By Jennifer O’Connor
I recently returned from a Caribbean cruise, which was supposed to be a lovely weekend with my mother. But what we brought home with us were memories of battered dolphins, beaten-down horses and bald parrots. Everywhere we went, we saw animals who were being abused and exploited in order to empty tourists’ wallets.
Travelers with money to spend are the driving force behind “swim-with-dolphins” excursions, horse-drawn carriage rides and beach photos with parrots or iguanas. But long after those tourists are back at home with stories and souvenirs, the animals will remain in the same grim conditions until the day they die.
Resorts and cruise lines make big bucks off the backs of dolphins. Although captive marine mammals in the United States are afforded some limited legal protection, programs outside the United States are often governed by few, if any, regulations. Many “swim-with” facilities operate almost continuously, giving the dolphins little respite from a constant stream of tourists. Even though dolphins are keenly intelligent and capable of swimming vast distances every day, their worlds are reduced in these facilities to cramped and shallow swimming pools. Most captive dolphins die far short of their natural life span.
We overheard many people talking about their “swim-with” excursions and claiming to “love” dolphins. But every ticket purchased from such operations directly contributes to the animals’ captivity and misery. Dolphins used by these operators will never know the complex ocean world in which they belong. They’ll spend every day of their lives in the same barren tank, serving the whims of tourists who are more focused on having an “adventure” than thinking about the cruelty they are supporting.
The horses we saw who are used to ferry tourists looked like props from The Walking Dead. They were skeletally thin, and many had clots of foam dripping from their mouths. Several had visible injuries, and one was obviously lame. Most looked like they could drop at any second. There must be some sort of “vacation blindness” that grips people, a compulsion to “do” things that allows vacationers to ignore the animals’ obvious suffering and line up to take a ride.
Along the beaches, once-beautiful parrots were hauled around for photo ops. The birds looked bedraggled and depressed. Their feathers were scruffy, and one had several raw sore spots. They were never allowed to fly. Avian welfare expert Dr. Kim Danoff notes, “Depriving birds of flight is mentally and physically stressful. Some birds respond by plucking their feathers out; some become aggressive. It also contributes to poor health including weak and atrophied muscles, cardiac problems and respiratory problems.”
The birds had no shade and were on the beach all day. Lorin Lindner, Ph.D., who founded California’s Serenity Park Parrot Sanctuary, points out that parrots are very sensitive to heat and direct sunlight as well as being vulnerable to sunburn, heatstroke and heat exhaustion.
We saw one teenager shriek and drop an iguana to the ground during a photo op. Without stopping to check for injuries, the handler quickly retrieved and passed the reptile on to the next person waiting.
As long as travelers succumb to temptation and take a swim or a ride or a photo using captive animals, this suffering will continue. While packing your bags for your vacation, please remember to include some compassion. Don’t spend any money or time at places where animals will continue to languish in misery long after you’ve returned home.