Last week, the New Zealand government banned tourists from swimming with bottlenose dolphins in the Bay of Islands. The decision was based on research by the department of conservation that showed human interaction was “having a significant impact on the population’s resting and feeding behaviour”. The number of bottlenose dolphins in the bay has plummeted from 270 in 1999 to 31, according to The New Zealand Herald newspaper. By some estimates, as many as 550,000 wild animals are suffering around the world for the entertainment of tourists. Lobbying to improve welfare standards comes in the form of petitions, boycotts, bans and legislation. And it’s not just animal rights organisations that are applying pressure and highlighting bad practice; travel companies and tourists are increasingly distancing themselves from cruel behaviour. It’s a complicated situation. Most holidaymakers are unaware of the abuse inflicted on performing animals (one study suggests that 80 per cent of TripAdvisor comments left for venues that treat wild animals cruelly are positive). Conversely, many owners and handlers adore their animals and would be horrified if they were accused of mistreatment. But it’s also fair to say that profits perpetuate inhumane activities, from snake charming to making monkeys and bears dance. Rather than a blanket boycott, some think the answer lies in cajoling owners into better behaviour by emphasising the financial incentives of treating their animals with dignity. Others believe we should skip staged interactions entirely. As Kate Nustedt, wildlife director of non-profit organisation World Animal Protection (WAP) puts it: “If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then you can be sure it is cruel. Vote with your feet and don’t go.” Dolphins The capturing of wild dolphins or breeding them at animal theme parks polarises opinion. Advocacy groups say the mammals spend their lives in spaces that are much too small and swim in chlorinated water that causes skin and eye irritations. They allege that captive cetaceans suffer from a range of health issues, including depression and psychological distress, and claim bottlenose dolphins are six times more likely to die immediately after being caught than if they hadn’t been. The Canadian parliament has passed legislation banning the capture and breeding of whales, dolphins and porpoises, and, last month, British Airways stopped selling tickets to SeaWorld, following similar moves by Virgin Holidays and Thomas Cook. In response, the Florida marine park says the decisions are misinformed and travel companies are succumbing to pressure from animal rights activists. Donkeys and mules After being lobbied with photographs and a petition, the Greek Ministry of Agriculture has introduced legislation making it illegal for donkeys to carry loads exceeding 100kg (220 pounds) on the island of Santorini. “Loads”, in this case, refers to overweight sightseers who ride the beasts of burden up and down more than 500 steps to Fira, despite there being a cable car to the highly Instagrammable capital. Donkey rides: think twice before taking one People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) have drawn attention to the long hours the donkeys work and the fact they’re often denied rest, shade and water. Some suffer from spinal injuries and open wounds from ill-fitting saddles. Peta also has horse-drawn vehicles in its sights. Citing Mallorca as an example, the United States-based organisation describes how horses are made to pull heavy carriages through busy, traffic clogged streets where “the honk of a car’s horn or even just an insect bite can be enough to trigger the horses’ instinct to bolt”. Some collapse from exhaustion, particularly in the summer, when temperatures reach 40 degrees Celsius. Elephants WAP claims that besides being ridden and used as a prop for selfies, many of the 3,800 captive elephants in Thailand are forced to entertain audiences by playing football, riding tricycles, throwing darts, painting and dancing. After an elderly elephant that carried visitors around Angkor Wat died from a heart attack, petitions and media publicity led to the ending of rides at the Cambodian temple complex. According to the Angkor Elephant Group Committee, the activity will stop in early 2020 and the 14 pachyderms still employed will be transferred to a conservation and breeding centre. Protesters in Jaipur, India, recently took to the streets to call time on the tradition of elephants carrying tourists up a steep, kilometre-long path to Amber Fort. A report by the Animal Welfare Board of India that suggested the impressive beasts were being maltreated resulted in a police investigation. Tigers A photo with a tiger cub is the highlight of a trip to Thailand for many holidaymakers. Fewer would think so if they realised the cute cats are taken from their mothers soon after birth and are often declawed and drugged. In 2016, 40 dead cubs were found in a freezer at a Thai Buddhist temple accused of wildlife trafficking and abuse. Tiger selfies: Chinese, Indian tourists lead cruel social media trend Be wary of weasel words such as “sanctuary”, “hand-reared” and “rescue centre” – most of the animals are kept in concrete cages when they’re not being forced to pose. Tourists have signed petitions at Change.org and Care2, and TripAdvisor has become the go-to medium for highlighting cruel conduct. But even if the campaigns meet with success, tigers raised and “domesticated” by humans can never be released back into natural habitats. Camels The treatment of camels at Egypt’s pyramids of Giza has long upset visitors unused to seeing emaciated animals with festering wounds, saddle sores and scars. Numerous petitions, newspaper articles, dedicated Facebook pages and online reviewers have flagged up incidences of cruelty: “The camels we took out for the day were obviously abused. One had a limp and could barely make it down a hill but they still forced it to carry us. My camel had blood dripping down its neck because its harness was too tight.” Why Facebook needs to stop feeding us animal-cruelty videos Taking a hard line, Peta has called on tourists to boycott all working animals at major archaeological sites in Egypt. Others encourage people to look for evidence of abuse and refuse to ride camels that show signs of neglect or malnutrition. They point out that shunning the popular activity entirely could leave owners unable to support their animals. A new visitor centre is due to open at Giza this year, and included will be an area set aside for horse and camel rides complete with zones in which the animals will receive food, water and medical treatment. Expect a TripAdvisor meltdown if the facilities don’t materialise.