I am a huge fan of foreign travel. Unfortunately, the way animals are treated in some countries makes me downright nauseated.
I have seen a disturbing amount of animal suffering all over the world, from starving dogs in Nicaragua to whipped donkeys in Egypt to packs of dogs shot en masse in Thailand.
One incident in particular is unforgettable for me. I was with several other travelers on a Mekong River boat in northern Laos. We saw a person on shore relentlessly beating an elephant as it struggled to haul a felled tree up the river bank. At least one person in the group was moved to tears.
The incident sparked a conversation among us. Several of my fellow travelers had recently completed a trek that involved riding on elephants. They stated that they were mortified by the inhumane treatment the animals received at the hands of the guides.
I resolved then and there never to go on an elephant trek (although several fellow travelers argued that the treks were, all things considered, good for elephants).
However, surely travel in general can benefit animals. Participating in jungle adventures gives locals an incentive to conserve the forest. African safaris provide money to impoverished people and give them incentives to protect charismatic megafauna (although safari-goers are quite notorious for harassing animals such as cheetahs in their attempts to obtain perfect photos).
I have long wished for some guidance on how I can travel responsibly as an animal lover. Thanks to today’s “Gulliver’s Best” blog (a feature of The Economist), I now know where to go for that guidance.
Gulliver’s blog discusses a new website published by the World Society for the Protection of Animals. The site, compassionatetravel.org, offers tips ranging from volunteering with local animal welfare organizations to steering clear of animal rides such as elephant treks.
I’ll be reviewing the site thoroughly before my next big adventure. And I encourage you to do the same.
Tomorrow: back to reader question and answer!
Photo: Animal cruelty meets deforestation in northern Laos.