivity

Any wildlife conservatory that breeds the animals is not a sanctuary. It is actually a money-minded institution that doesn’t care for the animal’s welfare.

An ethical zoo will only keep animals that cannot be rehabilitated into the wild. In this situation, breeding the animal should be out of the question. A baby bred in captivity cannot be rehabilitated. So, the intention of the sanctuary was never to rehabilitate.

If you see that there are always babies around, avoid the place.

With the constant influx of animals, the zoo will eventually run out of space to house them. Without funds, they might try to improperly rehabilitate the animal, which can kill them.

Don’t give your money to these facilities.

Be Wary Of Souvenirs

Things like elephant tusks or rhino horns are obviously illegal souvenirs. There are other souvenirs that are disguised, but just as illegal. 

Coral jewelry is a popular souvenir that directly kills an animal to produce. Avoid such souvenir shops. Instead, shop for sustainable souvenirs from local vendors.

The Guidelines for Photographing Wildlife

An African safari is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many. Because of this, many are tempted to snap away in an attempt to preserve the memory.

This is okay, but there are some rules you should know first.

  • Make sure you purchase travel insurance with hazardous sports coverage if you plan to take part in a safari where you could be exposed to wild animals.
  • Never chase the animal for the photograph. If it is running away from you, then let it go. You don’t want to chase an animal for it to then chase you back.
  • Try to minimize the shutter sound. Sudden noises may frighten the animal.
  • Don’t leave the path to photograph the animal. You may wander off absentmindedly and get lost.
  • Never disturb nesting or nursing mothers. They are very protective of their young, and might attack.

Do all you can to abide by the rules. If you’re taking children with you, ensure that they know how to behave as well. There is no excuse for mistreating wildlife.

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