Elephant rides in Thailand, dolphin shows in water parks, snake charmers in Jema El Fnaa square. The animal experience in travel is a dream and inflates the likes on social media. Behind the scenes, the reality is less glowing for these poor animals exploited, tortured, condemned. This is the backstage of an unscrupulous animal tourism … but very juicy.
So why not imagine a wildlife tourism with a positive impact?
This is the fight of Aurélie Orengo-Berthet, consultant in animal ecotourism and founder of the agency Voyage Sauvage by Terres 2 Découvertes.
We met her. Here is her struggle.
“Welcome to a world both wild and delicate…”
Observation of a lion napping in the savannah ©Voyage Sauvage
“From weekends to long stays in France or abroad, everything is possible. Put all your senses on alert to savor every moment. Look, smell, listen, touch, taste, love.
“What if we saved the planet by traveling?”
What does the term “sustainable tourism” mean to you? Global warming, plastic pollution, technology at the service of the environment…
Aurélie invites us to another approach… an approach through nature, by and for the animals.
Biomimicry is when our technologies are inspired by nature to create climate solutions.
“Every time we have invented the most beautiful solutions, it is because we have been inspired by nature. Our technology cannot solve all the problems. It is the natural environment that holds the solution and not us!”
An example to illustrate?
It is now time to show you some examples of the perfect balance of the animal world.
The bear is a great lover of salmon. By leaving pieces of salmon on the banks of rivers, the fishes rich in trace elements, contribute to enriching the soil and thus to the prosperity of entire ecosystems.
In this magnificent natural park in the American West, men hunted the wolf until its disappearance in the 1970s. Without predators, the deer thrived and ate the vegetation, causing the park to deteriorate. About 20 years ago, wolves were reintroduced to restore the natural balance of the park.
What has happened? The presence of wolves has changed the behavior of deer. To protect themselves, they began to avoid the areas where they are most vulnerable. The vegetation was able to grow back. Some areas even became forest again. In short, the balance that men had disturbed returned on its own.
These illustrations allow us to understand the interest of biomimicry. Nature has the solution, so let’s be inspired by it!
“There can be no sustainable tourism without taking into account the animal cause. We can’t talk about climate without taking biodiversity into account.”
With rising waters and melting glaciers, the king of the pack ice has become the symbol of endangered wildlife in an environment at the limit of its viability.
For Aurélie, it is by going there to get in touch with this ecosystem in perdition, that we realize the consequences of global warming. It is indeed in this natural environment that global warming is the most visible.
“Responsible tourism is possible there. There is no direct link between 15 days of travel and the melting of the ice. It is our daily habits that are responsible.”
The constant shrinking of the polar bear’s territory pushes it to irrational behaviors: to get closer to the houses, to rummage in the garbage to feed itself. This leads the inhabitants to hunt him.
In Churchill, tourism provided a solution.
An wildlife eco-tourism has indeed developed in the polar bear capital. Located on the shores of Hudson Bay in Canada, this is where the largest gathering of polar bears in the world is located. They wait for the Hudson Bay to freeze over so they can leave to hunt seals before winter arrives. It is the ideal place for polar bears observation.
Which positive impact for the bears? In front of this great financial manna, the inhabitants started to protect the bears so this wildlife ecotourism is perpetuated. The hunting stopped.
“This kind of example allows me to believe in ecotourism and in my job. I think that without tourism there would already be no more polar bears.”
Dolphin show in a water park. The excesses of animal tourism also exist at home ©Canva
While tourism can do a lot of good for wildlife, it can also put them at risk. So, how to find the balance ? How to reconcile tourism and animal welfare?
Here are the tips given by Aurélie:
Observation of an elephant family with ©Voyage Sauvage
“We believe that travel can be a real lever for conservation as it has been done in Costa Rica, Kenya, Uganda. But if misunderstood, it can also be a tool of destruction.”
Always accompanied by specialists in animal ecotourism, the agency’s travelers and professionals learn a lot.
For Aurélie, a successful animal ecotourism acts on two levels:
Why shouldn’t we ride elephants? Because in order to make these huge animals docile, they are tortured from a very young age and throughout their lives.
Why shouldn’t you ride on donkeys? Because their morphology is not made to carry humans. On the other hand, they can carry a certain load well balanced on both sides.
How can we stop these practices if we don’t know their drifts ? This is the challenge of Voyage Sauvage and its team: to explain the sad reality without castigating the tourists.
Knowledge is the first step to avoid harmful practices and make tourism a virtuous element for the protection of animals.
Starting from the problematic, it is building the journey where tourism endangers the wildlife.
Morocco is not the first destination that comes to mind when the word “wildlife ecotourism” is mentioned.
Indeed, the country faces 2 main issues: monkeys and snakes.
In the Jemma El Fnaa square in Marrakech, monkeys captured at a young age in the cedar forests of the Atlas are violently trained and used to death. The “charmed” snakes are captured in the desert, drugged and trained. Sometimes, they even sew their mouths shut.
“For a long time we have been sold the myth of the dancing snake. This is not the case. It is a frightened snake, trying to escape. It will often end up very young, nailed and skinned alive.”
To create this virtuous ecotourism, Aurélie wanted to know where the monkeys of the Jemma El Fnaa square come from: the cedar forests of the Middle Atlas, in which ecotourism has not (yet) been developed.
If taking the problem at the source allows to create a virtuous circle, then the (eco)tourism of cedar forests could avoid the use of monkeys as show animals.
If tourists paid to watch the monkeys in these parks, it would help protect them. No one would want to ruin such a great source of income! This would help, among other things, to better fight against poaching and the abduction of young monkeys.
Thus, the case of Morocco is only an example. However, it gives us a good idea of the virtuous circle that can be created by the development of animal eco-tourism… which still has a bright future ahead of it. At least, we hope so!
An eco safari with ©Voyage Sauvage
Thanks to Aurélie Orengo-Berthet and the agency Voyage Sauvage By Terres 2 Découvertes for their help in preparing this article.