Travelers have a different responsibility to the world than that of mere tourists. If you call yourself a traveler, you can't get away with doing the stupid shit tourists do out of ignorance. (At least I hope it's ignorance.) Some of those things are innocuous enough - like not using headphones on public transportation. But others are far more damaging and to be honest, plain unacceptable for a traveler to engage in. Paramount on the list of "no-no's"- animal "interactions." (abuse)
I have to admit, when I was younger and just starting my journey around the world, I too was ignorant when it came to the price animals pay for human entertainment. There was a time when I would see a photo of a friend kissing a dolphin, riding an elephant or posing with a big cat and thought nothing of it. Now, I find myself pointing at my phone screen scolding, "No! Bad!" Most of the time these people are tourists and they don't quite understand how horrible it is to support those kinds of activities overseas. But I am a traveler, and we should know better. That's why my recent trip to Oslob in the Philippines was so deeply upsetting.
I follow a lot of travel bloggers and hold them in pretty damn high regard, that's why I was so shocked and appalled when I traveled to Oslob with the sole purpose of swimming with wild whale sharks based on blogs from travelers I use to admire. I read countless posts about this "natural," "unforgettable," and "majestic" experience from other travelers I trusted. I adjusted my plans specifically to make sure I wouldn't miss this "incredible" experience; only to arrive and see it for what it was. The shit show to end all shit shows.
In this amusement park type attraction, whale sharks are herded into the bay by boats, lured closer with food and kept there by handlers who poke them with their feet, oars and even selfie sticks. The 20+ boats carrying mostly Chinese tourists boast at least one shark per boat, per excursion. The locals are motivated by money to do anything it takes to make sure the sun screen soaked tourists get that "instagramable moment"- no doubt at the sharks' expense. They let these idiots touch, grab and even poke the sharks just for photo ops.
I have since found plenty of articles from lesser known bloggers highlighting the abuse of these "wild" animals. As I did more research about the environmental impacts of this popular tourist activity, my heart sank. People much more knowledgeable than I am have concluded that the feeding of these whale sharks has rendered them useless in the wild. They no longer know how to hunt for themselves and now depend on humans for food. Their mating and migration patterns have also been affected because they aren't leaving Oslob when they normally would because of the daily feedings, which means this generation of whale sharks in Oslob will likely be the last.
Despite traveling to Oslob specifically to swim with the whale sharks, I took one look at that side show attraction and decided I couldn't be a part of any of it. I'm just so disappointed in the bloggers I follow for highlighting this as a "must see," using their social media presence to perpetuate the abuse of these gentle giants, rather than putting a stop to it. I don't want any of my followers to ever be confused by my stance on animal interactions so here is a list of do's and dont's when it comes to our furry and salty friends.
DON'T- Ride any animal that is not a horse, mule, donkey or camel. And before mounting any of the above, or getting in a carriage of any kind, do a quick health survey of the animal. Does it seem too skinny? In need of water? Exhausted? Pulling too heavy a load? Does it seem timid or scared of the handler? If you answer "yes" to ANY of these, get off your ass and WALK.
DO- Research the tour company thoroughly before making any bookings. If they put a saddle on an elephant, ostrich or anything else that's ridden purely for tourist entertainment, abort!
DON'T- Pose with any wild animal held in captivity. In Asia it's very common to see people posing with Tigers and Lions. These animals are often kept sedated so they aren't a risk to the tourists. The handlers usually track the big cats in the wild and kill the mothers so they can steal the cubs and charge tourists for photos. Once they get too big they start drugging them to keep them docile enough for those photos you've seen your asshole friend post on Facebook.
DO- Visit legitimate animal sanctuaries where your money is put to good use. I was able to play with elephants in South Africa after doing a lot of research about a particular organization that rescues elephants orphaned due to poaching. Their sole purpose is to reintroduced them back into the wild. Not keep them on hand for tourists to pose with.
DON'T- Swim with dolphins in captivity. I shouldn't have to explain why this is bullshit. Just stop.
DO- Ask anyone involved with wild animals how they got them, why they still have them and what their plan is for their reintroduction into the wild. If they say they can't be reintroduced, ask why.
*All animal photos were taken in compliance with all of the do's and dont's above.*
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