Animal ethics might be important to responsible travellers.
In the best case, physical souvenirs, agritourism events and wildlife watching can support the local economy, and provide knowledge and awareness about animal life. In the worst case, they are produced through cruelty to animals, or exploitation of endangered species.
Treatment of animals is a classic among sensitive topics; criticism of practices such as bullfighting or hunting might be a taboo in countries and regions where they have strong traditional roots.
Wild animals are held captive and put on display for visitors by zoos, safari parks, circuses, animal shows and others. While zoos can contribute to the public knowledge and conservation of endangered species, there are nevertheless concerns about the welfare of captive animals at some institutions.
Although Western institutions market themselves on animal welfare, there are significant impacts on animals that either by nurture or nature find the restrictive conditions of a small enclosure or water area very distressing. Their plight can be seen in such documentaries as Blackfish highlighting inhumane conditions at Sea World.
There are many opportunities to have a live animal encounter in South East Asia, such as hugging a tiger. The animals are tranquilized. As doing this is very much harmful for them, it's best to stop such practices by not patronising these vendors.
Elephant riding and elephant shows are offered around Asia. As elephants are among the most difficult animals to handle in a responsible manner, and their welfare is difficult to certify, many travel agents no longer provide events with elephants.
In many countries, the majority of farm animals are treated very poorly; do your research if this concerns you. If you choose to avoid some or all animal products on your trip, see Travel as a vegetarian for advice.
Some zoos have a donation service for conservation of the hosted species.
Observing wildlife in the wild is less intrusive than holding animals captive as entertainment, but there are still concerns. Tourists want to get a close view without spending too much time waiting, which may mean the animals are given food, or that tourists are led too close to sensitive areas. On the other hand, restrictions on access may make it hard to get to some localities.
Although some wildlife can be easily observed, you should accept that viewing some requires luck, a lot of patience, and perhaps even much skill. Any short cut may have ethical problems.
Sanctuaries and nesting areas for migratory birds are frequently situated on remote islands or inaccessible corners of national parks where the road does not run; often these exclusion zones are closed to all but a token, tightly-controlled amount of scientific research. The number of visitors to particularly sensitive areas sometimes needs to be limited; the bird sanctuary at Machias Seal Island imposes a limit of fifteen voyagers at any one time. There are also less sensitive and more accessible locations, and unless you have a specific reason, you should consider them first.
Off-leash dogs may pursue deer or other wildlife; conversely, pets may need to be protected from wolves or dangerous animals. Most wild animals will take a defensive stance or retaliate if you come too close or stand between them and their offspring. Even small, timid species which would normally flee may scratch or bite if cornered.
Hunting and fishing are typically regulated to confine wildlife kills to specific seasons, limit the number of animals killed or restrain which species are targeted to protect endangered, threatened or at-risk populations. In some nations, criminal gangs support widespread illegal hunting (poaching) by providing a ready market to smuggle rhinoceros horns, tiger bones and parts or ivory from elephant tusks out of the country.
The dodo bird was first spotted by Dutch sailors on the island of Mauritius, east of Madagascar, in 1598. The bird had had few natural predators in its native habitat, but the introduction of sailors, their domesticated animals and invasive species brought predation and eventual extinction. The last verifiable dodo sighting was in 1662.
An invasive species can be either plant or animal, and can be either a pest or predator – or even a direct competitor for territory or food. Local species at risk of harm may be either plant or animal. While inspection is most likely to occur at border crossings, import restrictions on invasive species may be national, provincial (such as inspection of fruit entering California from other US states) or regional (such as restrictions on transporting firewood from forests infested with wood-eating insects into unaffected areas).
Captive animals should follow a set diet. Visitors should feed them only with the handlers' permission.
Feeding of wild animals such as birds can support them through a harsh season. The feed should be part of the animal's natural diet, instead of processed food such as bread. Beginning the feeding too early can make migratory birds stay, making them rely on the feeding and in worst case die in the weather they else would have avoided.
Feeding wildlife may cause them to trust humans instead of exercising caution or to venture into populated areas which they would have otherwise avoided. A bear which has learned to associate human settlements with sources of food is dangerous, while deer and other wildlife are vulnerable to animal collisions. Visitors feeding wildlife are often coming too close to animals or disturbing their native habitat. A merchant selling carrots to one voyager "to go feed these to the wild burros" is one thing, but a thousand visitors a day all doing the same thing? At some point, this does the poor, fattened animals no favours.
Some wildlife watching tours depend on food, to have the animals come close to the observers – whether the practice is responsible in the particular case remains open for questioning. Close-up photography can also be intrusive or dangerous; national parks do impose rules on disturbing wildlife and a hundred metres distance between budding photographers and large wildlife such as moose and bear is best for safety's sake.
Do not feed pigeons or other invasive animals.
Put out the feeds at times and locations where it is found by the species that need it, without overfeeding. Remaining feed will attract pests, such as rats. Feed in a pond or lake might disturb the water's biochemistry.
- See also: Hunting#Hunting trophies
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Many products from endangered species are banned from resale, import or export, an issue at border crossings. Various restrictions apply to the import and transportation of specific plant and animal species, including hunting trophies and items manufactured from these species (which may include whale teeth, ivory, tortoise shell, reptile, fur skins, coral, and birds). The European Union and national governments in 179 countries (including the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, USA, and Turkey) have imposed trade or import restrictions under the 1975 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).
Ivory and items made from ivory are widely banned (with very limited exemptions for antiquities), due to ongoing poaching of elephants which are killed for their tusks. Tiger populations are dwindling with animals in the wild at risk due to poaching; polar bear hides may require a specific permit for export.
Airlines are adopting stricter policies to refuse transportation of some hunting trophies, particularly the "big five" African large game animals - lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros or buffalo.