Do you love all kinds of animals and also love to travel? Why not combine the two? There are so many unique destinations for animal lovers. You can meet new creatures, explore new landscapes, and take some great selfies. Keep in mind when you're traveling that you might love animals and want to cuddle them, but these are not domesticated creatures and their health and well-being is more important than your photo op. Remember, just because an animal isn't currently in distress does not mean they're being treated ethically.
We've compiled a list so that you can get the best of both worlds because not only are these animal destinations amazing, they also treat the animals ethically.
Boon Lott's Elephant Sanctuary
Boon Lott's is one of the only elephant sanctuaries that has a reputation for treating their elephants well. Elephant exploitation and mistreatment is rampant in Thailand and a lot of places have developed tourism industries around this abuse. Boon Lott's was started as a sanctuary for these abused animals and is a great place to reliably and ethically go and experience Thai elephants. You can get up close and personal with these animals without disrespecting their wild nature.
Pig Beach - Big Major Cay, Bahamas
White sandy beaches and… pigs? You bet! Big Major Cay is a small island in Caribbean chain of the Bahamas. Pig beach is not inhabited by humans so you're going to need a boat to get you out there. There are tour groups that will take you there for some swimming and a picnic to enjoy before you have to leave your new friends. It's truly a wild experience.
Rabbit Island - Ōkunoshima, Japan
Off the coast of Japan, there's a small island called Ōkunoshima, which houses hundreds of wild rabbits. These wild rabbits are unique because they aren't native to the island, which makes these carefree bunnies incredibly friendly because they have no known predators. However, they are a hazard to the ecosystem and tourists feeding them lead to a boom and bust bunny population. If you want to visit these rabbits, be sure to get some wild rabbit seed on the mainland for feeding time. You can help these rabbits survive by spreading the love to lots across the island and not just at the ferry dock.
Kangaroo Sanctuary - Alice Springs, Australia
Be there to bid good morning to these nocturnal kangaroos at sunset. The sanctuary's sunset tours let you interact with the kangaroos during feeding and playtime. The professionals are passionate about their work and take the kangaroos' needs seriously. They treat these rescued animals with care and respect, and make you feel comfortable and confident in your involvement. They do get booked up, so make sure you make a reservation far enough in advance!
Jigokudani Monkey Park
Put on your winter jacket and head on up to the mountains to see the macaque monkey spa. Natural hot springs provide warmth and sweet relief for these lounging snow monkeys. Getting to this sanctuary requires a thirty minute hike up the mountains, but at the end you'll get a stunning view of the landscape and the monkeys.
On a more somber note...
Unfortunately, there are a lot of money-making ploys that exploit animals. You might think that the animal you're riding is safe and happy because they aren't in distress in that moment, but too many animals are abused and mistreated to break their spirit and shape them into domesticity. Here are some of the most common ones to avoid at all costs.
You cannot domesticate a wild predator, especially a tiger, and it is incredibly dangerous for both the animal and tourists to get so close to each other. A lot of these animals are drugged, declawed, and abused to keep them docile enough for tourist photos.
Tourism elephants are kept in horrifying conditions, mostly in the popular animal tourism in Thailand. These animals are tortured into domestication and often collapse and die from exhaustion carrying heavy saddles and people. People who exploit elephants do not have their health and happiness in mind.
Touching Sea Turtles
Unsurprisingly, sea animals don't like to be taken out of the sea. The stress that is caused from people picking up sea turtles can only be described as abuse. It can only be described as incredibly cruel and arrogant to think that you're entitled to take such a peaceful creature out of its environment solely for your own amusement.
How do you get a cobra to kiss you without biting your face off? Oh, you rip out its teeth! Seriously, most snakes you see in sideshows are defanged, or have had their poison glands or entire mouths sewed shut unsafely and in an unsanitary way. This can lead to infections and even death. The snakes are trained to only get food when they exit the basket, and the mouth sewed shut allows for the tongue to flick out for food but they can't survive this for long.
Monkeys are trained by harsh hands into dancing in little costumes for tourists. When they're not out on display, they're often crudely chained up in small cages. Oh and guys….these monkeys receive no medical attention so while you think it's cute to have one sitting on your shoulder for a photo op you are seriously risking disease.
If you really love these animals, then it is important to make sure the animals aren't being harmed for your benefit. There are plenty of people who will exploit animals for a dollar, even websites that help you find animal tourism locations. You don't want to be complicit in this. Do your research and background check before you visit. Here's a handy guide for making sure you aren't hurting any animals. If you do visit an animal tourism location, be sure to write a review about it online! Make sure you look out for signs of abuse and signs of good care and let other people know!