Animal-friendly family holidays: Do your research

Before you watch a dancing monkey or ride an elephant – do your homework, Tracey Spicer urges.

We’re in the Jemaa el Fna, the market place in the centre of Marrakesh, filled with soothsayers and bards, gymnasts and jugglers, souks and fresh orange juice stands.

And performing monkeys – lots of them, tied up with chains.

Although this scene sounds extraordinary, families are often faced with similar forms of entertainment while on holiday.

It might be an elephant ride or bear dancing or posing with a tiger.

Unwittingly, we witness animal cruelty and, unknowingly, we support it.

This is why World Animal Protection has launched a new campaign against wild animals being used as entertainment.

One of the most common forms of this type of business is elephant riding in Asia.

“I have been an animal lover and activist for a long time, and even I wasn’t aware of the cruelty and horrors that [some of] these elephants go through,” actor and World Animal Protection Ambassador Susie Porter says. “I had no idea that they suffered this way.”

According to initial research by the organisation, half of Australians think elephant rides are an acceptable activity.

“There is a distinct lack of awareness [among parents] of the cruelty that happens behind the scenes,” says Nicola Beynon, head of campaigns, says.

“Many elephants used in the industry are cruelly taken from their mothers in the wild and go through an intense and stressful breaking-in process to accept having people ride on their necks and backs. In captivity, it is recognised that they can experience symptoms such as post-traumatic stress disorder, as a result of traumatic events.”

But what of the thousands of other animals used in this way?

As a parent, how can you protect your children from this?

How can we be animal-friendly tourists?

Nicola has this advice: “We can teach our children that, if they wish to see wild animals, they should only see them in the wild.”

There’s a handy guide to doing just this on the website It also offers a natty little passport holder and luggage tag.

The site suggests you:

Choose wisely: Make sure your trip is organised by a travel company that takes animal welfare seriously. World Animal Protection has recently partnered with Intrepid Travel.

Do your research: Find out the policies of the venues you’re visiting.

Spread the word:  It’s likely your friends and relatives don’t know about the cruelty behind the scenes of many animal attractions.

As for me, well, I’m ashamed to admit I’ve exposed my kids to swimming with dolphins, dancing with monkeys and walking with lions.

I thought I was doing the right thing, by supporting local tourism operators.

But we can still do this by supporting other attractions that don’t involve animal cruelty.

As Susie Porter says, “Growing up, I knew that I had a responsibility to keep protecting animals. Animals can’t speak for themselves, so it’s important we do what we can to prevent cruelty.”

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