Hanging out with animals on holiday has always been popular, but thanks to the advent of social media, meeting, greeting, even riding these beautiful creatures has become a must-do on many travellers bucket lists. Unfortunately, there's a huge price to pay for our pleasure, and it isn't paid by us.
Popular tourist attractions such as elephant rides in Thailand have an ugly side. The animals are abused and suffer tremendously for our later enjoyment. The various animal cafes in Japan have also been found to abuse and mistreat the animals, and many zoos around the world have cruel and unusual treatment towards their residents as well.
So what's a traveler in good conscience meant to do? How can we help the animals we love and support causes that don't hurt them?
Here are 3 places around the world that serve to care for and protect not just the animals they look after, but also fund life-saving support for other animals outside of their care.
Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary, Gold Coast, Australia
photo by: @adventure_with_ana
I used to love going to the zoo as a kid, but as an adult, it's occurred to me that it's kind of weird and unnatural, having giraffes and elephants in Canada where it's cold half of the year. I still love meeting and learning about these special creatures, so I've decided to stick to places that serve to help the (mostly) local populations of animals, like Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary on the Gold Coast, Australia.
Did you know that lots of wild koalas have chlamydia? Neither did I. And these poor little guys suffer from a whole host of other problems out there. Currumbin houses a state-of-the-art veterinary and rehabilitation hospital where the animals are helped and re-leased. You can also cuddle a koala (born in the sanctuary), meet and feed kangaroos and wallabies, and what is probably one of my all-time favourite experiences, join the world-famous rainbow lorikeet feeding. Currumbin's rehabilitation and conservation efforts have helped it earn a spot on this list!
Cafe Lua, Machida Tokyo, Japan
photo by: @innuekocafelua
Animal cafes are all the rage in Tokyo, which is heart-breaking considering the awful conditions the animals are kept in. Stories of abuse ranging from where the animals come from, to what they are forced to do, right down to how they are fed and kept plague the industry, so it's painful to see how selfies at cat, puppy, hedgehog, owl, and even goat cafes have become an instagram staple.
Cafe Lua is a totally different kind of animal Cafe, where the residents are rescues looking for a forever home. Adopting is not so popular in Japan, where most people buy fashionable breeds as companions and shelters put down the vast majority of their animals, so any place dedicated to saving them is extra special. Here you can sip your coffee or tea and enjoy the company of these fur balls knowing your money goes to caring for and feeding them. If you live in Japan and you're thinking about adding a four-legged friend to your family, this is a great place to visit and maybe find your new pal. Already have a pup? Bring them along! They've got a special menu for doggos, as well grooming and trimming services, and even a pet hotel. The best part is you know the animals hanging out here aren't forced to live in cruel conditions for your photos.
Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand
photo by: @adventure_with_ana
Repeat after me: I will never ride an elephant.
In order for these intelligent, kind, compassionate creatures to be comfortable having you on their backs, they go through a process called crushing, and it's as cruel as it sounds. They are taken away from their mothers, tied up, tortured, and forced to submit to their Crusher's will. I cannot stress enough how much you should NEVER, under any circumstances, ride an elephant.
Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand is a sanctuary not only for elephants rescued from all kinds of abuse (riding, circuses, etc.), but is also home to many other animals needing protection and help, like water buffalos, and rescue cats and dogs. You can visit for a day, or volunteer for longer, and your time/money goes not just to caring for the four-legged residents, but also to rescuing and funding the "retirement"of more elephants from awful conditions.
Unfortunately, many organisations posing as sanctuaries throughout Southeast Asia offer elephant rides and interactions with baby elephants (Elephant Nature Parks makes you keep your distance from all babies, and even from elephants unused to interacting with humans), and charge much less than Elephant Nature Park. Please be wary of such places, and do your research to make sure your time and money goes to the right cause.
If you're interested in helping out, but have no plans to travel to Thailand anytime soon, visit saveelephant.org to see what you can do help.