Recent news of inhumane treatment of animals at tourist attractions has left many tourists wondering how they can ethically interact with animals. From the harmful lion cub cuddling and elephant riding to the more horrific allegations facing Thailand’s Tiger Temple, it can be difficult to sort the right from the wrong. Fortunately, there are quite a few places where visitors can ethically interact with animals.
Pig Beach, Bahamas
No one knows how a group of pigs (that are not native to the area) ended up on an uninhabited island in the Bahamas, but behold, this island oddity exists. Visitors to the island can swim with the pigs, sunbathe with them, and feed them snacks. The pigs roam freely on the island, but have grown quite fond of humans (who usually come bearing treats). If you go, consider a morning trip when the beach isn’t so busy—the pigs may even run from the beach and swim out to greet you!
Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
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This award-winning elephant rehabilitation center is a treat for any visitor looking to interact with these gentle giants. Elephant Nature Park rescues and rehabilitates elephants, and visitors can learn about the elephants’ stories, feed them, and walk them to the river for their daily bath. In addition, Elephant Nature Park is helping to show that an increasing number of visitors are interested in visiting only humane, ethical animal interactions. So a visit to Elephant Nature Park not only helps the elephants under their care, but also helps guide Thailand’s elephant industry in a more humane direction.
The Giraffe Center, Kenya
The Giraffe Center in Nairobi began as a rehabilitation program for the Rothschild Giraffe, and is now a magical place where visitors can hand-feed these long-necked creatures. You’ll stand on a raised platform, eye-to-eye with the inquisitive animals, and feed them food pellets. If you’ve got the time and the funds, the swoon-worthy Giraffe Manor hotel is a once in a lifetime experience. Guests of the Giraffe Manor will dine and lounge while giraffes poke their heads through the many windows of the hotel—a truly unique and breathtaking experience.
Crystal River National Wildlife Refuge, Florida, USA
In Florida’s winter months, manatees flock inland to Crystal River in search of warmer waters. The refuge, dedicated specifically to the protection of the endangered Florida manatee, is one of only a few places where it is legal to swim alongside manatees. These slow-moving sea cows are gentle and majestic. Visitors are allowed to snorkel near the manatees, interacting with them only when the animal chooses to approach the human.
Monkey Beach, Thailand
The monkeys here are friendly and mischievous. They come and go from the beach as they please and often steal food, sunglasses, and other small items from tourists, so keep an eye on your things. Also refrain from feeding the monkeys—this makes them aggressive toward humans, and that’s not the point of this unique interaction. In addition to the wild monkeys, the beach is a beautiful gem complete with steep jutting cliffs, white sand, and crystal clear water. You can take a boat, water taxi, or kayak to the beach, and avoid the tour boats by visiting early in the morning or late afternoon.The above suggestions are by no means the only ethical places to interact with animals. If you’re visiting a wild animal interaction not on this list, just make sure you do your research before visiting.