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Wildlife Guidelines

SEEtheWILD Wildlife Guidelines

Our mission is to promote tours and volunteer programs that support wildlife conservation efforts around the world. To ensure that we promote the best wildlife conservation tours out there, we have put together these guidelines for both general wildlife interaction as well as common wildlife encounters.

To be eligible for marketing with us, we ask that operators accept these guidelines and ensure that any tour promoted on SEEtheWILD follow them.

General Criteria

  • Direct Support for Wildlife Conservation Programs: Includes monetary or in-kind donations or volunteer support.
  • Strong Educational Programs: Tours educate travelers (and ideally local residents) about issues impacting wildlife, the environment, and local communities.
  • Reduced Environmental Impact: Partners actively reduce waste, greenhouse pollution, and other negative impacts of tours.
  • Patronage of Local Businesses: Partners use local guides and locally-owned services, accommodations, and restaurants wherever possible.

General Wildlife Interaction Guidelines

If tours involve viewing wildlife in the wild, tour operators should attempt to follow ethical viewing practices.

  1. Always respect wild animals:
    • Never feed a wild animal unless as part of an official rehabilitation program.
    • Keep a respectable distance and if the animal shows signs of fear or aggressiveness, back off immediately and give the animal plenty of space to move on.
    • Avoid chasing or following wildlife that is attempting to escape.
    • Keep watching times to a reasonable length to avoid stressing the animals.
    • Move slowly, quietly, and in full view to avoid scaring or stressing animals.
    • Avoid touching animals unless part of a carefully structured research or conservation program that has the required permits.
  2. Avoid captive wildlife facilities unless they actively support reintroduction to the wild or take in animals that would not be able to return to the wild (see below for more specific captive wildlife guidelines).
  3. Follow Leave No Trace guidelines to reduce human impact on wild places.

Wildlife in Captivity

All animals in captivity should be given the five freedoms listed below and any facility that does not incorporate these freedoms should be avoided.

  1. Freedom from Hunger and Thirst: Ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigor.
  2. Freedom from Discomfort: Provide an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.
  3. Freedom from Pain, Injury or Disease: Prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.
  4. Freedom to Express Normal Behavior: Provide sufficient space, proper facilities and company of the animal’s own kind.
  5. Freedom from Fear and Distress: Ensuring conditions and treatment that avoid mental suffering.

For more information, please see the ASV – Five Freedoms.

In addition, animal sanctuaries should follow the Global Federation of Animal Sanctuaries Standards of Excellence.

Guidelines for Specific Animals & Habitats

Sea Turtles

  • Hatchling releases should as much as possible take place at dusk or at night to help the hatchlings avoid predators.
  • Anyone handling hatchlings should wear gloves at all times.
  • Hatchlings need to cross the sand, projects should avoid placing them directly in the water.
  • Avoid allowing clients to take flash photos of turtles at night while nesting and encourage them to wear dark clothing to prevent disturbing the nesting process.
  • If visiting a nesting beach, clients should go out with a researcher or trained guide or be sure to follow any local guidelines or regulations.
  • On a nesting beach, clients should stay behind the turtle’s head while it is nesting.
  • In the US, only permitted researchers can touch sea turtles. Outside of the US, programs need to have permits from their government officials to work with and touch sea turtles.
  • When boating in the ocean, slow down when wildlife is present and avoid anchoring in sensitive coral reefs and seagrass beds.
  • Avoid littering and help to clean debris off the beach that can impede both adults and hatchlings.
  • Avoid projects that keep sea turtle hatchlings in tanks before they release them.

For more information, please see SEE Turtles Turtle Watching Tips.

Coral Reefs

  • Avoid allowing the touching of corals, as any contact can harm them as well as sting or injure snorkelers.
  • Encourage clients to remove nothing living or dead from the water, unless it is recent garbage that does not appear to have organisms living on it.
  • Clients should move slowly and deliberately in the water and have a planned entry and exit from the coral area to avoid walking on or unnecessary contact with corals.
  • Dock boats away from coral and use available moorings rather than anchors and chains which can harm corals.
  • Encourage clients to use non-toxic, ‘reef safe’ sunscreen.

For more information, please see Coral Reef Alliance – Snorkeling Guidelines.

Manatees:

  • Avoid allowing clients to touch, feed or give them water and leave plenty of space.
  • Prevent clients from approaching resting manatees.
  • Avoid making excessive noise or splashing which disturbs the manatees.
  • Do not allow scuba diving in the presence of manatees as the bubbles disturb them.
  • Avoid having boats chase manatees; if they try to avoid you then leave it alone.
  • Boats should move slowly in manatee areas and follow speed zones.
  • Prevent clients from surrounding manatees; they should always allow an escape path for the animal.
  • Prevent clients from separating a mother from its calf.

For more information, please see Florida Fish & WIldlife Manatee Viewing Guidelines.

Whales & Dolphins

  • Avoid luring whales or dolphins to the ship or shore with food. This could alter their behavior and put them in serious danger if they approach ships in the future.
  • Never get into the water with whales, for your safety and theirs.
  • Never take part in swimming with captive dolphins, as captivity causes undue stress and harm to the dolphins.
  • Swimming with dolphins should only be done where legal and under careful guidelines including allowing the dolphins to come to the group and avoiding touching or disturbing them.
  • Boats should remain a safe distance from dolphins and whales and avoid chasing.
  • Boats should remain at a slow, safe speed and engine should be put in neutral when approached by a whale to allow it to pass.
  • Approach whales and dolphins parallel and avoid positioning boats in front of or behind them.
  • Do not separate members of a pod or encircle animals between boats or boats and the shore.

For more information, please see Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society’s resources: Swimming with Dolphins and Responsible Whale Watching.

Elephants (wild and captive/riding)

  • Due to inhumane training practices, avoid promoting tours that include elephant riding.
  • Instead visit legitimate sanctuaries that have rescued elephants from inhumane tourism practices, and do not force them to give rides or perform in any way.
  • Elephants should be allowed to act naturally when in captivity and should not be forced to walk for lengthy periods of time.
  • When viewing elephants in the wild, follow a trained guide who can identify any cues of distress.
  • When encountering a wild elephant on the road, back away slowly. Wait for the elephant to leave the road before continuing the tour or attempting to pass.
  • Always have clients avoid elephants in musth, especially the males as they are particularly aggressive during musth. Signs include a visible discharge from the temporal ducts on the side of their heads.

For more information, please see Adore Animals – Ethical Elephant Experience and Travel for Wildlife – Responsible Tourism in Thailand.

Wildlife Safaris

  • Safari vehicles should always stay on main tracks to avoid damaging plants and harming small animals.
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 65 feet from animals and remain inside the vehicle.
  • Do not follow animals when they attempt to move away or use loud noises that will disturb them.
  • Time spent viewing animals should be limited as well as number of vehicles near animals at any given time.
  • Do not remove anything while on the safari (i.e. bone, skins, teeth, horns, feathers, eggs, rocks, or plants)
  • Do not touch any animal; living or dead.
  • Only go on a walking safari with a trained and knowledgeable guard, as the walking tours can be dangerous for humans and disrupt the animals.
  • Do not allow clients to feed animals.
  • Clients should remain inside the vehicle at all times and should not hang outside the windows.

For more information, please see Right Tourism – Safari Practices.