A behind-the-scenes investigation into Indonesia’s wildlife tourism industry details the “grotesque and horrific conditions” captive animals experienced, including one extreme case where dolphins had their teeth filed down or removed entirely so that visitors could safely swim with them.
The 36-page report titled "Wildlife Abusement Parks" is the culmination of an investigation into 26 wildlife tourism venues in Bali, Lombok, and Gili Trawangan that house 1,500 wild animals – including elephants, tigers, dolphins, and orangutans – conducted by World Animal Protection.
In 2017, 5 million tourists visited Bali and with that comes the opportunity for exploitation. Every venue with captive wild elephants, tigers, dolphins, or civet cats and 80 percent with captive wild primates did not meet the basic needs of captive wild animals, according to the organization.
“Behind the scenes, wild animals are being taken from their mothers as babies or bred in captivity to be kept in filthy, cramped conditions, or repeatedly forced to interact with tourist for hours on end,” said CEO Steve McIvor in a statement.
The conditions – like chain restraints, forcing them to participate in stressful activities, insufficient veterinary care, poor socializing opportunities, and inadequate nutrition and diet – all lead to the “lifelong suffering of wild animals, often invisible to the visitor.”
For less than $100, tourists can swim, kiss, hug, feed, and be “massaged” by captive dolphins. So they don’t bite swimmers, the dolphins’ teeth in some cases were filed down or removed entirely. Pools housing the animals, which are some of the smartest on Earth, were insufficient in size and of poor design. One pool measured just 3 meters (10 feet) deep and another was chlorinated.
Elephants, which are also highly social and incredibly intelligent, were kept in poor conditions where they were chained alone but could still hear and/or see other elephants nearby. At nearly every venue, elephants were used to carry passengers in wooden or steel saddles and perform in circus-like interactions.
Every venue that housed orangutans offered a “selfie” or other photo opportunities with the animals. Orangutans are very active and require physical conditioning when held in captivity. However, in the cages assessed, they often lacked access to environmental richness that would otherwise increase natural behavior.
There is some good news buried deep in the report, however. Three-quarters of the venues holding sea turtles were invested in rescuing and rehabilitating the animals by engaging tourists to help gather eggs from vulnerable beaches, helping to hatch and later release the endangered animals back into the wild. That’s a good sign, and could be a direction animal-tourism takes in the future.
“If you can ride, hug or have a selfie with wild animal, then it’s cruel – don’t do it, no matter how many ‘likes’ it will get on social media,” says the report.
In short: be a smart tourist. The organization says to avoid travel companies that support exploitive programs and instead promote companies with good welfare standards.