For people who travel to central Africa, Thailand or other vacation spots, animal attractions are huge. Selling elephant rides, tiger selfies or making wild animals perform for the tourists is simply part of the economy. But a National Geographic report is revealing just how horrific the lives of those animals are.
“Meena is one of 10 show elephants,” wrote Kirsten Luce. “To be precise, she’s a painter. Twice a day, in front of throngs of chattering tourists, [a staffer] puts a paintbrush in the tip of her trunk and presses a steel nail to her face to direct her brushstrokes as she drags primary colours across paper. Often he guides her to paint a wild elephant in the savanna. Her paintings are then sold to tourists.”
When Meena is older and incapable of performing anymore, she’ll carry tourists on her back. Then she’ll die. If she’s lucky, she’ll get a year or so in retirement. Her entire life will be spent chained up in a small cell like a prisoner. When she first came to the company, she tried to run away. But her handlers said she’d been more well-behaved since they started using spiked chains.
The report featured a series of photos of tourists sitting behind a tiger laying on the ground. Around its neck is a collar attached to a chain. That chain is so short that the tiger can’t stand up. Sometimes they’re drugged. Some of the parks clip the tips of the paws of the tigers to ensure it doesn’t grow claws and harm tourists desperate for the perfect vay-kay shot for Instagram.
The same is true for dolphins in Brazil, where tourists surround the poor porpoise dangling a fish.
Twice as many trips are taken today than 15 years ago specifically for animal tourism. “Their selfies—of swims with dolphins, encounters with tigers, rides on elephants, and more—are viral advertising for attractions that tout up-close experiences with animals,” Luce wrote.
From polar bears to whales to wolves and every animal in between, animal tourism exists all for the precious photo people can post on social media to make their lives look more important than they really are. Meanwhile, the animals they smile with are being stabbed with nails, chained to the floor, tranquilized or worse.