Bali has no ‘cruelty-free’ wildlife tourist attractions
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Bali has no ‘cruelty-free’ wildlife tourist attractions

ASK yourself this: Where is the mother of the tiger cub you’re cuddling?

If you can’t answer that, it’s because there’s a bleak reason being hidden by those who want to profit from animal exploitation.

Some animal centers exist under the guise of sanctuaries and shelters. It is where animals are kept in cruel conditions for the benefit of humans, a new study has revealed.

The Wildlife Abusement Park report conducted by World Animal Protection investigated 26 wildlife tourism venues across Bali, Lombok and Gili Trawangan, home to around 1,500 adorable animals. The results were less than cute.

SEE ALSO: Thai elephant polo tournament triggers animal rights row

According to the report, 100 percent of parks with captive elephants, tigers, dolphins or civet cats did not meet the basic needs of captive wild animals.

Four turtle venues were also investigated. One is an entertainment venue and the other three claim to be for conservation, yet none of them met basic standard needs of the animals. Other findings revealed dolphins had had their teeth pulled out or filed down to prevent hurting swimmers.

Despite this apparent ill-treatment and appalling living conditions, tourists are still flooding into these animal parks around Indonesia, with no signs of slowing down. Over 14 million international tourists visited Indonesia last year.


Tourists enjoy the sunset near the Hindu temple Tanah Lot in Tabanan, on the resort island of Bali, Indonesia May 6, 2018. Source: Reuters/Johannes P. Christo

Those from China, Singapore, Malaysia and Australia made up the high percentage of tourists.

And these figures are only set to grow, with a predicted 20 million international visitors reaching Indonesia’s shores by the end of the year. With this in mind, World Animal Protection leaped at the chance to educate travelers and reveal the disturbing truths about these venues, often viewed with rose-tinted glasses.

World Animal Protection senior campaign manager Ben Pearson said the report chose to investigate Bali as that’s where most visitors want to vacation.

“Behind the scenes, wild animals are being taken from their mothers as babies or bred in captivity to be kept in filthy, cramped conditions, or repeatedly forced to interact with tourists on end,” said Pearson.

“The most concerning thing about these findings is that all venues are inadequate.”

What are the abysmal living conditions?

• All dolphins live in severely inadequate conditions. One pool, estimated to be 10 by 20 meters and three meters deep, housed four bottlenose dolphins.

• Five of the 13 dolphins observed were seen to have signs of wounds, injuries, and diseases, including potential blindness, most likely caused by chlorinated water.

• All of the elephant venues offered elephant rides, which involves cruel training and exposes the elephants to stressful situations, increasing the risk of post-traumatic stress disorder.

• 100 percent of these sites used wooden or steel saddles, which are physically demanding on the animal.

• 51 percent of elephants observed had no possibility of tactile interaction with other elephants. As highly socially developed animals, isolation profoundly impacts captive elephants.

• Nearly 15 percent of the animals displayed stereotypes such as abnormal repetitive behaviors indicative of stress and suffering.

• All of the tigers observed lived in severely inadequate conditions; the most concerning aspect is the housing and space available to them.

• All venues with orangutans offered selfie experiences, which put humans and wildlife at risk.

• Only 15 percent of parks had one or more vets on site permanently while 46 percent relied on animal keepers to administer veterinary treatment.

Doing it for the ‘gram

The word “selfie” has made its way into the Oxford Dictionary, confirming it’s not just a fad, but a way of life. The desire to display every waking moment on social media isn’t a problem until it hurts others, which is the case for Bali’s captive animals.

“The growing demand for harmful wildlife selfies, shows and encounters is a serious animal welfare issue in Bali and surrounding islands,” Pearson added.


An orangutan named “Jacky”, who originated in Borneo, is pictured during celebrations marking his 38th birthday at Bali Zoo in Gianyar on the Indonesian resort island on September 4, 2015. Orangutans, native to Borneo as well as Indonesia’s Sumatra island, are faced with extinction from poaching and the rapid destruction of their forest habitat, driven largely by land clearance for palm oil and paper plantations. Source: Sonny Tumbelaka/ AFP

In the case of elephants and orangutans, two very intelligent species, their spirits are broken to establish dominance and get them to submit to human interaction. Wildcats are often drugged, declawed and beaten into submission for tourist entertainment and a few more likes on Instagram.

Following the rise of this ignorant and cruel trend, Instagram has taken steps to educate users about the severity of their selfies.

At the start of the year, Instagram took a stance against these hashtags:

  • #elephantride
  • #elephantselfie
  • #tigerselfie
  • #slothselfie

For those wanting to view images with these tags, the search page gives users the chance to “learn more, “cancel” or “show posts.”

How can you help?

World Animal Protection CEO Steve McIvor said, “If you can ride, hug or have a selfie with a wild animal; then it’s cruel – don’t do it, no matter how many ‘likes’ it will get on social media.”

The organisation is encouraging travelers to boycott any companies that encourage and support cruel venues.

“I’ve always been able to recommend non- exploitative venues with good welfare standards. It’s horrendous that there isn’t one venue I can recommend on Bali, Lombok and Gili Trawangan,” McIvor added.

A version of this article originally appeared on our sister website Travel Wire Asia.