If you asked me this question several years ago, I would have confidently answered, "Yes!" Today, however, I would change that response and say, "I'm always learning and doing the best I can."
I've definitely made mistakes over the years (like the time I rode an elephant in Cambodia). Perhaps you have, too. So in the interest of education, awareness and authenticity, I'm letting my guard down and sharing some of my mistakes with you, so you don't have to make them yourself.
Back in 2010, simply put, my friend and I were naive. We truly thought we were going to have a magical moment in a magical place with a gentle giant. However, shortly after we sat down on the poor elephant's back and posed for the photo above, we both knew it was a bad idea.
The elephant and the mahout (the elephant's handler) were clearly unhappy, and the whole experience just felt wrong. Later, I learned just how harmful it is to ride elephants.
Then, in 2012, in an attempt to right my wrong and interact with elephants in a more ethical way, I spent a week volunteering at Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.
But after watching this video, created in 2019 by World Animal Protection, I realized I still made some mistakes ... namely hand-feeding, bathing and kissing the elephants.
Please note: A lot of progress has been made recently, and reputable elephant sanctuaries around the world continue to adjust their practices to limit unnatural human interaction with rescued elephants. For example, as of April 2018, Elephant Nature Park no longer offers elephant bathing.
Now, it may seem like all the fun, cool experiences are being "taken away," but I promise you, the more you learn and understand about elephants, the more you will value and appreciate observing them without getting too close.
Case in point: The most life-enhancing, exhilarating elephant encounter I've had so far took place in 2019 when I observed wild elephants at a watering hole in Zimbabwe. Seeing the majestic, wild creatures in their natural environment and watching them interact with one another was SO MUCH BETTER than any of my interactions with captive elephants.
Keep in mind, while all the stories above revolve around elephants, these principles apply to ALL animals in captivity that are used to entertain tourists. For more information on becoming a truly animal-friendly traveler, please take the time to read World Animal Protection's Animal-Friendly Tourism Guide.
At Travel That Matters, we're dedicated to always learning and evolving and connecting with organizations on the leading edge of animal welfare. If you have any animal-friendly experiences you'd recommend, we'd love to hear about them!