Adventure Travel Travel Etiquette

Please Do Not Participate in These Cruel Activities on Vacation

These attractions seem fun but have real consequences.

These activities are on the bucket list of many tourists—they seem fun, and are often run by companies that promise that their services are “ethical” and “humane”. We’re talking about tourist attractions that sound exciting and exotic but are actually very cruel and harmful to animals.

World Animal Protection just completed a study using research from the University of Oxford’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit and is naming and shaming the worst offenders in a report that calls out ten of the world’s cruelest attractions. At the top? Riding elephants, which is not surprising considering that a British tourist was recently killed when an elephant held in captivity in Koh Samui revolted after a ride.

The report names the following activities as the cruelest:

  • Riding elephants
  • Taking tiger selfies
  • Walking with lions
  • Visiting bear parks
  • Holding sea turtles
  • Watching performing dolphins
  • Watching dancing monkeys
  • Touring civet cat coffee plantations
  • Watching snake charmers/kissing cobras
  • Visiting crocodile farms

According to World Animal Protection, around 110 million people visit cruel wildlife attractions every year, and many of them are unaware of the animal abuse taking place behind the scenes. A good guideline, courtesy of Elizabeth Hogan, U.S. Wildlife Campaign Manager at World Animal Protection: “If you can ride, hug, or have a selfie with a wild animal, then you can be sure the attraction is cruel. Vote with your wallet and don’t go.”

Don’t give up on humanity just yet—the report also points out two of the best attractions that help wild animals: the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (where orangutans are rehabilitated and released back into the wild if they’re able) and the Romanian Bear Sanctuary (a safe haven for former captive bears kept for entertainment).

The report itself is definitely worth a read if you’re considering any of the ten attractions mentioned above.

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By Caroline Morse Teel

Unfortunately for her bank account, Principal Editor Caroline Morse Teel is powerless to resist a good flight deal. Follow her on Instagram @TravelWithCaroline.

Caroline joined Boston-based SmarterTravel in 2011 after living in Ireland, London, and Manhattan. She's traveled to all seven continents, jumped out of planes, and bungeed off bridges in the pursuit of a good story. She loves exploring off-the-beaten path destinations, anything outdoorsy, and all things adventure.

Her stories have also appeared online at USA Today, Business Insider, Huffington Post, Yahoo,, TripAdvisor, Buzzfeed, Jetsetter, Oyster, Airfarewatchdog, and others.

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