Bali; it’s haven for surfers, culture seekers, beach bums and adrenalin-pumpers. There’s so many activities to participate in all over the island, including volcano trekking, temple trawling, rice terrace hiking, scuba diving and snorkeling, drinking, dining and relaxing in the most idyllic of locations.
But the animal tourism industries in Bali give the island a somewhat darker side. Many Bali animals are kept in gruesome conditions, fed food that is not good for them and forced to perform activities that are detrimental to their health, for tourist’s entertainment or amusement.
Don’t get me wrong, I love seeing animals while I’m travelling; but only if they’re in the wild or possibly at some kind of ethical sanctuary that’s dedicated to preserving the animal. If you consider yourself an animal lover and want to really help Bali animals while you’re travelling in Indonesia, a giant step you can do is to not entertain any bad animal tourism companies.
Don’t fret if you do still want to see some Bali animals (seeing the country’s wildlife is one of the best adventures in Indonesia, after all) – there are chances to see mammals, birds and fish in their natural environment, in much more ethical and beautiful surroundings.
Bali animal tourist attractions to avoid
Unfortunately, a large percentage of Bali animal tourist attractions should be completely disregarded. This is because they typically involve an animal in captivity, where they are forced to do abnormal things, is not fed on a natural diet and sometimes drugged. Here’s some of the things we can be avoiding to help Bali animals.
Dolphins in Captivity
Life in captivity does not suit this type of animal at all. Caught from the wild for commercial purposes, an act which is inspired by the huge amount of people wanting the opportunity to swim with dolphins, they are ripped apart from their families and forced to constantly entertain.
People often have the impression that dolphins want to play all the time, but this is far from the truth; they are often forced to learn new tricks out of fear, or because being ‘trained’ for these is the only way they will receive any food from their captors.
Life inside the pool is miserable, with not nearly enough space for these active animals; who in the wild can swim nearly 100 kilometres a day and reach speeds up to 35 kmph. This, in addition to chemical water, contributes to them becoming sick and their life span being cut short.
In various zoos around Bali, there is a chance to have a picture taken with a tiger. If The Jungle Book taught me one thing, it was that tigers don’t tend to want to get involved in too many tourist’s selfies. If a tiger will allow tourists that close to it, it has been drugged. It’s not just tigers too; many other animals are kept in cramped conditions, which is a far cry from how they would live in the wild.
Similarly to zoos, elephants are not treated well in these ‘sanctuaries’ – at all. While there are some in other parts of South East Asia that are ethical, there are no known ethical elephant parks in Bali – and any ‘sanctuary’ that offers elephant riding anywhere in the world should be avoided. No wild elephant would willingly let up to three humans climb on its back while they walk around a route commanded by one of the people on its back: they’re ‘trained’ to do so.
Furthermore, elephants are not made to be ridden; it causes them severe pain to have people on their back. To ensure they don’t react to this while they’re ridden, they are tortured and taught to ignore pain from a young age. Not only does this cause them a colossal amount of physical anguish, but many elephants subsequently develop PTSD.
The captive elephants live a fraction of the lives that they would in the wild; they generally move in herds and travel miles every day. In any kind of elephant centre, they are chained and confined to one tiny space, and their lifespan is dramatically shortened as a result.
Because of the raise of awareness of these elephant centres, many establishments have changed their name and claim to be a ‘sanctuary’ or ‘refuge’ – but most are not.
Horse and Carts of Gili T
As soon as you reach Gili T (which is technically part of Lombok, just so ya know), you’ll hear bells and see horse and carts trundling along. Riding along in a slow-moving cart on a tropical island may seem idyllic, but it’s far from fun for the horses.
The horses are captured wild animals from a neighboring island, and they are ‘trained’ by being chased into a pit and being left there until they are weak enough for human intervention. If they resist training they are beaten, and during this process their basic needs are neglected, and they are only provided with salt water to drink, which is detrimental to their health.
They are often worked from 5am until 1 or 2am, and are can be forced to sleep with the carriages still strapped to them. The average horse in the wild or in well looked after domestic conditions lives to 25-30 years; these horses are expected to have a lifespan of just 1-3 years.
Everywhere on the Gili Islands is reachable by foot – you really don’t need to take one of these horse and carts. It really blighted my time on the island because I was so conscious of the suffering of these horses.
There are protests to try and replace the horse and carts with solar powered tuk tuks. So if you see any petitions regarding this while on the island, sign away!
Civet or Luwak Coffee
Drinking coffee made of cat poop. Sounds kind of quirky, right? It’s the most expensive coffee in the world, and a lot of it comes from Bali. It is literally coffee made from the poo of civets or luwaks; and there was a time when it was just produced from droppings found in the wild.
However, it’s now an industry of enslavement and torture. Due to increase in demand, nearly all kopi luwak is now industrialised. The animals are kept in small cages with other luwaks – they are normally solitary creatures and like to have a lot of space around them so this distresses them highly.
They are also forced to eat an unnatural amount of coffee cherries, so their poo can make the perfect amount of kopi luwak. This causes health problems and shortens their life expectancy. All so people can have an expensive cup of coffee! To look out for the luwaks in Bali, don’t visit any coffee plantations that offer this kind of coffee, and spread the word of how it is made!
Shark fin soup trade
There’s a few nasty animal body parts available to eat in Bali, but shark fin soup is definitely one of the worst; this practice is found all over the world, but Indonesia captures more sharks than anywhere else.
Shark meat is considered low value, but shark fins have high value. Fishermen don’t want to waste storage on transporting a whole body of a shark, so just cut the fin off and then throw the live shark back in the water.
Not only does the shark have to endure the excruciating pain of having part of its body chopped off, but the sharks endure a slow and excruciating death where they either starve, are eaten alive or drown.
Experts think that most shark species could die out in the next decade, if shark finning continues at the rate its going. For more information, check out the Stop Shark Finning website.
The Monkey Forest
I’m in two minds about Ubud’s Monkey Forest. It is what it says on the tin; a forest in Ubud that is home to a large monkey population. While the monkeys just being there is not detrimental – they are free to move around as they please and there are no enclosures on the forest – they are constantly fed by tourists.
Living on a diet of peanuts and bananas isn’t great for anyone, monkeys included – so if you want to look after the residents of the Monkey Forest, don’t purchase from any of the vendors to feed the monkeys; it’s far healthier for them to eat a normal diet of leaves and berries, which they will find in the tree canopy.
The monkeys have a great sense of smell and will often know if you’re carrying food in your bag; I saw a girls’ backpack be ripped into and a tube of Pringles taken by a swinging monkey!
Although they can forage for their food, it’s more convenient for them to take it off, passersby. But these types of foods are extremely bad for monkey kind, so do them a favour and don’t take any food in with you.
I’ve also been recently informed that some people are employed to hang around outside of the Monkey Forest and slingshot stones at any monkeys crossing the parameters, ensuring that they stay inside the forest. Why is this? To protect the monkeys or to ensure that they don’t escape, which makes the Monkey Forest no longer a tourist attraction?
Equally, it’s well known that there wouldn’t be so many here if they weren’t fed. When you think about it like this, the Monkey Forest is unnatural and is a place where animals are exploited for tourist entertainment.
There are, of course, counter-arguments – that they’re protected in the forest, that it could be dangerous for them if they started moving from the forest to surrounding areas, given that it’s smack bang in the middle of chaotic Ubud.
It’s another situ similar to the elephant crisis in Thailand – they’re now in this place, already semi-domesticated, and it might be dangerous to take them out of it.
I don’t know what the answer to this is. I wouldn’t go again, but if you decide to do not feed our touch them – that’s unethical. I’d love to know anyone’s thoughts on this, please leave a comment down below!
Places to ethically see wildlife
Diving and Snorkelling with an Ethical Company
From Sanur to the Nusa Islands, there are plenty of diving opportunities all over Bali. But the mass tourism to the island has caused much of the reef to be destroyed. Although the reef is nowhere near as spectacular as others, it is still worth diving, if you can do so ethically.
Make sure that you dive with a company that doesn’t disturb animals and lets them come to the dive groups (look at TripAdvisor reviews or just ask them!), don’t touch or corner any animals yourself, and don’t touch or step on coral.
And of course, while you’re in a boat, don’t even think about dropping any rubbish over the side of the boat! Of course, this accidentally happens sometimes – I learnt that the hard way when I dropped my GoPro into the Ningaloo Reef in Western Australia – but it can be avoided by securing all of your possessions to you and making sure you don’t leave any litter anywhere it can blow away.
The Gili Islands are trying to dramatically limit the amount of plastic that they use, as more and more of it is finding its way into the ocean and into the bodies of various aquatic animals. Plastic bags look like jellyfish to sea turtles, who eat them and then are painfully suffocated. To support this, don’t use plastic straws on the island (many restaurants don’t offer them) and take a reusable bag shopping with you. You could also participate in beach clear ups, or pick up rubbish while you’re diving.
If you decide against the Monkey Forest, you still have loads of chances to see these cheeky creatures. One popular monkey hang out spot is Uluwatu Temple. There are hundreds of monkeys here, so you’ll certainly get your fill of the creatures!
Be sure to keep any loose objects in your bag – when I was watching the Kecak Fire Dance at Uluwatu Temple a man’s glasses were stolen off of his head! Don’t get too close, do not feed them (and don’t take any food with you, or they will find it) and obviously, don’t touch them.
Know even if you’re just innocently taking a photo, there is a chance that they could grab your phone and make off with it. If you fight them, they’ll scratch ya. So just be aware!
Bird Village of Petulu
Located near Ubud, the Bird Village of Petulu encounters a spectacular phenomenon at 5:30pm every night – hundreds of birds flock there to rest every single day. They also lay eggs and raise their young there.
This has been happening since 1965 and there is no concrete reason why; many people believe that they are reincarnations of Balinese who were killed in the anticommunist Indochina massacre in 1965 and 1966.
It’s definitely a place to witness a natural spectacle!
Founded by a Hawaiian surfer, Friese realized that while shark poaching is very wrong, poachers would be in financial ruin if they could not continue with their trade. This is an issue that is very prevalent in the animal tourist industry – some people do make a living from it, and for financial reasons, can’t stop.
Friese had a solution. He decided to end this issue by helping the poachers turn into tour guides, meaning that they still got their income and the sharks were saved. They now offer a marine tour which gives tourists the chance to swim with sharks in a safe environment. Check out the Bali sharks website here.
Bali Barat National Park
You won’t have much like finding wild animals on the streets of Ubud or Seminyak, but head to the Bali Barat National Park to look out for a plethora of fascinating fauna.
The national park occupies 73 square miles in the north west part of the island; visitors have the chance to spot leopard cats, flying foxes, monitor lizards, wild boar and rusa deer, as well as an array of bird life. Best of all, they’re in their natural habitat!
To make the most of spotting wild animals, stay in Menjiangan Island – check out Yuda Menjangan Homestay for a highly rated property – and enjoy fully immersing yourself in the animal kingdom around you.
What more can I do?
If you’re finding yourself wanting to do more to help Bali animals when visiting the island, you’ll be pleased to know that there are lots of organisations and charities that you can get involved in.
The Bali Animal Welfare Association
This group do some amazing work in helping the island’s animals while also respecting the financial needs of their keepers. They seek to educate about the importance of responsible tourism, and also rehabilitate wild animals in need.
They put pressure on the Indonesian government to change dodgy laws and encourage people to sign petitions to do the same. Check out their website for ways you can help.
Gili Eco Trust
Gili Eco Trust is dedicated to defending the islands’ coral reefs from fishing, poisoning and pollution. They also focus on waste management in the marine environment and sustainable tourism; they are responsible for banning straws in many restaurants on Gili T. They want to create a sustainable island, where locals, tourists and animals can live in harmony.
To get involved you can donate, purchase an item at their eco friendly gift shop, take one of their eco tours or join their beach clean up, which takes place from 5 to 6pm every Friday. They offer great long term volunteer options as well; such as a two week intensive programme about reef restoration and a range of other opportunities for people of various professions.
Bali Sea Turtle Society
As previously mentioned, laws are tightening to protect sea turtles in Indonesia, although they are still hunted. Bali Sea Turtle Society educates communities about the importance of sea turtles and what could happen if they become extinct. To donate, you can purchase their DVD ‘A Journey Back to the Sea’.
Friends of the National Parks Foundation
This organisation is devoted to protecting the wildlife of Bali’s wild areas (mainly the forests of the Kalimantan region and forests on Nusa Penida). Going on an eco tour with the Friends of the National Parks or purchasing some of their merchandise is a great way to support the cause; but if you’re sticking around a bit longer, there are opportunities to volunteer.
I hope this blog post showed you how you can be a more sustainable traveller in Bali and help find some ethical animal experiences in Bali! If you have any comments or questions, please drop me a message over on Facebook.
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28 thoughts on “Bali Animals: How to Find Ethical Tourism Experiences”
Thank you for this! I was going to go to Bali Zoo while staying in Ubud (from Australia where the zoos are about animal conservation) and now I will avoid it! I was also going to try to find an elephant sanctuary because I watched some docos in assist about people saving tortured elephants and opening up these sanctuaries for their benefit. I will avoid these too! I’ll take up your recommendation of finding an ethical company to snorkel with instead. Glad you said Monkey Forest was mostly okay because I already went there the other day haha! Thanks again 🙂
Great to hear, Michelle! I’m glad my post helped and thank you for making some ethical choices 🙂 If you’re in Thailand I recommend Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, but to be honest most other sanctuaries in SE Asia (bar a few!) have unethical practices. Let me know if you have any more questions about the area!
Are there ethical places to see orangatans, rhinos, elephants, etc in Indonesia?
Not in Bali as far as I know – but I know that in Sumatra you can see orangutans in the wild on a multi-day trek if that interests you?
Just returned from Borneo (out of kota kinabalu, sabah, maylasia). Saw orangutans, gibbons, red leaf monkeys, macaques, pigmy elephants, and more, all in the wild.
Great to know that’s where wild animals can be found!
For elephants there is only one place in Indonesia that I know of that is worth visiting, but it’s in Sumatra. It’s barumun Nagari wildlife sanctuary. That have reached elephants and try to do pretty much what elephant Nature park in Thailand does. The elephants are free to roam during the day, at night they are in enclosures, for their own safety as well. No tricks, no shows and no Bullooks. They truly care about the elephants.
My experience of the monkey forest was not so ethical ? people are paid to stand around the edge of the ‘forest’ with small slingshots. They fire rocks at the monkeys if they try to leave or cross the fence. I also saw monkeys eating rubbish – plastic and cigarette butts.
Wow ok I did not know this, thanks a lot for bringing this to my attention. I’m going to do some more research and update the post! Thankyou!
I was just here, stayed in Ubud right by the Monkey Forest and didn’t see any of this (people with slingshots or preventing monkeys from leaving). The monkeys were free to leave and enter the sanctuary as they pleased and there were many of them hanging around outside of and away from the Monkey Forest across the street.
The plight of horses in Bali is sad. There’s animal cruelty everywhere, even where i come from, but the way tourism is driving part of this cruelty is terrible. I kept seeing these tuk tuks everywhere and i happened to walk close to one of the horses and saw that they are gagged?? And they had saliva dripping from their mouths! The poor babies were tired and hot from ferrying around tourists all day. One tuk tuk carried around 3 people at a time. I don’t get it, how does one even get oneself to get on one of these horrible contraptions strapped to a poor hungry, tortured creature?
Came back to the hotel and googled for Bali PETA and found your blog. Thanks for all the links in the end. Shall definitely donate or participate in their activism.
Thanks for your website. Were from New Zealand and come to Bali for the first time. luckily we are aware from TV shows and adverts of the widespread animal abuse and exploitation within these offered tourist excursions which to be honest shames us as humans. We are for most part avoiding animal tours, unless with websites like yours can steer us in right direction. ( The Hotel were in certainly doesnt) . the potential of their country regarding the lovely habitat and their awesome animals for tourism is amazing, IF they only changed their ways to treat the animals correctly and the habitat sustainably.
I think only by shining the light on these operations can change occur. Thanks again
Jon & Sue
Hi Jon & Sue, thanks for commenting! Yes you’re right, there is so much potential but sadly it’s not quite there with how the animals are treated yet 🙁 however there are plenty of places to see monkeys in the wild, and snorkel and scuba dive ethically if that is your thing (check reviews of tour operators to make sure they don’t handle or provoke marine life!) and failing that, there are plenty of non-animal related things to do on the island! Thanks for reading and I’m glad you liked the post.
Hi, Claire great read from you and it has confirmed my belief that these elephant ‘sanctuary’s’ are unethical. Were going to go on a bike ride instead now 🙂 thanks for the heads up about the birds in petulu my grandparents adore wild birds so im going to go so i can tell them all about it. Everytime i drive past a chicken cage van here in Bali i feel sick with guilt, im going to watch your suggested documentaries. Thankyou
Thank you for creating such a comprehensive collection of ethical and unethical animal interactions. My husband and I are scuba divers and have loved diving with wild underwater creatures for many years. We were just in Malapascau and were blessed enough to see the elusive thresher shark. I have always wanted to release turtle hatchlings and I’m glad to see that you support Bali Turtle Society. As a visitor, I’m never completely sure of how ethical an organization I’ve chosen. I’m saddened to hear that there are no true elephant sanctuaries there. Any place that offer elephant rides is a big NO!
Anyway, thank you again!
Love this ! Thank you
Hi Claire, love the post! It’s great to see more people questioning the ethics of the tourist attractions and many holiday companies are avoiding those that have been found to involve animal cruelty. It still poses a problem for many travellers who want to do the right thing.
We had intended to go to Sri Lanka this year but had to cancel due to the bombings. I had spent a lot of time researching ethical tourism on the island and had planned to go on safaris in order to view the animals in their natural environment.
One of the main plus points was the selection of vegetarian food in the Sri Lankan diet We are now considering Bali and so your post is very useful especially as I am keen to dive, but was wonderring how you found the food in the country? is it easy to find vegetarian and vegan options? And how can you be sure that no animal products are being used?
Hi Angela, yes it is quite easy to find vegetarian and vegan food, especially in the tourist areas. I think you can be sure in restaurants, but might want to double check with market stalls.
Thanks so much for letting us know the truth. We had visited the elephant sanctuary near Chang Mai and had a wonderful time, and were thinking of going to wash the elephants in Bali. I can’t stand any animal cruelty, and would have been very upset to see it. Keep up the good work!
We just visited Bali for the first time and avoided the Luwak coffee trip as was aware of the cats not being treated well. However we did visit the Ubud monkey forest and loved it. I don’t know whether they’ve become tougher since your visit but signage made it very clear that feeding or touching monkeys was not allowed and not to have any food in backpacks. There were a lot of staff around monitoring the tourists and certainly told one tourist off when he was trying to touch a monkey. Maybe we were lucky to get a day where 99% of tourists moved about with respect and just let the monkeys do their thing.
Hi Denise, thanks for the update! When I was there, feeding was still allowed (people sold bananas) and I definitely didn’t see any signs about not touching them so it may well have changed! There have been a few other reports from tourists about other problematic things in the comments here – I’m not sure if these are isolated incidents or bigger issues, but it’s great to get lots of different reports in these comments so thanks a lot for taking the time to add your experience. I hope you enjoyed Bali! 🙂
I chanced upon your article while researching ethical standards for the Taro Elephant Sanctuary in Ubud. Happy to say I have crossed that off my list.
Thank you for the cautionary tips and keep writing.
Thanks for an awesome article!
You forgot to mention diving the beautiful reefs in the north – around Menjangan island, which is a part of West Bali National Park. It is quite spectacular.
Thumbs up on diving with environmentally conscious diving centers. I’m a part of one and we take great care to make sure our guests understand the the DOs and DON’Ts, and why good buoyancy is critical.
Also, during my time here in Bali, I’ve heard rumours about a group that is going back to the original and proper way of collecting luwaks’ poo (following wild luwaks during the night). I can’t confirm it, I’m still looking for the source. If it’s true, I will definitely try their product. It’s going to be much more expensive than the cruel variety, of course, but I think consumers should be informed, environmentally responsible and support such practices. If you find out something about this new luwak movement, please let me know! I’ll pay them a visit!
I’ll check that out, I haven’t had the chance to dive in the north yet but it sounds incredible! Great to hear that you’re an environmentally conscious centre, I’ll get in contact when I’m next in Bali as I’d like to dive a bit more there!
That’s really interesting – do drop another comment if you can find the source! I haven’t heard about it yet but that could be an interesting addition to this article. My email is [email protected] if you want to get in touch there.
My friend has just visited a refuge for Samatran elephants who had been displaced due to logging. She said they were extremely well cared for. Sorry I do not know the name of the place but wondered if you could fill me in.
Hi Ros, I haven’t heard of this place! Is it in Bali or Sumatra?
Thank you so much for what you are doing; helping to make tourists aware that those so called ‘cute’ travel selfies with animals are anything but.
I have a small surf eco-lodge in West Bali & there is a ‘tourist attraction’ here that I would love you to be aware of.
It’s called ‘Makepung’ – buffalo racing.
My Balinese manager touted it as a great but when I looked into it further I was informed that these beautiful animals get hit with sticks full of nails to make them run faster!!
This event continues to run regularly (there is one large event annually but many smaller races also).
Can you please put this on your list of events to avoid in Bali – many tourists don’t know the cruelty embroiled within this event.
We have an information page at our lodge warning our guests but your page has much better reach.
Thank you so much-for listening to my concerns & for all you do…
Aimee, owner, Bombora Medewi Wave Lodge, Medewi Beach, West Bali.
Hi! Thanks for the awesome post, just wondering if you know anywhere we can go for the day or a few hours to volunteer/play/see street dogs, puppies and streets cats?
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