skip to Main Content

Ethical Wildlife Tourism in Thailand: Your choices and actions make a real difference

Thailand has long been a magnet for tourists seeking exotic experiences, some of the most popular ones being riding an elephant or taking a selfie with a tiger. Historically, Thai people have had a close relationship with animals – for instance, the worship of elephants in various traditional, religious and royal ceremonies – but this has today devolved into an exploitation of animals for entertainment and profit in tourism.

For many visitors, the idea of having a photo with a baby orangutan on their lap, or a gibbon perched on their shoulder or a crocodile lounging nearby might seem like a thrilling adventure and a unique souvenir of their time in Thailand. Yet, this seemingly innocuous act is not only unethical, but also perpetuates a cycle of cruelty and environmental degradation.

Wildlife shouldn’t be ‘tame’. The notion that animals enjoy human attention and have a special bond with their owners is a dangerous myth. Most wild animals can only appear calm if regularly drugged and/or beaten to enforce obedience and make them ‘friendly’ enough to be interacted with or to be passed from one stranger to another throughout the day and night.

Wildlife does not belong outside the wild. In reality, most of the animals seen at tourist attractions have been forcibly taken from their families in their natural habitats, contributing to the decline of already vulnerable species. Out of the public eye, they are kept on short chains or confined to tiny, barren cages and receive little or no veterinary care. Many are malnourished and imprisoned as slaves for their short span of useful life, then killed or abandoned to make way for the next money making animal.

Wildlife cannot be ethically ‘obtained’. It’s a heartbreaking reality that a complete family of gibbons might be killed just to obtain one baby gibbon for the tourism industry. Otherwise, wild animals are bred in captivity for a life of exploitation. Even if they are bred in captivity, a poached animal would still always be cheaper than buying one legally.

As visitors, it’s crucial to understand the detrimental impact of participating in activities that exploit wildlife for entertainment:


1. Do not participate in photo props: Refrain from having photos taken with wild animals used as props, such as gibbons, slow loris, tigers, orangutans, lions, birds of prey or snakes. Almost all wild animals you see in touristic destinations are likely poached. You also risk getting deadly diseases such as tuberculosis and hepatitis-B.

2. Avoid animal shows and performances: Say no to attractions that feature animals performing tricks or engaging in unnatural behaviours. Getting wild animals to do such tricks involves abuse, mistreatment, and neglect of the animals involved. Such lucrative attractions are also usually part of illegal businesses that profit a few exploitative people.

3. Do not ride elephants: Elephants are not meant to be ridden by humans, whether with or without a saddle. Riding elephants can cause physical and psychological harm, as well as perpetuate the cycle of exploitation in the tourism industry.

4. Say no to animal souvenirs: Refuse to purchase souvenirs made from animal products, such as snake or tiger wine, bush meat, ivory, or other wildlife-derived items. Buying these products fuels demand and contributes to illegal wildlife trade.


1. Research: Do an online search or ask around to ensure it is a legitimate sanctuary where animals are treated with respect and allowed to roam freely, or observe them in their natural habitat – no chains, no photos, no performances, no bull hooks or other interactions with wild animals.

2. Support ethical sanctuaries: Choose to support sanctuaries and conservation projects that prioritise the welfare of animals and contribute to their conservation. On the contrary, any cheap experience is likely to exploit the animals.

3. Learn about local wildlife and see them in the wild: Take the opportunity to learn about Thailand’s diverse wildlife and the efforts being made to protect them. Consider participating in educational programs or guided tours led by knowledgeable conservationists. Thailand is one of the best places in Asia to see wildlife, including elephants and bird species. By paying to visit national parks, you directly contribute to the conservation of nature in Thailand.

4. Respect boundaries: When encountering wildlife in their natural habitat, maintain a safe distance and avoid disturbing or feeding them, especially macaques who are often seen in urban settings or in temples, as this can influence the animal’s habits and attitude towards humans. Remember that you are a visitor in their home. Furthermore, interacting with wild animals puts both you and the animal at risk of catching or spreading diseases.

By making responsible choices, we can collectively work towards promoting ethical wildlife tourism and conservation, whether in Thailand or anywhere else. Let us be good friends of wildlife.

Get Connected

Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand needs your help! Connect with us and share our stories. If you are in Thailand find out how you can help. Come visit us and get involved.

Back To Top