One of my goals this year is to use this platform to write about some of the tougher issues in travel and the world that mean something to me. I feel I may be one of the many people who have found a new love for activism over the past few months, perhaps a bit of positivity that has come out of the changes south of the Canadian border.
So when I was notified of a missed #CultureTrav twitter chat hosted by the lovely Nicolette Orlemans and Jessica Lipowski, I was bummed I missed it, but at the same time inspired to write about the topic from the chat.
I have to admit, I’ve really changed my views in this area over the past couple of years. I think it’s been a combination of becoming a vegan and just reading a lot on animal welfare around the world. I started viewing animals differently, realizing they should have a right to simply live out their lives in peace and freedom. So I took a few of the questions from the chat and added my answers. I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below!
Q: How do you think wildlife and culture intersect?
A: I definitely feel that wildlife and culture should intersect in such a way that both are supported and respected. Valuing life, whether it be that of a human or animal above profit and entertainment can go a long way towards ensuring a healthy wildlife-culture balance. I have to say the best place I saw this in action was in Costa Rica. It really felt like a peaceful co-existence between culutre and wildlife. It wasn’t unusual to see wild horses walking along a road or beach, or howler monkeys in trees close to where people were living. Of course it wasn’t perfect – I remember seeing a baby monkey lying dead on the road due to electrocution from the wires above. I think it would be challenging to have perfection, but I think a lot of other countries could make improvements.
Q: Give a shout-out to organizations and companies you applaud for supporting conservation. What sets them apart?
A: There are a couple of conservation organizations I support. In elephant sanctuaries, I follow both Elephant Nature Park and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee, and both take a slightly different approach to animal protection.
Elephant Nature Park in Northern Thailand is where Lek, her husband Derrick and team (including volunteers) rescue elephants and other animals from lives of captivity, work and entertainment, to a life of freedom at the sanctuary. They post numerous videos about the work they do, including the journey and elephant will take getting to the sanctuary. They also provide education on elephants and their right to live a free life. Their place is open to volunteers who can spend a day or extended period of time time at the sanctuary helping to care for the elephants.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee also takes in elephants who have lived hard lives at the hands of humans and allows them to live out their days in freedom. Their approach is different in that they try to duplicate an elephant’s natural habitat as much as possible, which doesn’t involve interaction with people (aside from the sanctuary workers). They don’t allow visitors or volunteers to interact with the elephants, but fans can watch them in their natural habitat through live, online streaming.
I have a lot of respect for the work Mexico does in protecting the turtles that nest along their Riviera Maya coast and feed along the ocean reef. I recently read that Akumal beach is now closed for snorkeling due to tourist overcrowding that was having a negative effect on the health and habitat of the turtles. I have snorkeled in that very spot and have been in awe of the giant turtles feeding on the grasses growing from the ocean floor. And I would love to do it again, but not at their expense. I’m happy the Federal Environmental Protection Agency is keeping watch and has taken action with the health of the reef and marine wildlife in mind.
Q: How can we be mindful of wildlife while traveling? Share your tips!
A: The best way we can help wildlife is with our dollars (or pesos!). If you see baby tigers being used for photo opportunities in Mexico or elsewhere, don’t engage. They have been taken from the their mothers and are often drugged to be docile around tourists. The handlers continue to exploit wild animals because of demand – tourists are supporting them with their dollars. Don’t pay to see animals living in cages or aquariums, or being forced to perform. Seek out opportunities to see animals in their natural, beautiful environments. And if you want to do more, support the rescue organizations and sanctuaries that are working to save animals from being exploited with your voice and funds.
Thanks again to Nicole and Jessica for hosting #CultureTrav chat on Twitter each month! If you love travel and culture you may want to join the conversation around a different topic each month. Visit the CultureTrav website or do a search for #CultureTrav on Twitter.