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Where To See Animals In The World… Ethically

Nick Nomi

Senior Contributor

According to a study published by World Animal Protection, three out of four wildlife tourist attractions involve some form of cruelty. And while not trying to place blame with tourists, figures like this do make sour reading. But kinder, ethical alternatives do exist. So instead of riding elephants, why not volunteer to help them? Instead of a zoo, why not go on safari in a rehabilitated shooting concession in Africa…. or perhaps somewhere a little closer to home?

A Safari… in The Carpathian Mountains

The word safari so easily conjures images of hazy African sunsets punctuated by the silhouettes of wildebeest grazing on the Serengeti. But the fabulous European Safari Company seeks to change our perspectives by taking travellers into some of Europe’s wildest destinations, to spot everything from bears and bison through to jackals, wolves and vultures.

Hiking along the wild Parcu Mountains in the southern Carpathians to track the recently reintroduced bison (back for the first time in 200 years by Rewilding Europe & WWF Romania) is the most captivating option from the trips offered. Highlights include the rural accommodation and cuisine, knowledgable local guides and cinematic vistas of intensely romantic mountain landscapes— as well as the opportunity to spot some furry brown bears. And each trip supports local communities through ambitious rewilding projects.

The Carpathian Mountains are a great setting for a European safari

Credit: Cornelia Dörr

Rescued Elephants In Thailand

After varying degrees of backlash for elephant abuse, many of Thailand’s hi-profile resorts are now attempting to act as a refuge for these incredible, noble animals. But many wildlife foundations believe that not enough is being done — with even the most highly respected efforts still allowing activities like elephant riding, which Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit (WildCRU) found to be one of the world’s cruellest “animal attractions”.

But a more ethical alternative to traditional elephant experiences exists in rural Chiang Rai — a habitat for a small group of elephants rescued from the tourism industry that can’t be returned to the wild for one reason or another. With that in mind, Elephant Valley Thailand is a real haven for rescued elephants. A place where they can roam freely and behave naturally, playing amongst themselves without stress, where humans can watch but not interact. But anyone wanting a more hands-on experience can volunteer with World Animal Protection to help out and learn more about the efforts at the reserve. 

Elephant Valley

Credit: Raissa Lara-Lutof

A Rehabilitated Landscape

Once a hunting concession, the Sapi Explorers Camp is now a vast expanse of land dedicated to the rehabilitation of both land and animals — and a pure, photographic safari destination for the more conscientious traveller. And this vast expanse of wilderness is some of the most dramatic in Zimbabwe, with the traditional African safari camp settled along the unspoiled banks of the river Sapi, with large tents adorned with rustic wooden furniture, atmospheric lanterns and bucket showers.

The camp, along with the stunning Mana Pools National Park, makes up a UNESCO World Heritage Site that is home to an impressive breadth of animals including elephants, lions, leopards, buffalo, zebras and hundreds of bird species.

Cliffside bird nests at Sapi Explorers Camp

Credit: Sapi Reserve Zimbabwe

A Safe Space for Orangutans

Increasing news coverage and reaction to heartbreaking images and video is steadily increasing awareness of the issues that orangutans face in the wild. Thankfully, organisations such as the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation (BOSF) exist and have rescued more than 2000 orangutans since its inception in 1991, with the goal of releasing them back into the wild, while providing a haven for those that must remain in captivity.

One such haven is at Samboja Lestari in Indonesia, where BOSF has restored a tropical rainforest by planting more than a million trees with climbing frames to help the orangutans live a more natural life (research by WWF, estimates that 56% of Kalimantan’s — Indonesian Borneo — protected lowland tropical rainforests were lost to the timber industry between 1985 and 2001). There’s an on-site lodge for anyone wanting to gain a first-hand perspective of the preservation efforts.

Wild orangutan in Borneo, Indonesia

Credit: Luca Ambrosi

Wild Mountain Gorillas in Uganda

The most recent mountain gorilla census found that there are now 1004 mountain gorillas left in the wild (an improvement of more than a hundred since 2010), and they are found in two groups living between a collection of national parks. One group treks through the dense forests of Uganda’s Bwindi Impenetrable Forest National Park, and the other along the mountains of the Mgahinga Gorilla National Park in Uganda, the Volcanoes National Park in Rwanda and the Southern Sector of the Virunga National Park in DRC.

But for anyone wanting to spot mountain gorillas in the wild, Uganda has the edge, as the unfathomably beautiful, UNESCO-listed Bwindi National Park is home to just under half of the world’s existing Gorilla population, while the rest in the Virunga Mountains are spread across three separate countries. A permit is required to track gorillas but a part of the profit from each permit goes towards research and conservation — including education for local communities, which with some effort, should ensure that the mountain gorilla population continues to grow long into the future. 

Mountain gorilla in Uganda

Credit: Leila Boujnane

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