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How the Travel and Tourism Industry Exploits Voiceless Animals

At first glance, the Travel and Tourism industry may not look like something capable of hiding a seedy underbelly. But when you look closer, it is competent and goes above and beyond to hide its wrongdoings.

Meeting wild animals, getting the chance to pet them, and taking pictures sitting next to them – it all seems too good to be true. Too exciting to pass up. But have you ever wondered how people tame them? How do they manage to domesticate the beasts feared by all and understood only by some? The answer to this isn’t what you would expect and not what you’d want it to be. Instead, it is heart-wrenching and will make you think twice about everything you’ve known.

Starting with something that people worldwide know of – the tiger park. In places like Pattaya’s tiger park, at least thirty of these wild beasts are forced to spend their lives in enclosures. These parks do their best to convince people that the tigers are well-fed, well-maintained, and well-treated. But it is our job to look beyond the thick veil of lies and uncover what lies beneath.

In Thailand, one of the major tourist attractions continues to be wildlife entertainment venues. Tourists from all over the world visit these to witness the ‘unseen’ and take pictures with animals that they couldn’t even fathom getting so close to. But few know the reality behind it, and most are unaware that by visiting these venues, they are funding and supporting them to continue functioning despite their inhuman treatment of the creatures.

Investigators have found many reasons that prove the treatment of tigers at such parks is unacceptable and must be stopped immediately. The tiger cubs are separated from their mothers at the tender age of 2-3 weeks. As if that isn’t enough, they are put ‘on display’ for visitors who maltreat them. These experiences can lead to extensive stress and injuries for the cubs.

As for adult tigers, it is astonishing how well-behaved they are. They do not attempt to attack any of the visitors, nor do they move an inch unless asked to. But doesn’t that seem unnatural? An animal that belongs in the wilderness. One that hunts for survival and bears the most challenging natural situations. One that attacks out of years of instinct when threatened. Such an animal lays there, docile and submissive. How does that happen?

These animals are beaten into submission. Not only are they mistreated, but also abused endlessly till they become conditioned to understand that attacking humans present will not be entertained. To curb their aggressive behaviors, they are beaten till their will breaks, and they have no fight left in them. Tigers also have their paws ‘declawed’ so that even if they were to attack anyone, the severity of the attack would be lessened.

These magnificent beasts are born with freedom that they are entitled to retain. But they are made to live in concrete enclosures with restricted space for movement and little to no access to fresh water. Due to all these things, many tigers show behavioral issues with incredible amounts of stress and anxiety. Biting their tails, excessive pacing, walking in circles, compulsive licking, and many more can be fatally extreme.

These animals - whether tigers, elephants, or other wild animals that have been wrongfully captured – are used to a different kind of enrichment in the wild. Swimming, hunting, running free, stalking, and climbing are a few things that they have an inbuilt instinct to do. These keep their minds and bodies active and healthy and help them retain their will to live. But these wildlife entertainment venues shatter that will and benefit from it.

In other places, elephants are restrained and kept tied for the same reasons. So that tourists can take pictures with them, the tourism industry can keep profiting from the suffering of these giants. The plight of these elephants is much like that of the tigers.

It is no secret that elephants are poached for their ivory tusks which are invaluable in the black market. These gentle giants are commercially bred for the same, and are also exploited by the travel and tourism industry. The size, intelligence, and strength of these mammals make it relatively more challenging to handle them. This difficulty results in another outbreak of natural cruelty intended to crush their will and create terrified yet submissive beasts. The calves are beaten since their childhood, so they grow up to be afraid of the workers and lose their choice to rebel. If they don’t, their rebellions are shut down with more violence and harassment.

There have been a few times when the death of ‘working elephants’ have caused uproars. Multiple people and groups worldwide have been working for years to end cruelty against elephants and other animals. While their efforts have resonated with millions, there have always been a few that have criticized them.  

These efforts are not geographically restricted. In Canada and the United States, animal activists have been protesting for whales, dolphins, and other sea animals to be released from captivity. They are kept in amusement parks and other places that ‘showcase’ sea animals. In 2019, Canada took a step and banned keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. But that hasn’t ended their misery.

From swimming in an ocean of endless possibilities to being kept in solitary enclosures that don’t even give them enough space to swim, some of these animals have also died from loneliness. On 12 March 2023, Canada’s last captive Orca, Kiska (or Killer Whale), died in her solitary confinement. She caught a bacterial infection and succumbed to it, thus ending her 40-year ordeal of living alone with no freedom. She was termed the “world’s loneliest whale.”

It doesn’t end with Kiska. These stunning creatures meant to swim free in the ocean are captured and forced to spend their lives in solitude. Orcas, dolphins, and whales are all highly social animals. They spend their lives with others of their kind and enjoy interacting or playing around with them. So, when this is taken away, their entire behavior is altered. They become depressed and begin displaying behaviors unusual for those of their kind residing in the wild. They bang their heads against the walls of their enclosures, face downward, and remain still for hours on end. These are excruciatingly painful and tremendously apparent cries for help.

These are only a few of the many animals imprisoned and forced to ‘work’ for their lives. Very few escape from the constantly tightening, suffocating grasp of the cruelties of the travel and tourism industry. While attaining this information is the first step to changing things, there are a few things that we ought to ask ourselves.

Who told us that humans ever had the right to take away the freedom of these animals that we could easily coexist with? Who are we to decide how they live and how they die? What made us believe that we were superior to them in the sense that we thought we could control their entire lives?

These are questions that some of us may find difficult to ask and answer. But if we don’t question the actions of some individuals and industries now, they will go on forever. If we don’t raise our voices for the voiceless, they will forever remain unheard, and the stories of those who suffered before them will remain untold. This cruelty will never stop, and we will never learn from the mistakes of others. Turning a blind eye to the way these animals are made to live and simply enjoying the ‘tourism’ part of it is undeniably immoral. All of us must learn the truth behind wildlife entertainment centers. We must all know of the backdoor deals, the untold truths, and the brutal treatment of these animals because awareness is the first key to change.

It is solely up to us to change the activities that kill these helpless animals while they are still alive. The activities that put up a façade and ‘entertain’ us while torturing the ‘entertainers.’ You’re mistaken if you think there is nothing you can do because, as of this moment, you have the knowledge and you can change the world and its ways with only that much.


Edited by Whitney Edna Ibe

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