Every now and then there is a moment you wish you could take back. This occurs in all facets of life whether it’s work, play or other. Travel experiences can be no different. Things which you are enraptured with at the time can be a little bit regretful later down the track when hindsight kicks in. I’m not talking about that one night stand you had either, although some would say this fits perfectly into the category, I’m talking about ethical choices in a foreign land.
There are always going to be some decisions or choices you regret when travelling. For example, it’s not commonly known that getting around topless or in a bikini (other than at the beach) is deemed disrespectful in most Asian cultures. Yet that doesn’t stop plane loads of Westerners getting around in next to nothing, whilst enjoying the tropical climate. Others might because they skipped out on a lunch bill (a common occurrence) or were loud and disrespectful at a temple or religious site.
My regret was visiting some questionable animal attractions.
Through the joys of Facebook memories, I was recently reminded of a particular day I had in Thailand a few years ago. A friend and I spent the day doing stereotypically tourist things that a vast number have done before and many more will do in the future; we visited the tiger, monkey and snake attractions outside a city in Northern Thailand. It was a choice we made without much hesitation, just like all the best spur of the moment travel decisions are.
Walking into a place and being confronted by a cage containing tigers is one thing. Having a viewing area set up to watch people who have paid large sums of cash to enter said cage to pat them is another. Staff are armed with bamboo sticks to protect any potential incident but it does have a post-apocalyptic feel to it. However, something doesn’t feel right watching a jungle cat lay submissively, a groggy haze obvious in their eyes. I have seen stoners that have more energy. It is a wholly unnatural feeling to step into a cage with a tiger and realise that it wants to kill you but the drugs in its system prevent it from doing anything other than letting hundreds of tourists each day scratch its arse (because tigers like that, you know) whilst taking a couple of happy snaps.
Next on the itinerary was taking in a monkey ‘sanctuary’. There are literally hundreds of similar setups around Asia- some good, others poor. Regardless, we sat in a small, outdoor auditorium and watched a monkey push a little cart, lift monkey sized weights and correctly guess the answers to various maths problems. The show was even commentated by a lovely Thai robot lady:
“Look at the monkey pushing the cart. He is so clever. Now he lifts the weights. You very strong monkey. Wave to the people…”
The thing that struck me as strange was that he (the poor bloke had testicles that would have put a prize bull to shame. Any bigger they would have been considered a tripping hazard) had to be tied up on a leash the whole time. He had this sad look on his face like a teenager forced to work in his parents shop on a Saturday afternoon- there were plenty of other places he wanted to be. I was also suspect on why he was carrying around a tip jar. I doubt he was allowed down to the corner store on smoko with his earnings.
To finish off the day we ended up at a reptile park- the kind of place where the non-English speaking staff member encouraged guests to get into the cobra cage. The assurance that fangs had been removed was no comfort; all I knew was that tapping a snake with a stick until it gets angry is not advisable. I’m probably more of a ‘natural environment’ kind of guy, not so much a ‘poke it until its angry and wants to bite you lots’ sort of person.
At the time, this day was a great. We were in a foreign country, doing things that could not be done back home without great expense and being in the presence of questionable carnival folk. Getting close to exotic animals was something of a novelty and one we relished.
Although I had a great time, something didn’t sit well with me. The treatment of exotic animals for a tourist buck, especially tigers, seemed wrong. The fact that in the last couple of months a place like these was publicly shut down for mistreatment of its attractions punctuated this regret. My mind has been eased in the knowledge that we didn’t choose to fire bazookas at cows later in Cambodia. To this day I’m not sure if it is something that could actually be done or whether it is a sick myth.
It should be noted that there tourist attractions that treat animals in the correct manner do exist. Utilising them instead of easier options is far more rewarding.
The thing is you can’t change the choices you have made when travelling. But you can learn from it. If you want to see animals, research businesses that are ethical and have a strong focus on conservation. Discover what is and isn’t acceptable before you go to a new place and do your best to encourage behaviour and decisions that will benefit the places you have been.
Wayward Tip: Think through what you’re doing. Take an extra minute to consider the effect you may have before committing to any activity.