Wildlife holidays in nature are thrilling! But amidst all the fun, it's important to remember to be conscious of the delicate ecosystem we are inhabiting and set a good example for our family. Here are 7 ways to help you do your bit and enjoy your wildlife holiday responsibly...
1. Leave behind only your footprints
When you visit the forest, remember this: the very purpose of the sanctuary is to ensure the well-being of the animals. We must preserve the sanctity of the establishment by not leaving behind any leftover food, empty wrappers, bottles or other trash. These items can be harmful to animals in their natural habitat. For example:
• Animals can hurt themselves by stepping on or ingesting broken glass, plastic shards, cigarette stubs and other harmful substances
• Leftover food, which decays over time, can pollute watering holes and the otherwise pure forest air
• Used plastic wrappers and packets can be fatal if ingested and may contain fat which, once decayed, can severely damage an animal's digestive system
his is why it is advised to carry nothing more than a bottle of water into the forest. If you must carry snacks for your kids, make sure to carry one large trash bag in which you can dispose of all paraphernalia. Even biodegradable food items such as fruits can be harmful when decayed!
2. Photograph with care
A journey into the forest for a tête-à-tête with wild beasts is indeed enthralling. It is natural to want pictures of your visit, but be sure to ask your guide about the best way of doing this. Avoid using the flash if possible and if you do, never point it directly at the animal lest you startle or scare it. Some sanctuaries allow selfies with ‘safe’ animals i.e. those that are separated from their herd and whose sharp teeth have been removed to make them conducive to public viewing. But remember, these are wild beasts, and any abnormal sounds or sights can make them uncomfortable or distressed.
3. No souvenirs, please
A common anti-preservation practice is poaching. Poachers sell souvenirs made from elephant tusks, animal skin, and other animal products. Purchasing such items encourages further production. Similarly, souvenirs made from the bark and other tree produce encourages felling of trees which in turn means deforestation that severely damages not just wildlife but our whole ecosystem. When you visit a jungle resort, make sure to ask the seller of the materials being used to make the souvenir to ensure it's eco-friendly.
4. Let them be
Wild animals are wild – and feeding them regular food can be extremely harmful in many ways! First, when young wild animals are taught to depend on a human-provided food source, they may not fully develop essential foraging skills. Second, the food we eat and likely carry with is not as nutritionally complete as what's found in the wild and can have long-term effects on the animals' health. Thirdly, too much availability of food can invite more animals than normal, which can cause a disturbance in the forest's ecosystem. These are just of the many reasons it's advisable to avoid feeding wild animals and inspire your children to do the same.
5. Respect the locals
People who live near the forest have learnt to live in harmony with nature and its wild beasts. They know what one should or should not do. Listen respectfully to them when they advise you with regard to your conduct in the forest, be it a matter of staying away from a particular plant or not taking a photograph of a wild animal. Take along a local guide with you into the forest – it’s safer anyway – and you will gain a knowledgeable guide while they can earn some much-needed income.
6. Avoid riding for fun
Riding an elephant or a wild horse can be a thrilling experience. Bear in mind, however, that these animals are captured from the jungle and tamed. The animals are often ill-treated by their masters and have to go for long periods without food or water. Cruel methods like whipping and abstinence are used to train them to behave around humans. It is always a good practice to try to ensure that the animal owners are kind and caring to their animals before you or your children jump on for a ride.
7. Make a responsible choice
When planning your visit, research the resort thoroughly. You can gain a lot of information from their website and from online forums and aggregator/review sites. Encourage preservation by visiting only those resorts that you feel genuinely care about the animals and the ecosystem. There are wildlife resorts like Club Mahindra that have an end objective to build sustainable value around what they offer. They partner with the people who live and work locally to share the benefits of tourism. Their team members deliver holiday experiences and are encouraged to get familiar with local cultures and guide their customers to travel responsibly when on a wildlife holiday. Forests have been a great resource for humans for centuries. Let us now take cognizance of this depleting resource and take concrete steps to conserve it. Let us leave only footprints of progress both for humans and for other species. Let us make an effort to tread lightly…