Drinking Tea with Naughty Sheep the Ethical Way

It’s no surprise that an encounter with an exotic animal ranks high on the bucket list of many travelers. Unfortunately, the desire for a unique travel experience, such as taking a selfie with exotic animals like bengal tigers, is often put before the well-being of the animals that are so adored by tourists. Airbnb, a travel company that offers lodging and tourism experiences, recently added Animal Experiences to its dossier of travel fun in hopes of promoting ethical animal tourism. With Airbnb’s Animal Experiences, travelers across the world can create unique and wholesome memories while knowing that the animals they interact with are well taken care of. 

According to the travel company’s website, this brand new category of Airbnb Experiences will “allow people to better understand animals through caring, expert hosts and set a new standard for animal tourism.” So far, there are 1,000 different experiences hosted by over 300 species and their human advocates—experiences range from paddleboarding with corgis in the pristine waters of Florida to discovering arctic foxes in Iceland. 

Animal Experiences offers a fresh and ethical way to connect with animals from all around the world. People can meet exotic or domestic animals in environments that allow for gentle and careful observation in order to provide a deeper, more meaningful connection that goes far beyond obnoxious selfies or cruel animal coercion disguised as performances. 

“Over 100 Animal Experiences are Social Impact Experiences, cementing our commitment to animals in the long-term by directing all proceeds from bookings to nonprofits,” the travel company said on its website. These particular experiences are especially noteworthy for supporting causes such as conservation, animal rescue and veterinary care. 

But in the midst of praising the travel company for promoting a new standard for animal tourism, how are we sure that these standards are truly as ethical and trustworthy as the company claims? 

Airbnb partnered with World Animal Protection, an international animal welfare organization, in order to create guidelines for every activity in the program. The rules are strict but are absolutely necessary for the well-being of the animals. Prohibited animal interactions include elephant riding, exotic pet cafes and petting zoos. Although many of the above activities are popular among tourists, research shows that these practices, like elephant riding and swimming with dolphins, have a dark and cruel side rarely seen. 

World Animal Protection documented the conditions of captive elephants in Thailand in its 2010 report, “Wildlife on a Tightrope.” The organization surveyed 1,688 captive elephants across the country being used for elephant rides and shows. It ultimately found that more than half of the elephants were in terrible conditions. The report stated that the elephants were bound by extreme restraints, did not receive veterinary care and were “cruelly taken from the wild or bred in captivity… separated from their mothers and family groups at just a few months old.” 

It shouldn’t come as a surprise to tourists that questionable animal encounters rely on cruelty. Whether it be donkeys and camels getting whipped into submission or elephants being beaten to behave and perform, the horrors of unethical animal tourism must be exposed in order to end establishments that exploit animals. 

It is imperative that when we travel—whether it be a local trip or out of the country—and want to interact with exotic or domestic animals that we conduct heavy research on any zoo, aquarium or company offering animal experiences. If each and every one of us took the time to research ethical establishments and animal conservation projects rather than focus on entertainment facilities such as SeaWorld or circuses, we could put unethical facilities out of business and help raise awareness for the animals that continue to suffer from mistreatment and malnutrition. 

Airbnb’s Animal Experiences is one solution that can combat and end typical animal tourist attractions that are notorious for ethical violations. These experiences, guided by an animal welfare policy, will allow travelers across the globe to enjoy afternoon tea with naughty sheep or kayak near penguins in Cape Town without feeling guilty about the conditions of the animals involved. It is our duty as human beings to conduct thorough research on any company or attraction that offers a wildlife experience before booking anything and Airbnb has simplified this process. You don’t have to be an animal lover to know what is right and wrong for the animals that share this planet with you. 

Bernadine Sobingsobing is a third year English major. She can be reached at bsobings@uci.edu