How to keep things ethical when interacting with animals abroad

A grazing llama at Machu Picchu

Seeing wildlife is an amazing motivator for travel. Unfortunately in many parts of the world animals are abused by our fellow humans, and in particular exploited for the benefit of the travel industry. Here are some things to consider to ensure your interactions with animals stay ethical.

Put yourself in their shoes

Animals deserve respect. My favourite way to ensure I check my behaviour when encountering wildlife abroad is by putting myself in their shoes. Would I like some random person to start petting me, invading my personal space, destroying my home? No. Treat animals the way you would want to be treated in the same situation.

Don’t touch or ride animals

It is called wildlife for a reason folks. Animals are supposed to be wild. Wildlife is not supposed to be in a cage, lined up for tourist selfies, or forced to hug us. As soft as a koala may be, if you are hugging it you are ethically blurring lines, even in a sanctuary. Sure a sanctuary may keep animals in decent conditions and fund conservation projects but it still doesn’t mean that we should be partaking in anything more than observation.


Watching an animal in its natural undisturbed habitat? What an honour! This is the best way to appreciate a creature, not how soft its fur is! Watch for long enough and you can get a sense of an animal’s character and mannerisms, a much more valuable interaction than a threatening approach which scares it off.


Now, I am not trying to argue that you should never interact with any animals. However, only ever engage if an animal approaches and touches you and you deem it safe to respond. Much like you shouldn’t be touching another human without consent, let animals make the first move to engage with you to ensure it is something they want and not something that will distress them.

Use your voice in defence

If you are going on safari or want to visit a sanctuary, do your best to choose responsible and ethical providers. Take things a step further by speaking up if you see any cruelty against animals whilst travelling, particularly if the cruelty is inflicted for the sake of tourism. Opt not to ride the elephant. Leave reviews exposing the treatment of animals where you have had bad experiences and alert the local animal services if they exist.