Recently, the news flared up again through some shocking videos from the NOS and NU.nl. Abusing elephants for the benefit of the tourism industry in Thailand continues, because people keep paying for it… Meanwhile, I still see a lot of people in my immediate environment go to Curaçao go on holiday to go swimming with captive dolphins. That is still possible there, because the laws there are still primitive.
This is no longer possible in the Netherlands, so you would expect that people would know better, after all, we are a well-informed people. There have been numerous campaigns on TV in recent years to stop the exploitation and abuse of animals.
The dolphinarium has also been given an ultimatum. They have not been allowed to buy new dolphins or orcas for years, because the mistreatment that precedes this is simply no longer acceptable. In a few years, the dolphinarium will no longer exist in The Netherlands.
A mistake is easily made
Of course everyone makes mistakes. I myself did stupid things a long time ago, of which you will see some examples below. That said, I will also try to explain in this article at the same time why I will therefore never book activities with animals in captivity† Not with dolphins, elephants, tigers or whatever. I will explain to you in an honest way where and why we have sometimes made the wrong choices (and learned from them). Hopefully it will help you make the right choices.
Group trip to Thailand with Kras
Fourteen years ago we made our first trip to Thailand with the Dutch travel company Kras. It was a complete arranged group trip where we o elephant rides makes a in the picture went with monkeys and tigers. Many people, including us, were already asking questions. Is this okay? We were assured several times at the time that the animals were well cared for and that there were good reasons why the animals had to live in captivity. There was no reason to doubt this. Without help, these animals wouldn't be able to survive, so in a way you were doing the animals a favour, we were told.
The elephant rides
For example, the elephants we rode on were 'old retired forest workers', who had spent years working hard in the woods dragging logs through the jungle. The elephants knew no better than to work for humans. The elephants were now retired, and keeping them busy with tourists was the best way to keep the elephants fit and vital. They couldn't go back into the wild (understandably), so they were used for tourists as a form of occupational therapy. Sounds logical.
So off we went, taking a nice ride on the elephants. Everything for the best photo. Finally, a 'nice show' where the elephants showed all kinds of tricks. It was a nice experience, but in hindsight I really think…. how in god's name could we accept this at the time?
Knowing what I know now, I really wouldn't have done this 14 years ago. I regret it.
Swimming with dolphins on Curaçao
Curaçao is of course a very popular travel destination among the Dutch. And unfortunately, one of the biggest animal abuses you can imagine still takes place there: swimming with dolphins in captivity. Keeping dolphins in captivity is real not done for so many different reasons...
Yet people keep doing it, because they are so sweet… They do nice tricks for you and dolphins look happy, they smile at you. They think…
Apparently many people still don't realize how these parks get the dolphins. Or they don't care, which I think is even worse.
Everyone knows the cute dolphin'Pinball' from TV, but hardly anyone knows that Flipper the dolphin just committed suicide and that his owner (also the actor in the series) has since then devoted his entire life to protecting and releasing dolphins.
And Flipper's suicide is no exception, it's more common. It's not just the dolphin suicide rate that's shocking.
Know that for every dolphin you swim with and have your picture taken with, hundreds or thousands are being speared each year. This still happens in 2021 and during this hunt they pick a few every time which are sold to seedy parks such as the one in Curaçao.
The TV star who worked with Flipper regrets so much about working on the TV series (which made swimming with dolphins immensely popular) that after the suicide of his dolphin Kathy (Flipper), he devoted an entire documentary to it . There are some really nasty images in the documentary that I will spare you. I do recommend that you watch this short explainer video that summarizes the story.
In short: with everything we now know about dolphins, swimming with dolphins is simply no longer acceptable. Just stop and argue for the closure of these types of parks.
Whalesharks in the Philippines
Unfortunately, things can also go wrong 'in the wild', as we soon discovered in the Philippines in 2014. Although the Whale Sharks swam there in the open sea, it was an experience that we hope never to experience again.
At 6 o'clock in the morning we went out to sea with up to 500 people at the same time on small boats. We had not foreseen beforehand that it was such a gigantic operation, we thought we would go to whalesharks with about 10 men, but nothing could be further from the truth.
It was chaos. There was a lot of feeding and some whale sharks came to it. With hundreds of people at the same time we had to jump off the boats into the water, we crawled like crazy around the whale sharks, resulting in many collisions.
At the time I was quite fit and a good snorkeler. With my good flippers I could swim well under the whalesharks with some ease, without getting really close. There I made a beautiful selfie with one of the whalesharks, you would think nothing wrong.
But unfortunately not everyone was so fit and respectful. There were places where everyone kicked each other, often in direct contact with the whale sharks. Collision after collision. It was unbelievable.
Looking back on the experience, it mostly felt like exploitation of the animals. A huge cash cow where they sold thousands of tickets every morning. We actually didn't see this coming. Badly informed? Yes. Short-sighted? Probably. But we have certainly learned from it. This wasn't going to happen to us again.
Visiting an aquarium – don't do it
And then there's another common animal exploitation: an Aquarium. You will find an aquarium in every major city. Barcelona, Kuala Lumpur, Riga, you name them. They are often also in the top 10 of fun things to do on Tripadvisor…
Don't be tempted to pay 20 euros or more to visit these tourist-only attractions. The animals live in bins too small. Sharks and dolphins have to make do with tanks of several meters while in the wild they need miles of space to survive. Just don't participate† Those Aquariums are only there because you pay for them. Stop visiting these kind of idiotic sights.
Sustainable activities with animals
Visiting animals in captivity, we just really have to stop. Teach your kids to love animals in a different way. Does this mean you can never see the animals again? No absolutely not. The big difference is only that you have some have to put in more effort. You can also see the Whalesharks in the Philippines while diving, without anyone trying to lure them with a bowl of food. You have to put in a little more effort and be lucky to actually see them, but it's definitely possible.
You can spot dolphins in the wild in countless places around the world. The Azores, Croatia, Greece, and so on. All you need is a speedboat, and a little luck.
Go on Safari in Africa
For Elephants and lions you can visit the nature of South Africa† The Kruger Park and surrounding parks is as large as the surface of the Netherlands and has the complete big five to spot. Only because of the large surface you will have to make more effort to actually see them all. Do not spend an hour in the zoo, but a few days.
Go Whalewatching in the Azores
You can spot whales, orcas and dolphins not in the dolphinarium† Spotting these beautiful animals, you do that on a sustainable way on the open sea, for example at the Portuguese islands: the Azores† No walls, no nets or fences, just in the wild. Annoying? Yes, of course. But it is well worth the money and effort. It's one of the coolest things I've experienced in my life. Spotting a blue whale in the Azores.
Nothing makes you feel better than seeing a group of enthusiastic jumping dolphins around you, in the wild. Swimming and jumping with the speedboat as long as they like it, and leave again when they have had enough. As it should. I took the photo above myself, and I still get a smile on my face when I think about it. What great animals.
Use your common sense
Use your common sense. If it looks like something isn't right, then that is often the case† Do you have to pay a hefty price to see animals that don't live in the wild? Then think three times before committing. Or let me make it easier for you: turn around and walk away. Motivate people around you to think about this too.
A day with the whole family at the Dolfinarium because you get a discount from the Kruidvat? Just say no!