Wildlife Tourism Done The Right Way

A guide to experiencing Wildlife tourism the right way

We all love animals right, it’s pretty hard not to.

So when we travel it’s a no-brainer that we search out ways to see and experience animals and wildlife for ourselves. Of course, we do. And we are incredibly lucky to be able to share this planet with so many amazing species, big and small.

It’s also no surprise that everywhere we look, we are presented with the animal or wildlife tourism industry promoting activities and experiences that we can’t resist.

Elephant rides, dolphin shows, performing monkeys… WOW!

Well not quite.  

These are all activities that in the past I have naively believed could be ethical. Or perhaps I just told myself what I wanted to hear. I love animals so much, I would’ve given anything to meet an Elephant in real life. I didn’t want to believe anyone could ever harm one for me to be able to do so.

Sound familiar? 

It’s ok. We’ve all been there, but the important part is now. When we make the conscious decision to stop participating in activities and experiences that are in any way detrimental to animals because we know there are better ways.

I’m proud of you for reading this and deciding to make some changes.

So now for the good news…

You’re still going to have some epic experiences! There are many, MANY different ways to experience wildlife and nature in an ethical and sustainable way.

I decided to put together a list of some of the most common ways animals are used in tourism and then give you an alternative list of better ways to experience wildlife ethically.

Feel free to also check out our post on 15 ways to be an eco traveller.

Wildlife Tourism – Things To Avoid

Elephant rides

For an Elephant to get to the stage in life where people are now riding them, they will have to go through some incredibly hard times. It can get pretty graphic so I won’t go into the details but the story usually goes… a herd is poached for their tusks, the babies are kept and their spirit is broken.

They are made to work for 20+ years in the logging industry before ‘retiring’ to the tourism industry where they can be made to perform and carry tourists around day after day.

These powerful and majestic animals belong in the wild with their families, that is the only life they should ever know.

Dolphin or Whale shows

Sea World I’m looking at you! All around the world Dolphins and whales are taken from the wild and forced to live out the rest of their lives in tiny tanks.

They are wild animals who would normally swim for miles and miles every day in large groups. Being confined the way they are can lead to serious health conditions and depression.

Tiger Temples

It is no secret these days that to get a fully grown tiger to pose for a photo with a human, usually involves a heavy dose of something not-so-great. Keeping animals drugged just so we can grab a quick pic for the gram is just not cool.

When there are baby animals being passed around too, ask yourself what happens to them when they are fully grown. The answer won’t be; released into the wild.

Animals on chains for photos

This is something you will often see while travelling to developing countries. Animals such as Monkeys or birds of prey are chained up for tourists to poke at. These animals are taken from the wild and can you imagine spending your whole life on a chain?

Horse riding

Now this one is very subjective because many people across the world have horses and they love them dearly and treat them very well. However, 9 times out of 10 if you are offered an experience of horse riding as a tourist activity then the conditions of the horses will be far below what you would wish for them.


If there’s one thing the Pandemic taught us all, is that we didn’t enjoy being locked inside and unable to leave.

Well, sadly that is the reality for animals kept in zoos. They never get released or get to know true freedom. Many are detained in cages far too small with none of the natural stimuli they need to live a fulfilled life.

Animals in zoos have been known to actually go mad due to confinement.

Hiking with mules

There are some pretty awesome places on this planet to go hiking. Some of the more challenging places often include the service of a mule to carry equipment. They will most often be far too overloaded and forced to carry immense weights for hours on end.

If we don’t want to carry it then we shouldn’t force them to. You could always hire a willing local porter to help instead.


A Spanish tradition that, to put it simply, is hours of tormenting a Bull before it even enters the arena. Only to then torture and kill the poor frightened animal in front of a cheering crowd. No, thank you.

This isn’t something an animal lover would seek out but in a new place, we can often be deceived into attending something we don’t fully understand, only to regret it after.

This is not an exhaustive list as there are sadly many, many ways that humans have found to exploit animals for money. A good general rule to keep in mind is if you can ride, hold or touch them and if they can’t leave then it probably isn’t ethical.

Wildlife Tourism – Ethical Alternatives

Don’t worry, as I mentioned before, there are still plenty of ways we can experience and enjoy wildlife. In much more ethical and sustainable ways.

By doing the following activities instead, we allow wildlife to live naturally and flourish for the next generations too.


There are many places around the world where you can go on a safari to see wildlife living in their natural habitats. Some pretty popular spots are South Africa, Kenya, Tanzania, India and Sri Lanka. Just to name a few. Safaris often involve jumping in a Jeep and driving out in search of local wildlife.

Safaris can be expensive as is the case usually with more ethical experiences. A top tip of mine is to not book Safaris online from your home country. Go to your destination and find a local tour guide once you arrive, it will ALWAYS be cheaper this way.

Just remember that these are wild animals you are going to find. While this is one of the most exciting things you can possibly do, it is important not to disturb them or get too close.

Visit a Rescue centre or a Sanctuary

Not to be confused with Zoos. Rescue centres and Sanctuaries have very different purposes. They often take in rescued, injured animals or those in need of refuge that are unable to go back to the wild.

You can usually find a rescue centre pretty much anywhere you go. They can vary widely from being just for dogs and cats, to including farm animals or even taking in exotic wildlife in need too.

It is always rewarding to visit a local dog rescue and show some love to the dogs.

When it comes to exotic wildlife you can tell a rescue is a good one if physical contact with the animals is restricted and the goal is to release all animals who can be released. Even better if they aren’t open to the public.

Bird watching

As simple as it sounds, we share this planet with thousands of different species of birds in all shapes and sizes. Grabbing a pair of binoculars and heading out to see which ones you can spot is a great way to see some more local wildlife.

The great thing about birds is that they are found in so many different types of environments such as beaches, marshes, forests, jungles, mangroves and so many more.

Snorkelling or Diving

The oceans are an incredibly rich and diverse home to so many species of wildlife. Rather than viewing the creatures of the sea artificially in aquariums the best way to experience them for yourself is to jump right in. Literally. Grab a mask and snorkel and head to the sea for some snorkelling.

If you are a fan of the sea (or even if you are not) diving is a magical way to really immerse yourself in this underwater world.

Some of the best places we have experienced wildlife while diving are Koh Tao in Thailand, Cozumel in Mexico, Utila in Honduras and Cano Island in Costa Rica. Although there are thousands of great diving and snorkelling spots all around the world.


It sounds so simple but a really great way to get out and see some wildlife in their natural habitats is to get your hiking boots on and go out and find them. Do some research on what you can expect to find near you and some good trails and off you go.

Back home in the UK, I like to go for a walk which usually allowed me to see deer, owls, squirrels, rabbits, and pheasants. I even passed through cow fields full of beautiful curious cows who would all come to say hello. All of this was right on my doorstep.

Whale watching

A little more specific but luckily for us we don’t need to go to Sea World to see whales put on a show. There are countless places you can go to for a whale watching boat ride and see whales wild and free. Jumping on a boat and heading out to see is also the absolute best way to see dolphins too.

The best companies are those who don’t follow the whales and don’t crowd them or stick around for too long.

So after all that I want to give you some more inspiration on some of my favourite places to experience some ethical wildlife tourism…

Best Places To Spot Wildlife In The Wild

Some of the best experiences I have had seeing wildlife in their natural habitats are;

  • Elephants on a safari in Sri Lanka
  • Crocodiles in the mangroves in Nicaragua
  • Thousands of macaque monkeys in Dong Ling Don Chao Pu Park in Phana, Thailand
  • Seals at Seaton Carew in the UK
  • Reindeer in Scotland
  • Coatis and howler monkeys at Tikal in Guatemala
  • Giant Tortoises in the Galapagos
  • Countless monkies, Tapirs and sloths in national parks in Costa Rica

Best Sanctuaries To Visit

These are my recommendations for the best Sanctuaries to visit based on where I have personally been.

To volunteer with exotic wildlife;

To volunteer with dogs and farm animals;

Best Places To See Sea Life In The Sea

The best places to see wildlife while diving or snorkelling;

  • Giant sea turtles and thousands of fish at Cozumel in Mexico
  • Dolphins at Utila in Honduras
  • The Islands in the south of Thailand
  • Nurse sharks, sea turtles and eagle rays in Hol Chan Marine Reserve, Belize
  • Enormous schools of fish and reef sharks at Cano Island Costa Rica
  • Starfish and incredible colourful corals and fish in Bocas Del Toro Panama
  • Hammerhead sharks, sea turtles and Rays in the Galapagos

Wildlife Tourism – Final Thoughts

The more we work together to educate and inform, the demand for more ethical activities will increase and together we can reshape wildlife tourism for the better.

Of course, I don’t know it all. I’m just doing the best I can. I would love for you to share more examples of unethical wildlife tourism activities where you are from and great alternatives.

The more we know, right?

If you have more examples to share then please do send them to me and I’ll happily add them to the list.