How animal lovers (don’t) travel

Animal Protection while traveling

What to pay attention to?

Often animal-loving travelers would like to have a lot of contact with the local fauna at their destinations. Regardless of whether they are traveling as a tourist or as a volunteer, on a working holiday or as a language student, many choose their travel destination specifically for the local wildlife.

For the animals or for Instagram?
Our popular sea turtle project in Costa Rica puts it very aptly: “Do volunteer work because you want to help the animals. Not because you want a great selfie with the animals.”

That's exactly how we think at South America Inside. Sure, volunteering with animals produces great photos, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, this aspect should not be the motivation for you to be a volunteer.

Unfortunately, this is the case with many trips abroad: be it rides on elephants in Thailand, on camels in Morocco or on donkeys in Santorini. The donkeys are supposed to carry only 20% of their own weight, about 50 kg, but you can often find tourists of 100 kg and more on their backs. Many carriage horses do not fare much better at popular tourist locations. Swimming with dolphins in the Caribbean, a snake around your neck in Brazil or a parrot on your shoulder on a Caribbean beach are also very popular with tourists - but none of the animals that end up in a photo like this would do any of these voluntarily in the wild.

The don'ts of true animal lovers
“I went swimming with rays in Mexico! I pet very cute little turtles! And by the pool in the hotel there was a great, colorful parrot sitting on a perch. It greeted us every day and it even spoke English!”
"I did a llama hike on the Inca Trail while guiding the llama."
"I saw a really great dolphin show, it's amazing what they do!"

Such and similar enthusiasm can be heard after every holiday season. Have you thought about what the dolphins, the rays, the turtles, the parrots, the llamas, the donkeys, or horses, etc. think of it? Probably most feel more like the movie character Nemo in the "grab pit" after unsuccessfully trying to hide from the grabbing hands of children and other tourists.

For example, the Inca Trail is a great hike without a llama, and in many places in South America you can see llamas and their relatives like alpacas and guanacos, and even flamingos or Ñandus and other native animals out of the car window or on hikes. There they get the exercise and freedom they need, and nobody bothers them.
Speaking of exercise: For most animals, this is extremely important to avoid developing psychological damage and behavioral problems.

  • Zoos and wildlife parks all over the world are therefore a no-go for us. In no enclosure, no matter how spacious, do the animals have the space they really need. Many have a habitat of many square kilometers in the wild. When our own "liberty" was curtailed during the Corona period, we could imagine a little how such animals might feel. Not to mention migratory birds and marine mammals that travel hundreds or even thousands of kilometers. That leads us to the second no-go:
  • Animal shows, be it dolphin shows, circus acts, animal fights of any kind, or snake charmers on the street, no animal performs such feats of its own free will. And: Before and after the show, these animals are not kept in a species-appropriate manner either.
  • It is also not species-appropriate to cuddle with wild animals, no matter how cute they may be. Only domestic animals do that. For the sake of the animals, you should stay away from cute lion cubs or other fur balls with beady eyes that belong in the savannah or the jungle and not in a cage.

How do you do it right?
And how do I get species-appropriate wildlife experiences, many then ask. There are actually quite a few very good options out there for true animal lovers. The magic formula is: DO NOT DISTURB!

On birdwatching tours, you can use binoculars to observe the birds in their natural habitat from afar. This is like a well-done safari: animal-friendly safaris can be recognized by the fact that they do not disturb the animals, do not feed them, do not follow them, do not rush them. A respectful distance and amazement from afar do not diminish the experience of nature, on the contrary: It shows you the animals as they really are when nobody is stressing them, whether on the classic safari to "the Big 5" in Africa, pumas in Patagonia, monkeys in the Amazon or dolphins in the Caribbean.

Volunteering in well-organized animal welfare projects is a great way to get actively involved in animal welfare. Here you can do something for animals in need, get (sometimes even) close to them and get to know their natural habitat. Volunteers who care for animals that have experienced severe trauma, are injured or have been abused show a special heart here.

What do we pay attention to?
At South America Inside, we carefully select our animal projects. In animal welfare centers such as sanctuaries for wild animals, animal shelters for street dogs/cats or sea turtle projects, we ensure that:

  • Release (wild animals) or adoption (pets) is the ultimate goal.
  • Only animals that are too traumatized or injured that they can no longer be released into the wild stay at the centers.
  • The animals that remain in the centers are kept as species appropriate as possible: With as much space as possible, a natural environment, balanced nutrition, little contact with people (unless they are former pets that need to be cuddled).

The best way to ensure this on an ongoing basis is through the valuable testimonials from our volunteers. For almost 20 years, our volunteers have been telling us about their experiences in our animal welfare projects throughout Latin America. If something is "not right" in the project and animal welfare is not the top priority, we intervene.

If you are an animal lover and would like to help animals in need or protect endangered species, look at our diverse animal welfare projects in Latin America.

We would be happy to help you find the right volunteer project at your dream destination. Just contact us!