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In a bold move for animal rights, popular travel website TripAdvisor has now decided to educate its users on animal welfare and will no longer be selling tickets to hundreds of tourist attractions that are known to harm or be cruel to wild animals. In a decision welcomed by many, they have reversed a previously-held policy about promoting trips and tourist attractions.

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This decision from TripAdvisor and their ticket sales company, Viator, comes after a one and a half year protest campaign led by London-based animal rights activist group World Animal Protection, and also from reporting by National Geographic’s Wildlife Watch, which raised awareness about TripAdvisor’s continued promotion of inhumane attractions, even in the wake of other popular travel and tour companies’ changes.

Some of these attractions, which include elephant rides, swimming with dolphins, and petting tigers and other wild animals, have been shown to cause the animals psychological and even physical trauma that can actually shorten their lives and likely make for a very depressing existence. These attractions also, of necessity, force more animals to be removed from their natural habitats in the wild.

How Are the Animals Affected Through Tourism?

Elephants who are used to give rides to tourists have to go through a “crush,” which often involves being beaten with sticks with nails on the end and being immobilized in small cages. This is in order to “break” their spirit so they are easier to train. Tigers and lions are often sedated and drugged to make them docile and thus safe for tourists to pet and take photos with. Dolphins are kept captive in barricades in the ocean so that tourists can swim with them and watch them perform tricks for food. In this environment they are unable to hunt, roam, and play as they would in the wild, and if you’ve ever seen these animals in captivity, it is absolutely heartbreaking. This treatment puts undue stress on the animals and can adversely affect their behaviour in the longterm, which poses many potential dangers, both to the animals themselves and to the people interacting with them.

Many of us have seen this in action thanks to the 2014 documentary Blackfish, which tells the story of a captive killer whale who ends up killing several people people in response to the psychological impact of being kept from his natural environment.

National Geographic asked TripAdvisor about their policies earlier this year and a spokeswoman said that it wasn’t TripAdvisor’s place to steer users in any particular direction in regards to the animal attractions that were being promoted.

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Fortunately, the company appears to have had a change of heart, as they are not only completely ending sales to many animal attractions, but also developing a page to educate tourists on proper animal welfare practices and any conservation efforts of the various wildlife tourist attractions. Animal activist groups World Animal Protection, People For The Ethical Treatment Of Animals (PETA), Oxford Universities, WildCRU, and others focused on animal welfare conservation and sustainability will also help develop this platform, according to the company.

 “TripAdvisor’s new booking policy and education effort is designed as a means to do our part in helping improve the health and safety standards of animals, especially in markets with limited regulatory protections,” Stephen Kaufer, TripAdvisor’s president and CEO, said in a statement.

The company has already stopped selling tickets to certain attractions, and ticket sales to others will end by early 2017, coinciding with the launch of their education portal.

TripAdvisor users may still review animal attractions, and while they will no longer be bookable, they will be linked to the education portal. This in itself offers a great opportunity for tourists to voice their concerns about animal cruelty and raise awareness about the proper treatment of the animals at these various attractions.

“We believe the end result of our efforts will be enabling travelers to make more thoughtful choices about whether to visit an animal attraction and to write more meaningful reviews about those attractions,” Kaufer said.

On the other hand, a study released last year by the World Animal Protection and WildCRU found that most tourists are neither qualified nor truly capable of judging accurately whether an attraction is humane or not. Researchers from the study observed that even attractions that experts judged as being clearly inhumane often still got good reviews from tourists on TripAdvisor. For example, tiger attractions were ranked among the most inhumane by the study’s authors, but were ranked by tourists as “excellent” or “very good.”  The psychological cost of things like taking selfies with animals or petting them is not always understood by the average person.

CEO of World Animal Protection Steve McIvor said this is exactly why it is so important for TripAdvisor to educate its users on animal welfare.

“This animal abuse is a hidden by-product of the tourism industry. Millions of people look at TripAdvisor every day to guide what they see and do,” he said in an email. “This is a significant step towards ending the sale of hundreds of cruel wildlife activities and sends a message to the travel industry and millions of users that wildlife entertainment such as taking tiger selfies or riding elephants is not something you should do.”

Vote With Your Dollar

If the exploitation of animals is something that bothers you, then it’s your job, as the consumer, to educate yourself and others about the mistreatment of animals, and to stop supporting the companies that engage in such unethical practices. These tourist attractions wouldn’t even exist if it weren’t for the uneducated consumers supporting them. It’s time to step up and BE the change you wish to see in the world!

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