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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