Why keep animals in captivity?
A heated topic with so many. How can there be anything good about keeping an animal locked in a cage? For keeping an animal away from its natural environment for entertainment? For exploiting these animals for profit? As a little girl, everything was good about it. Going to the zoo as a child was a special occasion. Sure, in school I learned what an elephant looks like, or that monkeys live in trees, but I never actually learned about them. Seeing an animal up close, the size, the behaviour, the smell… fascinated and intrigued more than any book or picture could. And that’s when I wanted to learn about them. Of course with the technology and documentaries now, its easier for children to observe animals. But, how often are they actually being shown it? Its just not the same.
Now as an adult, I can see the good and the bad of an animal in captivity. The bad is obvious. And even more apparent when you see them in horrific states. When they are malnourished, pacing, no space, chained up, beaten, inbred, alone, no enrichment… it upsets me to even think about what I’ve seen. And I could share with you these places, I could write petitions to shut them down, but I won’t. As I don’t know the story, I don’t have the facts. What if they were actually rescued from somewhere worse and on the road to recovering? What if people had boycotted the place and now they lack funding to care for the animals? And the big question – if the sanctuary or zoo shuts down, what will happen to the animals?
The fate of the animals is always justified by so many as “as long as its not here, it will be better” and then the animals are out of the spotlight and usually forgotten. This is a well known fact from experience.
After years of working at the infamous Tiger Temple, I had to listen to so many people condemn me for supporting such a place. How horrible it was that they were chained up and exploited and locked in cages and so on and so on. But they didn’t know what it was really like. And how me working there was actually improving their lives. (For a fact, the animals were not drugged, not beaten, enriched, had very large natural outdoor space during the day and they had each other.)
After my involvement with the tiger temple, and our For Tigers Foundation , I became a firm believer in not exploiting how bad a zoo or sanctuary is. That usually only leads to the animal’s demise. (The 147 tigers that were taken away and forgotten, now only 60 are alive) The best thing to do is try and make it better, educate and improve the animal’s lives while in captivity.
As for volunteering, I then realised well established animal sanctuaries have hundreds of volunteers and better conditions for the animals already. My help and experience is not needed. What is needed is to help educate, promote and enrich the lesser known facilities. Many of the so called ‘sanctuaries’ are just zoos and lack a good volunteer program or none at all in fear of judgement. If you are always hands on it is questionable, but this is what makes people happy and the money flow in. Yes, this is definitely not a good thing, but realistically this opens up volunteers eyes more than just staring at them behind a cage.
As for tourism, I completely disagree with exploiting animals for selfies, I completely disagree with animal farms and overbreeding for profit, for pre canned hunts and so forth, but I do think some zoos and sanctuaries are essential in preserving animals for conservation, research and education. I also believe this should be regulated and limited. Stricter rules should be in place – no breeding or trading should happen unless the sanctuary or zoo meets all standards of INTERNATIONAL codes and be limited to only a few per country. Of course, this is my opinion and my wish, and yes, animals should be free, but with poaching, loss of habitat, climate change etc this leads to extinction and I can’t imagine a world without animals or the opportunity to see them up close.
All people fight for what they believe in – whether it be religion, politics, human welfare, animal welfare, the environment, science or even a simple argument. Now this can be broken down into thousands of categories – all with an underling goal: To make right in what they believe in. Within these categories there’s always one particular subject they are truly passionate about and make their voices heard. Although we want to change everything, we realize we can’t change it all – we can’t change the world, but we can make a difference. Start small, learn, educate and grow from there.
My fight has always been about animal welfare. But the hundreds of categories that fall into this is overwhelming. I have to choose my battle. Although I dabble in quiet a few animal welfare subjects, my current fight is for Tigers. Even this can be broken down into numerous categories: population, habitat loss, poaching for cultural medicinal purposes, fur and other trading needs. Then it goes into the various captivity sections - Tigers in breeding farms, zoo’s, circus’s, film industry, as pets, sanctuaries and rescued or confiscated (some sanctuaries are not created from the latter and breed, trade or buy to gain more profits)
I have chosen my voice to be heard about 2 topics, which are both connected – Tigers in zoos and Tigers that have been confiscated or as many believe ‘rescued’. All of which I speak of applies to all animals in captivity. I have specifically chosen Tigers due to my experience.
My passion began at the infamous Tiger Temple which I was led to believe was a sanctuary…I began to realize it was far from. My first years there I was told of all the wonderful plans to build a wall surrounded by hundreds of acres for the tigers to roam freely in a protected area. This was to be funded by the few tigers that had to be sacrificed for photos and other programs for tourists. When I began to see the money going elsewhere, I knew it was all lies. But it was too late to leave. Not only did I grow a bond with them, but all the progress we had made as foreign volunteers making the tigers lives better while captive – if we left or spoke out..what would be the fate of them?
In 2016 thousands of protesters got their wish. The Tigers were confiscated and the Temple was shut down. 149 tigers were taken away from the only home they knew. Taken away from siblings, outdoor space, enrichment, and unconditional love by the many long term staff and volunteers.
While cheers and praise went to the government for taking the tigers away from ‘the zoo’, no-one considered where they would be taken to or what would happen to them. As long as they were no longer being ‘abused’ by tourists for photos and interaction, the animal activists got their wish. They won and believe the tigers have won too. Being ‘rescued’ from the Temple is the furthest thing from helping these Tigers.
The Tigers are now isolated and placed alone in tiny cells with no room to run or play. Many have died due to stress, malnutrition or disease. But for activists, out of sight – out of mind, as long as they win – they don’t consider the consequences. Now these tigers are forgotten. And for any other captive Tiger the same fate will happen if they are taken away. My fight is to not forget and educate the people before this happens again.
Tiger tourist attractions are inevitable. A decrease and improvement is possible. I believe in the following order: 1. Work with the zoos of ways to improve and help slow down the breeding. 2. Work with the activists and make them aware of the consequences of their actions. 3. Educate and inform the public. Oddly, I do not want people to boycott zoos yet. Most cases the Tigers fate is not good. People will always go and the best thing you can do is stop interacting with the animals. This in itself controls the breeding, which slows down the tourist demand which leads to just viewing and eventually shuts itself down when the tigers pass. (Again this process applies to all animals, but my baby steps are with Tigers)
The easiest and best solution? Keep Tigers in the wild. Ideal? Yes. Realistic? No. This is where those peoples voice’s come through when they fight for what they believe in. Poachers believe they are entitled to making money. Land and habitat loss is entitled to the owners. And lets not forget Mother Natures voice – climate change and biodiversity. So for now, the zoos fight to be open, breed or sell because they believe they need the money. Tourists go because they believe they need the interaction and photo. Activists fight because its (agreeably) wrong. I believe we all need to work together and make the animals lives better while in captivity. Everyone is fighting for what they believe in.
The only voice and fight that really matter are the Tigers. What will you do to try and listen?
Please check out our website For Tigers to learn more.
Travel Insurance - Is it worth it? Is there a cheaper option?
Yes and Yes!!!
For the countless times I have travelled, I have waived on purchasing insurance, Mostly due to finances. I had been lucky - never sick or injured, lost luggage, delayed flights, disaster or theft. So my travel insurance purchases were solely based on my finances or memory to get coverage.
But things DO happen and it was pure luck that I had discovered an amazing insurance company. For the same price as one week with other companies, this company had you covered for one year! And it was during this year while volunteering in Ecuador I was robbed at gunpoint while sleeping. They took everything. Everything! Complete nightmare. Luckily I was not hurt and yes, it was just materialistic things. But what if I was injured, the costs and situation could have been way worse. And then what? Thankfully I would have been covered. And I was...
I made a claim, sent in receipts, proof of the incident and received a cheque to help me cover my costs.
The catch? You must be volunteering. This is NOT regular travel insurance. This is a company that appreciates the time, money and dedication to all those that volunteer. This is their thank you and not something to take advantage of. They do require proof of you volunteering and they will check up on it. Although your insurance is valid for a year, you must inform them of each volunteering trip (with acceptance letters, organization details, itinerary etc.) prior to leaving. You will not be covered if you volunteer for 2 weeks and then go travelling for 2 months and need to make a claim. This is solely for the duration of your volunteer time.
So what is this amazing company?
International Volunteer Insurance (IVC). http://www.volunteercard.com/
I can’t thank them enough for providing such an amazing service. Friendly, helpful and easy to deal with in those times in need (and even when you just have some regular questions) and quick to respond back. 24 hour service, great website with tips, membership with great affiliate discounts. This is an absolute must for any volunteer!
Tip - If your trip is pricey and prepaid - I do recommend purchasing trip interruption and trip cancellation.
If you do plan on travelling before or after your volunteer project there are some great resources on insurance plans on the web.
update: project complete
Volunteering in Ecuador
The benefits of travelling and volunteering are that you have the opportunity to meet some amazing people. I was lucky enough to have met a very generous animal lover. A man with a desire to do something good and the land to do it with.
In August 2007, 9 lions were discovered in a small transportable cage near a nightclub in the small town of Tulcan, Ecuador. The people had alerted authorities, who then took them to the animal protection Center. Requiring a substantial amount of food, they had contacted a large poultry company, Avicola San Isidro.
The owner of the company realized the eventual probable fate of the lions and decided to take the lions and provide shelter and food for them. In December, 3 male and 6 female lions were given a second chance. They were moved over to what is now the San Isidro Rescue Centre (CRSI in Spanish). Since that time, the Environment Ministry has come to rely on CRSI for the care of abandoned and abused animals. It is now home to Lions, Ocelots, Monkeys, Crocodiles, Tortoises and much more.
I kept in contact with this man and helped anyway I could no matter where I was. I finally asked if I could volunteer at the sanctuary. He was grateful. I was ecstatic! They never had a volunteer and solely relied on the work of 2 inexperienced keepers. The land and food for the animals is provided by his poultry company. It is not open to the public, so only some funding is provided by a local corporate sponsor.
Being a previous volunteer at a sanctuary in a 3rd and a 1st world country, I had no idea of what to expect in Ecuador. I had seen a few photos on Facebook - CRSI Ecuador, https://www.facebook.com/pages/crsi-Ecuador/237311506316384 but not much to go on. I had a bit of background of the animals and the species. What my role was, where I’d live, how long I’d stay, I was walking into this project blindly.
I may have been blind going into it, but my eyes are wide open now. Standards, work ethics, health, sanitation, rules, everything is so different! My first week I struggled immensely. So many questions, so much confusion, joy, sadness, it was a rollercoaster, but what made it even harder was the language barrier. As the owner gave me my tour the first day and basically told me €˜here you go-you’re the boss’. I was left with the 2 Spanish workers. Not a word of English. This was an amazing opportunity with a massive challenge.
My first few days I tried to step back and observe. But I could not help but intervene. Why were they not cleaning the cages daily? Why were the animals so stressed? Why were they taking the time preparing the food on the ground in front of the animals? Why weren't they talking to the animals? Where was the medicine for the injured and sick? Why were some locked up in a small cage away from everyone? Half of the animals had been there for years and never even had a name. So many questions, so many concerns, but no answers. It was like the animals were begging me to help them. Don’t get me wrong, the workers and owners were doing the best they could with little funding and lack of experience. It may not have been up to standards, but at least they were given a second chance, were fed, housed and not abused.
So for my first month I had accomplished so much. A daily cleaning schedule. Treatment for the sick and injured. Animals were relocated with others or at least moved into larger enclosures. Rotation schedules began until more enclosures are built. All animals had enrichment and love daily. Food preparation was far and sanitary. I may have worked myself and the staff hard during my first month, but it was well worth it to see such a dramatic difference. The lions no longer fought or paced, they were approachable and touchable. The monkeys no longer threw stuff at you or howled in anger, you could pick them up and give them cuddles. The Ocelots could play in the grass and make friends. You could go into the cages and clean it with the €˜vicious tiny creatures’ watching and thanking you. The animals come to you when you call them by name. The grounds are clean so you can sit and talk to them, the improvements are endless, the happiness is obvious.
It must keep going. There is no way I can leave here. I fear going back to Canada for a few months and having it go back to the way it was. The work is never ending. More enclosures are required. Shelter is needed for the rainy season. The training and enrichment must continue. I’m in need of volunteers. I’m in need of donations. I’m in need of a vet. I’m in need of another me to take over when I visit home. If you can assist in any way, please contact me, the animals would be ever so grateful!
Sadly my first volunteer experience in South Africa was not as fulfilling in the ways I had anticipated, I was determined to keep trying and to volunteer again. After the lessons learned in South Africa, I figured I would get an English teaching job overseas and look for volunteering opportunities on my own. I was determined to do true volunteering, no middle men, no organizations, no fees - just offering my time, strength and energy directly to the people that need it.
Now don’t get me wrong, if these organizations were not around, many of these people, communities, animals etc. would never get the help they needed. What I don’t understand is why so many of these organizations need to profit from it. Come on people! It’s called volunteering, not profiteering!
I understand the need to pay staff, to do research, to advertise and so forth .Kudo’s to those that keep the admin fee low; (but why do you need that each time? Why not an annual fee?) But please explain to me how so many companies can charge in the thousands and how so many people end up paying that.
This is what I’m here to figure out. If you pay more do you get a better experience? Volunteering is about the experience YOU make it. If you pay more, do you stay in better accommodations and get fed better? If that’s the case then your host family is not really needing the money or the community is not really benefiting if your set up in fancy private quarters. (Of course we all wish this was the case, and this is another reason why I’m here to help. Take a holiday the way you want it, but pop in for a day or two at local communities that would love your help - I’ll be compiling a list & links for this option soon.
When most people were planning their families, starting their career and thinking about a mortgage...my plan was to help others, even if it meant giving up all those things. Volunteering became my passion and I would always find a way to make it work. Since 2010 I've travelled the globe and have had some amazing volunteer experiences ... and a life I'm proud of.