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The Dark Truth Behind Wildlife Tourism

If you're traveling to an exotic location, you certainly want to interact with the local fauna, right? So does everyone else. There are 3,800 captive elephants in Thailand. More than half of them work in the tourist industry, performing in shows and hauling paying customers on their backs. What you don't see is the life they live as a whole, how they are tamed and controlled. It's the same with wildlife encounters all over the world, from swimming with dolphins to photoshoots with wolves.  

Around the world Kirsten and I watched tourists watching captive animals. In Thailand we also saw American men bear-hug tigers in Chiang Mai and Chinese brides in wedding gowns ride young elephants in the aqua surf on the island of Phuket. We watched polar bears in wire muzzles ballroom dancing across the ice under a big top in Russia and teenage boys on the Amazon River snapping selfies with baby sloths.

Most tourists who enjoy these encounters don’t know that the adult tigers may be declawed, drugged, or both. Or that there are always cubs for tourists to snuggle with because the cats are speed bred and the cubs are taken from their mothers just days after birth. Or that the elephants give rides and perform tricks without harming people only because they’ve been “broken” as babies and taught to fear the bullhook. Or that the Amazonian sloths taken illegally from the jungle often die within weeks of being put in captivity.

Social media has driven the proliferation of exotic animal encounters all over the world, where owners and operators make lots of money and tourists get precious photographs. National Geographic takes a look at the price the animals pay for wildlife tourism. -via Digg

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