Animal ethics

Animal ethics might be important to responsible travellers.

In the best case, physical souvenirs, agritourism events and wildlife watching can support the local economy, and provide knowledge and awareness about animal life. In the worst case, they are produced through cruelty to animals, or exploitation of endangered species.

Treatment of animals is a classic among sensitive topics; criticism of practices such as bullfighting or hunting might be a taboo in countries and regions where they have strong traditional roots.

Captive animals

Animals are often held captive to be put on display for visitors by organizations including but not limited to zoos, safari parks, circuses and animal shows.

While a zoo can contribute to the public knowledge and conservation of endangered species, there are concerns about the welfare of captive animals at some institutions.

There have been high-profile incidents, such as the release of the documentary Blackfish (Gabriela Cowperthwaite, 2013) documenting conditions at Sea World and a damning 2012 Toronto Star investigation of Marineland.

Travellers should use their consciences to decide where to put their money.


Observing wildlife in the wild is less intrusive than holding animals captive as entertainment, but there are occasionally local or specific restrictions on access.

Sanctuaries and nesting areas for migratory birds are frequently situated on remote islands or inaccessible corners of national parks where the road does not run; often these exclusion zones are closed to all but a token, tightly-controlled amount of scientific research. A minimum distance must be maintained between whales and tour boats or private vessels, typically a hundred metres or more, to avoid disturbing the pod. The number of visitors to particularly sensitive areas sometimes needs to be limited; the bird sanctuary at Machias Seal Island imposes a limit of fifteen voyagers at any one time.

Off-leash dogs may pursue deer or other wildlife; conversely, pets may need to be protected from wolves or dangerous animals.

Feeding wildlife may cause problems if it causes them to trust humans instead of exercising caution or venture into populated areas which they would have otherwise avoided. A bear which has learned to associate human settlements with sources of food is dangerous, while deer and other wildlife are vulnerable to animal collisions.

Hunting, fishing and recreational shooting are typically regulated to confine wildlife kills to specific seasons, limit the number of animals killed or restrain which species are targeted to protect endangered, threatened or at-risk populations. In some nations, criminal gangs support widespread illegal hunting (poaching) by providing a ready market to smuggle rhinoceros horns, tiger bones and parts or ivory from elephant tusks out of the country.

Invasive species

Painting of a dodo head from the chest up
A dodo, as depicted in 1638

The dodo bird was first spotted by Dutch sailors on the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, in 1598. The bird had had few natural predators in its native habitat, but the introduction of sailors, their domesticated animals and invasive species brought predation and eventual extinction. The last verifiable dodo sighting was in 1662.

An invasive species can be either plant or animal, and can be either a pest or predator - or even a direct competitor for territory or food. Local species at risk of harm may be either plant or animal. While inspection is most likely to occur at border crossings, import restrictions on invasive species may be national, provincial (such as inspection of fruit entering California from other US states) or regional (such as restrictions on transporting firewood from forests infested with wood-eating insects into unaffected areas).

Endangered species

See also: Recreational shooting#Hunting trophies

Many products from endangered species are banned from resale, import or export, an issue at border crossings. Various restrictions apply to the import and transportation of specific plant and animal species, including hunting trophies and items manufactured from these species (which may include whale teeth, ivory, tortoise shell, reptile, fur skins, coral, and birds). The European Union and national governments in 179 countries (including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, Turkey and even tiny Lesotho) have imposed trade or import restrictions under the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).

Ivory and items made from ivory are widely banned (with very limited exemptions for antiquities), due to ongoing poaching of elephants which are killed for their tusks. Tiger populations are dwindling with animals in the wild at risk due to poaching; polar bear hides may require a specific permit for export.

Airlines are adopting stricter policies to refuse transportation of some hunting trophies, particularly the "big five" African large game animals - lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros or buffalo.

See also

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