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10 ethical animal experiences that enjoy wildlife responsibly

Nadine Pinto

Reviewed by:

Wild Cape, Safari & Falls in Africa

Encountering animals in their natural habitats can be some of the most fulfilling, unforgettable travel experiences out there. But we’ve all seen and heard about the darker side of wildlife tourism. Cramped zoos, barbaric circuses, stoned tigers staring blankly for photo ops. So how do you make sure your wildlife encounter is an ethical one?

Don’t fret. Here are 10, vetted, not-for-profit sanctuaries and projects around the world (including our MAKE TRAVEL MATTER® Experiences) that give you the wildlife wow-factor, without the uncertainty or guilt that often comes with it. You’re welcome.

Want to encounter elephants ethically? Visit Phuket with Contiki

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1. Somboon Legacy Foundation Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand

The Somboon Legacy Foundation is an ethical hands-off elephant sanctuary. What does ‘hands-off’ mean? It means that, once rescued, the elephants are not bombarded by human contact.  

This Foundation saves captive elephants from the harmful work they are forced into and offers them what is basically a retirement plan. The elephants are placed in a natural environment and left to their own devices – though of course the team isn’t far off should trouble arise. Travellers can visit this elephant sanctuary and observe the gentle giants in their natural environment and learn about them at the interactive museum. 

elephant sanctuary

Image source:Contiki

2. Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage, Nairobi

In Nairobi, Kenya, the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust Elephant Orphanage rehabilitates baby elephants who have lost their mothers through human actions or natural causes. They prepare elephants for reintegration before releasing them back in to the wild. You’ll get the chance to meet these gentle giants and find out more about the incredible work done by the keepers. Check out more of Contiki’s ethical experiences in Africa and the Middle East

3. Elephant Nature Park, Thailand

Elephants from all over Thailand are rehabilitated in the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai. You can watch the rescued elephants play, learn about ethical animal experiences and find out how the park cares for these incredible animals.  

Elephants in Thailand

Image source:Contiki

4. The South African Shark Conservancy, South Africa 

This Shark Conservancy centre is not-for-profit organisation dedicated to the safety and protection of sharks off the South African coasts. They collaborate with local government to put preservation measures in place, and they also have a lab conducting research to better understand a shark’s place in marine ecosystems.

Tours here include an educational talk on sharks, followed by a walk through the lab where visitors can learn more about the research and the species. 

The South African Penguin Kayaking crew spill the deets on all things flippered-friends and eco-conservation

The South African Penguin Kayaking crew spill the deets on all things flippered-friends and eco-conservation

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5. National Kiwi Hatchery, New Zealand

The National Kiwi Hatchery in Rotorua is the largest and most successful kiwi hatching facility in the world! The organisation is aiming to grow the population numbers of the endangered species, native to New Zealand. Visitors can learn more about this unique species and their entrance fee to the Rainbow Springs Nature Park will go towards the rehabilitation project. 

Kiwi Encounter, Rotorua, Contiki Cares

Image source:Contiki

6. Sloth Sanctuary, Costa Rica

This is a unique sanctuary for injured, orphaned, and abandoned sloths needing rescue. Commonly seen as vermin in the area, sloths have long been neglected and their natural habitats destroyed, so this sanctuary seeks to aid and rehabilitate them and, where possible, release them back into the wild.  

Visitors will get to learn about sloths and rainforest conservation – sloth’s natural habitat – in an educational tour, and they can stay at the Buttercup Inn, named after the first sloth the sanctuary rescued. 

7. Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre, Sri Lanka

A quick drive from Galle and Unawatuna in Sri Lanka, and you’ll find yourself at the adorable Kosgoda Turtle Conservation Centre. With an aim to protect turtles and increase hatching rates, the centre takes eggs off the beaches where they are vulnerable to poachers and predators. The eggs are monitored in a secure facility and the baby turtles are sent back in to nature just days after hatching! 

8. El Chatto Ranch Reserva Ecologica, Ecuador 

Located in the Galpagos Islands, this ecological reserve is dedicated to the endangered giant tortoises of the region and keeping them safe. When travellers visit this project they have the chance to get up close with this beautiful animal, and they will learn about all the efforts put in place to save them. There is a strict no touch policy, as El Chatto Ranch is dedicated to leaving these animals in peace and not disturbing their natural habitats. 

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9. Whale Watching, Norway

This whale watching experience is not only awe-inspiring, but it’s educational and unique. The Arctic Whale Tours offer travellers a chance to embark on aquatic safaris and observe marine animals in their natural surroundings. Depending on the seasons, visitors can catch glimpses of humpback whales and killer whales. This is a safe and informative day out which provides the animals respect and space while spreading knowledge about marine life behaviour and biology. 

10. MoKa Bee Keeping experience, Greece 

In this unique experience travellers will not only have the opportunity to support local businesses and purchase organic and sustainable goods, but they will also get a chance to learn more about bee keeping. This family-run business is dedicated to sustainable farming practices, and travellers can learn more about this, as well as the bees and their importance to the environment and agriculture. Wearing special suits, visitors can approach bees and their hives respectfully, and learn how natural honey is produced. 

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