Wildlife tourism

In studying the impacts of wildlife tourism we examined 48 types of wildlife tourist attraction (representing thousands of individual institutions), ranging from poorly-attended street performances, like snake charming, bear dancing and macaque shows, to large, established attractions such as dolphinaria and tiger interactions, which have tens of thousands of visitors every year. We audited 24 of these types in detail, collectively visited by 3.6–6 million tourists per year. We found that up to 4 million tourists who visit non-zoo tourist attractions involving wildlife are likely to be contributing to large-scale animal welfare abuses and declines in species’ conservation status – and are typically unaware of their impacts.

Moorhouse, T. P., Dahlsjö, C. A., Baker, S. E., D’Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2015). The customer isn’t always right—conservation and animal welfare implications of the increasing demand for wildlife tourismPloS One10(10), e0138939.

Examining the feedback left for wildlife tourist attractions on TripAdvisor we discovered that at least 80% of tourists left positive feedback for attractions they had visited – even for those attractions with the poorest welfare standards. In each case a minority (approximately 20%) of tourists left reviews that correlated with welfare standards (i.e. were positive for beneficial attractions and negative for detrimental attractions). This overwhelmingly positive feedback probably arises from a number of psychological mechanisms that make tourists unlikely to consider the ethical dimensions of their consumption, and also likely to retrospectively diminish the severity of their contribution if they suspect the conditions at a given wildlife venue were not what they would usually have wanted to be involved in.

Moorhouse, T., D’Cruze, N. C., & Macdonald, D. W. (2017). Unethical use of wildlife in tourism: what’s the problem, who is responsible, and what can be done?. Journal of Sustainable Tourism25(4), 505-516.

Our findings have led us to advise that any wildlife attraction reviewed on TripAdvisor with 80% positive reviews or less (four stars or fewer), may be more likely to have detrimental impacts on wildlife. We are also working directly with TripAdvisor to create an information platform to educate tourists on the consequences of attending wildlife tourist attractions, and to support them in choosing beneficial, rather than exploitative.

Our current project examines whether making potential wildlife tourists aware of the ethical dimension of their decisions – at the time when they are deciding which tourist attractions to visit – might lead them to preferentially choose attractions that have beneficial (for animal welfare and species conservation) impacts.

Related pages

Examining our recreational use of wildlife
Exotic pets and reducing demand

  • tourists riding an elephant
  • © Neil d'Cruze
  • © Neil d'Cruze
  • © Neil d'Cruze