5 Ethical Wildlife Tours For Your Next Vacation

BY K. Christian | FEBRUARY 2017

Ethical Wildlife Experiences Around the World

Wildlife and exotic animal tours can appear harmless, especially when the animals are seemingly happy to perform tricks or interact with eager humans. Sadly though, animal exploitation, especially for the purpose of tourism, is a very real and destructive thing. Aside from long hours and poor living conditions, animals are often abused in training and given drugs to force submission. Wildlife tours rarely follow sustainable, responsible tourism practices.

Many organizations and animal advocacy groups are speaking out though, creating sanctuaries for rescued animals to live in safe and natural habitats. By offering ethical, educational tours for visitors, they encourage guests to learn about and help advocate for the humane treatment and preservation of wildlife. Here are five of our favorites:


SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary

Location | Nosara, Costa Rica
Wildlife | Howler monkeys, white-faced monkeys, and other small mammals native to Costa Rica
Mission | To rescue injured, orphaned, and displaced wild animals and provide them immediate medical care, rehabilitation, and eventual release into the wild
Ethical Experience | Educational experience and monitored interaction with the animals, symbolic adoption of monkeys to help with rehabilitation costs
Cost | $65 per person

The high tourism demand and numerous development projects in Costa Rica have led to many power lines installed where trees once grew. Unfamiliar and dangerous to the indigenous primate population, Costa Rica’s monkeys are mistaking power lines for branches and are becoming seriously injured, if not killed from electrocution.

Founded by Steve and Vicki Coan, SIBU Wildlife Sanctuary, a 50 acre jungle preserve, is a nonprofit organization funded solely by donations and visitation fees. Run by the Coans (who live on site) and a small group of volunteers, primates and other small mammals are rescued after injury and rehabilitated at SIBU. Once healed, the animals are released back into the jungle.

SIBU is also working with local government and power line companies to insulate transformers and hang monkey bridges in the trees. The Stop the Shock Project hopes to eventually change the law, making it unlawful for uninsulated power lines to be installed.

Visitors can participate in a 2-hour educational presentation and tour of the facility, as well as meet the primates. SIBU Sanctuary is located just inland of the beautiful Playa Nosara, a small surfer paradise just 2 hours south of Tamarindo.


Lionsrock Big Cat Sanctuary

Location | Bethlehem, South Africa
Wildlife | Big cats, various indigenous mammals and birds
Mission | Providing a lifelong home for big cats rescued from zoos, circuses, or private captivity
Ethical Experience | Informative and educational game drive to see the big cats
Cost | Starting at $11 per person

Owned and operated by Four Paws, an international animal welfare organization, LIONSROCK has rescued more than 90 big cats from all over the world. The sanctuary has been nominated for various awards and provides a large, natural habitat for rescued cats, as well as a variety of game, to live after being raised in captivity.

While visiting LIONSROCK, guests can participate in educational wildlife tours to see the rescued cats, as well as enjoy hikes, bird watching, and quad rides (outside of the animals’ home). There is also a nearby 3-star lodge and restaurant for guests to relax and reflect on their educational and ethical wildlife experience.


Snowy Owl Tours

Location | Alberta, Canada
Wildlife | Huskies
Mission | Providing safe and educational dog sledding experiences for guests while also maintaining a commitment to ethical breeding, humane training, and superior care for the dogs
Ethical Experience | Summer kennel tours, winter sled tours in the Canadian Rockies
Cost | Starting at $50 per person

Committed to providing an enjoyable and ethical experience for both the guests and the dogs, Snowy Owl Tours is a family-owned and operated dog sledding tour company located in the Canadian Rockies. Sadly, dog sledding is not a regulated activity and dogs can often be exploited to meet work or tourism demand.

Snow Owl Tours operates as a “dog first” kennel, meaning all the huskies are given the utmost care and attention. While visiting the kennel or participating in a winter sled tour, guests will learn about ethical breeding, proper care, and humane sledding policies.


Farm Sanctuaries

Location | Watkins Glen, NY; Los Angeles, CA; Orland, CA
Wildlife | Farm animals
Mission | To rescue, rehabilitate, and provide lifelong care for hundreds of animals who have been saved from stockyards, factory farms, and slaughterhouses
Ethical Experience | Educational tours, tiny house accommodations named after animals
Cost | Starting at $10 per person

Founded in 1986, Farm Sanctuary is the nation’s largest and most effective nonprofit farm animal rescue and protection organization. Through rescue, education, and advocacy efforts, Farm Sanctuary is committed to ending farm animal cruelty and inspiring vegan living.

Guests can visit one of three sanctuaries across the United States to learn about ethical and humane treatment of farm animals, as well as the impact of animal product consumption on the environment and human body.

Farm Sanctuary also offers onsite accommodations at the New York sanctuary in tiny homes and cabins. Local vegan dining guides are provided at all three sanctuaries and guests can even adopt rescued animals by joining the Farm Animal Adoption Network.


Free the Bears

Location | HQ in Perth, Australia; Bear Care Tour in Cambodia
Wildlife | Sloth bears, sun bears, and moon bears
Mission | Protecting, preserving and enriching the lives of bears in Asia
Ethical Experience | Ethical, educational experience to learn about the bears and help prepare their food
Cost | $70 per person

Founded by Mary Hutton in 1995, Free the Bears is a nonprofit organization working to rescue and protect bears in Asia by establishing sanctuaries, providing medical care, and fighting illegal trade, among other initiatives.

While visiting South East Asia, guests can enjoy an exciting behind-the-scenes tour at the world’s biggest Sun Bear Sanctuary, located at the Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Center. Caring for over 130 bears, the Free the Bears team offers an ethical educational experience where visitors can tour the facility and learn about bear endangerment, as well as prepare treats, food, and toys. Guests can also sponsor bears, volunteer (one week minimum), or purchase virtual gifts to support the bears.

For further reading and tips on ethical, responsible animal tourism, check out Global Vision International’s article: How to Choose an Ethical Wildlife Tour Operator.