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Planning a trip and thinking about doing an animal experience to spice things up? While there are a number of ethical animal experiences out there in the world, there are unquestionably more unethical ones. So, if you consider yourself an “animal lover,” here’s a big fat list of unethical animal experiences you need to avoid at all costs.

A big fat list of the most unethical animal encounters to avoid if you're an "animal lover" -- because the world could use a bit more good! | The Wanderful Me

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As someone who has a bigger heart for animals than I do for humans (sorry, not sorry), nothing hurts me more than seeing beautiful creatures exploited and taken advantage of for human gain.

All day, everyday, animals are being misused and abused.

Whether it’s for tourism purposes or just plain old daily life choices, so many experiences and animal encounters are at the expense of the happiness of a living being.

Thus, to help you get an idea of how you can do some good for the world, I wanted to put together a thorough list of unethical animal experiences and encounters to avoid if you consider yourself an “animal lover.”

Unethical Animal Experiences to Avoid if You’re an “Animal Lover”

Riding Elephants

A girl riding an elephant, a truly unethical animal experience.

This is a big unethical animal encounter many people are finally discovering the horrors of.

Popular in countries like Thailand, Indonesia, India, and Sri Lanka, elephant riding is not only detrimental to the elephant’s happiness and health, it can sometimes be quite dangerous for the tourist.

Need some more convincing on why you shouldn’t ride elephants? Here’s an in-depth article you need to read.

Taking Selfies with Tigers

Did you know it’s popular to visit so-called “tiger sanctuaries” in various countries (mainly Thailand) to take pictures with caged tigers?

And while you might be thinking, “Hey! That’s not safe!”

You’re completely right.

Which is why most of the time the tigers are drugged to sh*t and can’t even function enough to stand. I wouldn’t call that an ethical animal encounter, would you?

A few other places around the world offer bottle-feeding and cuddling with baby tigers, which might be even worse than taking selfies with sedated tigers.


Because a lot of the time these adorable babies are malnourished and kept on the bottle for too long, forcing them to turn to humans for food. Not to mention that when they get older they’re pretty much discarded like garbage, often being turned over to hunters to be killed.

Case in point: leave the tigers alone, as well as any other animals for your weird photo purposes.

Watching Horse Racing

Now, hear me out. I get that horse racing is a popular thing to watch in many countries, especially the United Kingdom… but (you knew there was going to be a but), it’s horrendous.

Many horse riders claim that they absolutely love their horses but if you loved someone or something, why would you put it through the torture of having a metal bar through his or her mouth?

Or allowing it to endure the painfulness of being ridden under an uncomfortable saddle that digs into their body?

There’s nothing ethical about horse racing (especially when they brutally shoot a horse once it becomes unable to race).

Still don’t believe me? Check out this video on why horse racing is an unethical animal experience:

Whale Watching

While whale watching can most definitely be an ethical animal experience, just like the one I had in Puerto Vallarta, most of the time it is sadly not.

Many whale watching trips involve the boats literally chasing down whales and radioing to other boats, only to have them swarm the whales in order for tourists to get just a peek.

Not only is this extremely stressful to the whales, or any creature at all for that matter (I mean, who’d want to be chased down by boats, right?), it can be really dangerous.

What happens if the boat runs right over the whale? Or the motor hits a whale tale?

There is a way to do whale watching responsibly though! Which you can read more about here.

Going to the Zoo or Aquarium

Zoos are some of the most unethical places on earth. There's nothing cool or ethical about keeping sentient beings in cages.

Animals in captivity? ‘Nuff said.

There’s nothing cool or ethical about visiting animals in a zoo or aquarium. While it might be fun for you, it’s most definitely not fun for the animals, who no doubt want to be out in the wild with the rest of their kind.

Big Game (Trophy) Hunting

…Or hunting at all for that matter.

There’s nothing ethical about killing another living creature, right? No responsible or ethical traveler would support big game hunting (or hunting).

If you want to see big game animals, put down the gun and go on an ethical game drive (safari) or something.

Swimming with Dolphins

Swimming with dolphins is nothing more than exploiting a beautiful creature for your own gain -- one of the most popular unethical animal encounters today.

Be honest… if you went swimming out into the ocean and a dolphin happened to pop up, do you truly believe it would start swimming with you and pulling you along like a rope?

Probably not.

Which is why most, if not all, dolphins humans are “allowed” to swim with are kept in captivity. They don’t willingly swim with humans because, hello, they want to be out in the big, wide ocean swimming with their own pals.

Not to mention dolphins are typically caged in way too small pools and might not be fed if they refuse to play along with pesky tourists.

Here’s a horrifying statement from one dolphin trainer in the Bahamas regarding captive females and their babies:

“Some female dolphins prevented their new babies from breathing – by stopping them from coming to the surface. The trainer, who isn’t a scientist, said he and his colleagues deduced the mothers did this because they didn’t want their babies to ‘live in captivity.'”

Cage-Diving with Sharks

Although you might think this is an ethical animal encounter, nothing could be further from the truth.

While cage-diving with sharks is technically in “the wild”, there’s been many and more rumors floating around that most of the time the sharks are baited before divers make they dip below the sea.

This means that the sharks come to see humans as a food source, thus, they might not understand or fully grasp how to actually get their own food for themselves.

See where I’m going with this?

If a shark doesn’t actually know how to hunt, how the heck is it going to survive if, let’s say, the cage-diving company goes under and doesn’t come back to feed it?

It’s an awful circle that can only end one way. Hence, don’t go cage-diving with sharks because you have no idea how the heck they came to be there in the first place.

You can read more about this here.

Animal-Poop Coffee Plantations

Animal poop coffee subjects cute creatures to torturous cages, a malnourished life, and nothing but sadness.

Now you might be thinking, what the heck? Who would drink animal-poop coffee?

But despite sounding absolutely disgusting, it’s extremely popular in many Asian countries to drink coffee made from coffee beans that have went through the digestive system of small animals.

Called “kopi luwak”, the coffee beans go through an animal called the civet, which is a small, cat-like creature that’s totally adorable.

So, why is this unethical?

Because these cute little guys are kept in unsanitary, too-tiny-for-comfort cages and are usually only fed coffee cherries — which provide little to no nutrition.

Not cool.

Now Kopi Luwak coffee is mainly found in Bali and other parts of Indonesia, but in Vietnam you’ll find weasel coffee. Still just as horrific and awful as Kopi Luwak, they’re treated like things that can make someone money, rather than living beings.

Just be a normal person and drink a normal cup of coffee made from normal beans, okay? It’s not hard.

Visiting the Circus (with Animals)

Just as you wouldn’t ride elephants or swim with dolphins, why would you pay for an event where animals like lions, tigers, camels, and even more elephants are exploited for entertainment?

Most of the time, circus acts and trainers are cruel in the ways they train an animal to perform. It may or may not (probably may) involve whipping, beating with bullhooks, being forced to stand on their heads, and subject to uncomfortable, stressful situations.

Even worse, most circus animals are bred in captivity (likely forced to breed, as well, which could pretty much be considered rape).

And when they’re not doing a circus? Heading off on long truck journeys in small, compact cages packed with oodles and oodles of shit, sweat, and grossness.

If you pay to see a circus that involves animals, you’re paying for the exploitation and torture of them, too.

Taking Part in the Running of the Bulls

Bullfighting and running with the bulls is one of the most popular sports where humans get off from watching an animal die. Not ethical, whatsoever.

Another awful, unethical animal experience to be avoided, the Running of the Bulls is a popular attraction that gets my blood boiling.

Strictly for the entertainment of humans, bull running (and bullfighting) is cruel and perhaps the most well-known “sport” where people get off from watching an animal die.

In the running of the bulls, not only are they subject to severe stress by having to run through crowded streets and jeering spectators, they’re essentially chased into a bullfighting ring that awaits torture and death.

Not to mention this type of activity can be quite dangerous for humans as well. Over the years, many matadors (the guys who perform for the crowds and “master” the bulls) have been severely injured or even died.

Thus, it’s time to put this barbaric “sport” to rest and move onto something a bit more ethical, such as this mind-blowing 9-day Galápagos adventure or this Uganda and gorilla journey.

Animal Riding of Any Sorts

Whether it’s a horse, camel, donkey, or buffalo, no animal wants to be ridden by an annoying — possibly overweight — human.

While many know the horrors of elephant riding, which can be learned more about in this video, few look at riding any other animal the same way — especially horses.

It’s just plain old exploitation to ride an animal of any kind. You wouldn’t want to be ridden, right? So why do it to another creature?

Horse-Drawn Carriage Rides

While horse-drawn carriage rides might seem ethical, there most certainly not. This horse lies on the ground, exhausted and overworked; closer to death than life.

Just as no animal wants to be ridden, no animal — especially a horse — wants to lug an entire family around behind it.

In places like New York, the Gili Islands in Indonesia, New Orleans, the Pyramids in Egypt, and even Colorado, you’ll find the option to do a horse-drawn carriage ride.

Not only is this lazy (like, hello, you have two legs. Walk, dude.), it’s damn near torture for the horse. Here are a few reasons why horse-drawn carriage rides are an unethical animal experience:

  • They have to carry around hundreds of pounds in sometimes unforgiving weather, like the heat of New York in the summer and the crisp winters of Colorado.
  • Who likes having a piece of uncomfortable metal in their mouth? Not me. And not a horse.
  • Many horses are killed when they can’t pull a carriage any longer. It’s like the equivalent of killing off your granny when she no longer has the ability to bake you cookies anymore… unimaginable, right?
  • They get serious stressed out, as any animal would in a hectic city, such as NYC or New Orleans.
  • A lot of the time, horses will have severe leg problems from walking around on hard pavement 24/7.

Case in point: use your legs and let the horses be.

Getting a Fish Pedicure

This is not only disgusting, as many fish pedicure tanks are dirty and filled with all kinds of nasty germs, it’s also cruel.

Although this type of animal encounter doesn’t cross many’s minds of being “unethical,” what do you think happens to the fish?

Like many forms of animal exploitation for money, they get tossed out once they’re done being used. Not cool.

Touching Any Sort of Wild Animals

Touching any wild animals is far from ethical when you think about it. They don't want to be pet, cuddled, or scratched. Leave 'em be.

Ever see a movie where a snake charmer is charming tourists by charming his snake? Yeah, that really happens — and not just to snakes, either. Locals will do anything to get the attention (and money) from curious tourists.

From snakes and monkey to bears (yes, bears) and lions, there are so many places in the world where you can pay to touch and handle these beautiful animals.

But when you pay for this, you’re essentially paying for the captivity and torture of the animal, as many are kept in tiny cages and either tortured or starved to make sure they stay loyal to their “owner.”

Buying Souvenirs Made from Animals

A sign promoting these shoes are made from real leather... which is completely unnecessary and definitely an unethical animal experience.

We’ve all heard that poachers target elephants for their tusks to make ivory products, but what about all the other souvenirs made from animals?

Why do we shun ivory but happily buy things made from leather, silk, feathers, fur, and even medicines made with animal by-products?

It’s not cool. And it’s surely not something an animal lover would do.

Eating Animals and Animal By-Products

An adorable baby cow awaits its fate of either being slaughtered or subject to a life of constant rape, birth, and milking. The only ethical diet out there in the world is veganism. Give it a try!
How could you eat this cute little baby? Or steal his milk?

Let’s get one thing straight: if you thought to yourself, “I’d never do anything to on this list!” while reading what’s mentioned above, you shouldn’t be eating animals or animal by-products either.

It’s just plain hypocritical.

I know, I know. My preachy vegan side is showing its face again but there’s nothing “animal-loving” about exploiting beautiful, living creatures just to satisfy your tastebuds.

We’re a species that can survive — and thrive — on a plant-based diet. Thus, there’s absolutely no need to eat anything that is or comes from an animal! Isn’t that awesome?!

Even better, nowadays, with all the vegan substitutes, you’re literally not missing out on anything food-wise. There’s vegan mock meats, vegan ice cream, vegan junk food, vegan cheese, and more. The vegan food world is so abundant nowadays! It’s amazing.

So, if you’re ready to do the world even more good by not only not participating in anything on this list, stop eating animals and give veganism a try!

Even if it’s just for a week or a month, you’ll have a significant impact on not only how many lives you’ll be saving (literally), you’ll have a positive impact on the environment and your health. Win-win!

And if you’re curious why you should go (or try) veganism, check out these videos:

Have any other unethical animal encounters that should be added to the list? Or want to share your thoughts on this blog post? Head down to the comments below and share!

Sophie xx

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Thinking of doing some travel intertwined with a few awesome animal experiences? Here are the most unethical animal encounters you need to avoid if you're an "animal lover." | #ethical #unethical #ethicaltravel #responsibletravel #sustainable #sustainability #sustainabletravel #travel #tips
Think you're an animal lover? Here's a big fat list of unethical animal experiences you could be participating in that says otherwise! | #responsibletravel #sustainabletravel #ethical #ethicaltravel #unethical #animal #travel #tips

Psst. As mentioned above, this post contains affiliate links! Which means that if you make a purchase through one of the links above, The Wanderful Me receives a small commission at no extra cost to you. This helps us to continue bringing you wanderful inspiration! Read our full disclosure here.

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