[givebutter-widget id="paV4aj"] Skip to main content

Many wildlife sanctuaries in southeast Asia offer volunteering experiences where you can hold or cuddle animals.

Riding or bathing elephants; cuddling monkeys: these experiences sound positive, and often seem mutually beneficial, but this is sadly not the case.

The focus becomes what the tourist wants from the experience.

Even when a behavior is natural, like elephants mud bathing, they are not used to doing so with unknown human companions. If the elephant is required to bathe with tourists, the caretaker, or mahout, has to maintain constant control over the animal for people’s safety, and so the focus becomes what the tourist wants from the experience.

Elephants are often cautious around people they don’t know and will be careful not to roll onto or hurt them. This means the elephant needs to be alert and cautious about its behavior, causing it undue stress instead of being the relaxing activity it’s intended to be.

There are many important questions you should ask before choosing where to spend your time and hard-earned money.

  • Are formerly “rescued” animals being kept indefinitely for profit?
  • Are there rehabilitation, release, or ethical breeding measures in place?
  • Is your interaction causing unnatural behaviours for a wild animal?
  • How much are the animals being used as a prop to bring in visitors?
  • Where is your money being spent?

Reputable sanctuaries can answer these questions, and that’s great! But if where you are visiting is unable to give satisfying answers, it would be ethically wise to reconsider your visit.

How is LCTW different?

At LCTW, we offer ethical, sustainable experiences with a strict hands-off policy. Why? We aim to release as many of our rescued animals as we can back to the wild, and for an animal to survive, it must stay wild in instinct.

This means being wary of humans, and not approaching them for food or affection. Associating humans with these things means they are highly likely to seek out humans upon re-release, quickly ending back in the illegal wildlife trade.

For an animal to survive, it must stay wild in instinct.

What about our long-term residents, who may have permanent health issues meaning they can never be released? These animals play a vital role by teaching natural behaviors to any younger rescues with bright futures for re-release, and allowing all wildlife housed here to live a natural life is of the utmost importance to us. Therefore, maintaining wild instinct is essential for not only preserving wildlife, but also for animal wellbeing. An animal should never have to do anything other than be an animal, on their own schedule.

We also operate with a strict social media policy, and do not permit any of our volunteers to share photos of orphaned animals under the care of our staff, or where staff or veterinary volunteers are physically interacting with animals. Why is this?

When people see others doing what could be perceived as “playing” with wildlife, it sends a dangerous message that it’s okay to “play” or interact with wildlife. The illegal wildlife trade is fuelled by demand, and people wanting animals as pets, or businesses knowing they can make a profit from letting tourists interact with animals, only serves to make things worse.

Read more

We encourage you to read more about the ethics of any animal volunteering program you’re looking into. This resource from GoAbroad is a good place to start, with a list of questions that any reputable organisation should be able to answer. If you have any questions related to these topics or our volunteer programs, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us!