Tourists: Stop with the Animal Selfies! Don’t Visit Places Like “Tiger Temple”

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You don’t look cool. You don’t look brave. People (at least informed ones) do not envy you. Instead, we are looking at you and shaking our heads. I can’t tell you how often Travel Lushes gets tagged in Instagram photos of people riding elephants or taking selfies with sedated tigers. News flash: these animals are more than likely being abused behind-the-scenes and your animal selfies are what’s funding the cruelty.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not 100% judging those of you who do this—mainly because I understand why it happens. The majority of tourists who commit major tourism faux pas aren’t even aware of their offensive actions.

In my case, I’m a huge animal lover, so when I was younger I reveled in the idea of riding elephants in Thailand or wrapping a snake around my neck in India. But, after I grew up a little, and started using my critical thinking skills—I realized that kind of behavior would actually make me look like an asshole, rather than the animal lover I claimed to be.

If it sounds like I’m overreacting a bit, then I’ll break it down even further.

Performing monkey in China
Performing monkey in China

Here are just a few reasons why animal tourist attractions suck.

  1. Wild animals belong in the WILD, not in captivity for the sake of your entertainment.
  1. When you support animal attractions, you’re supporting the notion that it’s okay to snatch babies from their mothers and commit them to a life of imprisonment.
  1. Once captured, these animals are often beaten and harmed into obeying rules and making sure they are passive enough to be non-threatening to the tourists who pay to see them.
  1. Think tiger selfies are cool? How do you think the trainers are able to get them to a point where you can actually pose with them and not get mauled? They sedate them. Heavily. And they’re chained so close to the ground they can’t even properly stand up. Some places even remove their claws and teeth and have the tendons in their wrists clipped. Tiger Temple—I’m looking at you.
  1. These attractions are lying to you and stealing your money. They use verbiage like “animal sanctuary” to make you believe they are promoting conservation efforts.
Tiger Temple is NOT a Sanctuary
Tiger Temple is NOT a Sanctuary

World Animal Protection recently released a list of the top 10 most cruel wildlife attractions:


Read the PDF to learn more about why all of these animal attractions are cruel.

Elephant Riding - The Top Most Cruel Tourist Animal Attraction
Elephant Riding – The Top Most Cruel Tourist Animal Attraction


The animal selfies topic is very difficult for some, because many travelers dream of snapping photos of themselves with their arms wrapped around a tiger or riding on the back of a majestic elephant. You need to ask yourself if your quick photo snap is worth the price of an animal’s lifetime of misery.

All is not lost though, animal lovers. Angloitalian posted a great article on how to choose a responsible alternative. The biggest takeaway from this article is to DO YOUR RESEARCH. Find out before your trip what your options are and then spend time reading and cross-checking reviews about the attractions you find interesting.

Just remember this quote:

“If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then you can be sure it is cruel.”

Elephants performing in Sri Lanka for human entertainment. What a miserable life.
Elephants performing in Sri Lanka for human entertainment. What a miserable life.


Tourists: Stop with the Animal Selfies! Don’t Visit Places Like “Tiger Temple”
Tourists: Stop with the Animal Selfies! Don’t Visit Places Like “Tiger Temple”

13 Replies to “Tourists: Stop with the Animal Selfies! Don’t Visit Places Like “Tiger Temple””

  1. Shameful story that I’ll admit: once upon a time I held a lion cub, not considering what I was doing or why. The booth stated that it was to raise funds for the Guadalajara zoo. I was young, the lion was cute, and I didn’t consider what was happening behind the scenes. On a later trip, I saw a similar booth and saw behind the curtain where there were four cubs laying on each other in a small cage and it was so hot. That forever changed the way I viewed the petting fundraisers. And I felt awful.

    1. I think we all have similar stories! I rode an elephant in India and took a photo with a snake charmer. Like you pointed out, I think before we actually get educated about it, we do these things not thinking critically about why we’re even doing it. Until someone pointed it out to me, I thought it was perfectly OK, thinking I was just showing my love of animals. But now we know better and it’s our responsibility to make others aware of it too.

  2. Love this post. I passed on elephant riding in Thailand even though it was number one on my list then ignorantly went to tiger kingdom. The handlers were so atrocious to the Tigers that I had to excuse myself. Now I share my experience with others who are thinking about doing it. It’s wrong! Enjoyed reading this and learning more.

    1. I think many of us have all had similar experiences! What’s important is going back and sharing our personal experiences with others to prevent them from doing the same thing 🙂 Thanks so much for reading.

  3. Love this post, We have done the dolphin adventure when I was clueless about it, but now thanks to fellow bloggers I’m more informed on the animal cruelty behind these and my family will get be spend our travel money on it. We will save it for Safari or other animal encounters in their natural environments.

    1. Yes Priya! I wholeheartedly agree – seeing wild animals roaming free in their natural environments is the way to go.

  4. Great post – we really need bloggers to keep spreading the word like this. Ten years ago I was absolutely oblivious to a lot of the animal cruelty that goes on and naively went on an elephant trek and to the tiger temple. I hated every minute. As soon as I saw what was going on with my own eyes I just felt so helpless and angry. So that’s why it’s so important that people continue to write about it and inform other backpackers, who might be as naive as I was then.

    1. Yep, I can relate to that 100% Nikki! I rode an elephant in India a long time ago, before I knew any of this. I thought it was the coolest thing I ever experienced back then, but now I just cringe every time I think about it.

  5. I don’t know if I totally agreed with this. Certainly, there are places that treat these animals poorly, but I went to an elephant nursery in Thailand where you can see how they are treated and trained. It was awesome. The people there really treat the elephants like part of the family. It’s true that during the day the elephants will do their duties but if you don’t go to the training facilities you might conclude that they’re just being exploited. I wonder what your suggestions would be if these elephants weren’t protected in this environment? Wild elephants get killed for their ivory all the time.

    1. Hi Hung – there are certainly exceptions. There are wonderful, ethical places out there that really do have the animals’ best interests at heart and exist to protect them. However, there are many that don’t and trick people into thinking they are sanctuaries, when they aren’t. This post aims to make people aware of the unethical ones out there like Tiger Temple (which is now finally being shut down by the government – the tigers are all being rescued and removed now).
      My biggest suggestion for people who still want to experience wildlife is to thoroughly research the attraction before visiting. Read the reviews and make sure there haven’t been any scandals. Or – you can do what many have started doing after finding out about the animal cruelty issue – and choose to experience animal encounters in their natural environments (go on a safari or to a reputable national park).
      Also, please read this PDF to see why World Animal Protection has deemed certain animal tourist attractions as cruel:

  6. Funny that I came back to this post when I’ve previously read it, but it’s because I recently engaged in an interesting conversation with the CEO of a zoo with some big cat practices that seem not up to par. I just wanted to leave a note with you that I’ll be sharing the details of my conversation with the zoo’s animal responsibility officer when we talk later this week. I strongly agree with so many of the animal captivity issues and am slowly working with the sources to really break down where forms of animal attractions are doing good or harm. I ramble. 🙂

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