In most countries you visit you’re going to spot something of the four-legged or winged variety. Whether it’s lions in South Africa, gorillas in Rwanda, elephants in Thailand or toucans in Central America, animals can often be the sole reason we visit a particular place.
And when you do visit, there’s always that one person trying to touch an animal or feed it a sneaky bite of a banana (most likely, it’ll be a yobbo Australian).
Inspired by my recent trip to Sumatra where I saw orangutans in the wild (but luckily no wild Aussies), here are some tips for what should you do when in the company of non-humans.
Choose a reputable tour guide
Do some research on this one. Ask fellow travellers about tour guides they’ve used and get recommendations. If you’re travelling into a sensitive area, you want to ensure that your tour guide isn’t going to encourage you to touch or mistreat animals in any way. Hopefully, they’ll also have a tonne of knowledge about the animals you’re seeing!
Also, if you’re guide says to do or not do something, listen to them! If they suddenly screech “Don’t move!” then don’t move. They probably know what they’re talking about.
Research the place you’re visiting
Many people do things like ride elephants while in Thailand (I have) or go horse riding in Central America (tick to this one as well). If you want to do this, check the place out first – make sure they treat the animals well and that they are well fed. When you visit, check over the animals. You don’t need to be a vet but it will be obvious if they have sores or are too skinny or seem generally unhappy. Again, get recommendations from fellow travellers.
Don’t touch wild animals
This should be pretty obvious. But just in case it’s not, there are two main reasons to avoid touching wild animals. 1) You may get bitten. This could end up with a panicked trip to the local doctor for a rabies shot. 2) You could spread diseases to the animals. Some animals in the wild can be particularly susceptible to human diseases. You may not even think you’re sick, but even an unnoticeable cold could wipe out, for instance, a family of gorillas.
Don’t feed the animals
Feeding wild animals creates a dependency on humans and means animals get closer and closer to humans. They can then become aggressive and attack people just for a feed. You handing a banana to a monkey may be a cute photo to put on Facebook, but it can create long-term problems that you won’t even be aware of long after you’ve left.
Don’t leave food scraps
Take everything away with you, even scraps from fruit. This relates to the above – it means animals may not work to find their food, and begin to rely on human visitors for their lunch.
Move away sloooowly if the animal approaches
All of a sudden, that orangutan is getting closer to you. It’s curious about you. But it’s an orangutan! It’s ridiculously strong and could kill you very easily.
Don’t panic. Listen to your guide if you’re with one. Move very slowly and don’t make any sudden movements. Keep your eyes on the animal at all times and don’t turn your back on it. Don’t yell or act aggressively as this could scare it and cause it to attack you.
So next time you’re gazing in wonder at an animal in a national park or in a savannah, keep these tips in mind. And if you run into anyone who doesn’t feel like playing by the rules, let them know about it.