Elephant riding at Mason Elephant Park. Credit: Andito Wasi / World Animal Protection

Bali, Indonesia: Intel to avoid online embarrassment


Before booking any Bali holiday packages where you meet native wildlife, read this guide on choosing ethical experiences that don’t harm Bali animals.

Bali, Indonesia is famous for its dramatic natural beauty and rich wildlife. In fact, seeing tigers, elephants, dolphins, turtles, monkeys, and apes is one of the biggest reasons why 4.5 million tourists opted for a Bali holiday in 2023. But, while this tourism is great for the country’s economy, the wildlife in Bali is paying a hefty price. 

We created a report in 2017 highlighting the plight of Bali animals exploited for tourism. Six years on, we asked whether those going on Bali package holidays are having a different, more ethical experience. 

Our findings were profoundly disappointing.

What is wildlife tourism?

To discuss the exploitation of wildlife in Bali, we first need to talk about “wildlife tourism”. Lots of people want to go on holiday abroad and see the native animals living safely and happily in their natural environment. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that, as long as those animals really are living naturally in the wild.

Wildlife tourism is different. Rather than prioritising the needs of the animals, wildlife tourism focuses on giving tourists “experiences” and “encounters” with animals. Tourists are encouraged to touch animals and interact with them in ways that are profoundly unnatural and harmful to the animals.

Any encounter where an animal is exploited for entertainment, where it cannot leave, or where it is forced to act in ways it wouldn’t naturally is always exploitative. This includes swimming with dolphins, petting big cats, and riding elephants.

There's nothing to 'like' about wildlife interactions on social media

Uploading social media posts of interacting with these activities is already out of touch, and will become downright embarrassing in the long run. Similar to how many jokes and behaviors from 90s comedies now seem insensitive; these posts reflect a lack of awareness and empathy for animal welfare. 

Instead of showcasing exploitation, we should amplify ethical interactions with wildlife that respect their natural behaviours and habitats.

Is wildlife tourism a problem in Bali, Indonesia?

Our 2017 report found huge problems with wildlife tourism in Bali, Indonesia. Unfortunately, our Australia team's 2023 report 'Holidays that harm' shows little change.

We have been forced to conclude that there is still no way to see the wildlife in Bali responsibly or ethically.

We found that no venues housing elephants, tigers, dolphins, or civet cats met the animals’ basic needs. Primates hardly fared better with 80% of venues providing environments in which basic needs were not met. Bali animals suffered inadequate shelter, food, veterinary care, and more.

Our findings were not confined to small tourist events, either. Bali zoos, safaris, marine parks, and even free-roaming animal “sanctuaries” failed to meet the most basic standards of animal care. 

Let’s look at some of these venues in more detail. 

Animal cruelty at Bali Zoo

Bali Zoo was one of the venues that we found providing inadequate care for their animals in 2017. We were disappointed to see no improvement after six years.

Not only are existing venues not improving but new, exploitative attractions are being created. Tasta Zoo, Bali, is a new premise that houses abused animals from venues that closed during the pandemic.

Their lives have not improved as a result.

Exploitative wildlife tourism in Bali marine parks

Bali Exotic Marine Park is another new venue that has taken custody of animals from closed attractions — and continued their lives of suffering. They greenwash their operations by calling themselves a palace of 'conservation and education.' While dolphins are forced to swim in tiny enclosures and “kiss” tourists for photos.

Again, existing venues have also failed to improve. Bali Fantasi Benoa Bay is a turtle park that continues to fail to provide adequate conditions for their animals. 

@travelwithholl naturally we went home straight after and didn’t stay the night, animals aren’t fckn decorations and elephants are not methods of transport #balilife #bali #placesNOTtovisitinbali ♬ original sound - TRAVEL WITH HAIR

'Animals aren't fckn decorations' - A tourist calls out cruelty at Bali Safari

Bali safaris put animal welfare at risk

Wildlife parks are another area where we saw no improvement. Both Bakas Elephant Park and Bali Safari Park continued to house animals — especially elephants — in unsuitable premises and without meeting their basic needs for food, space, and social interaction.

Mason Elephant Park did show some minor signs of improvement. Elephants are no longer used in shows at this venue and a socialisation space has been made available for them. Unfortunately, we only saw one solitary elephant in this space while others were chained in isolation elsewhere. In short, their efforts have been too minimal to ever call them ethical.

'Free roaming' animals aren't free

Ethical tourists often seek areas where animals can roam free, but these can be deceptive in Bali, Indonesia. Alas, Kedaton and Ubud Sacred Monkey Forests both offer opportunities to see monkeys “roaming”, but these animals are often baited by food and encouraged to pose for selfies.

Similarly, Lovina Beach is advertised as an opportunity to watch “free" dolphins. Unfortunately, up to 120 boats chase the animals at a time, causing chaotic, stressful situations where dolphins are sometimes hit and injured. Adult dolphins now actively avoid this area because it’s unsafe.

How to see native wildlife in Bali safely and guilt-free

Bali is home to beautiful native animals and it’s completely understandable that responsible tourists want to see them in meaningful and ethical ways. We want you to be able to experience seeing these Bali animals too —  but that requires their tourist industry to improve.

Many of these tourist venues are attempting to profit from your desire to see these animals ethically. Entertainment venues often masquerade as “sanctuaries” or “rescues” to lure in ethical tourists. You may accidentally book questionable Bali holiday packages, as a result.

So, as a rule of thumb:

  • Never go to a “sanctuary” that is trying to sell you photos for Instagram. It’s the biggest red flag that they aren’t a legitimate sanctuary and aren’t putting the animals’ wellbeing first.
  • Use social media to research places. If other tourists have posted photos where they’re interacting with animals, you know not to go there. 

If you come across any questionable content on social media — including wild animal tourism, selfies, or unintentional abuse — don’t forget to report it directly to us and SMACC, a collaboration of various animal protection organisations that seeks to end the availability, spread, and profitability of cruelty content on social media.

Here are some more detailed tips to help you see native wildlife in Bali ethically.

Use genuine venues that allow observation, not interaction

Wildlife in Bali is just that - wild. If a venue allows you to touch or interact with their animals, those animals are not being allowed to be truly wild. If they are trying to sell you photos for your Instagram, stay away.

Ideally, look for excursions to see genuinely wild native Bali animals in their own natural habitats. If this isn’t possible, choose a wildlife reserve or sanctuary that doesn’t allow touching.

Sanctuaries are designed to rescue animals from captivity. Captive breeding programs are not conservation efforts. Instead, they’re designed to increase profits by creating more animals to suffer for human entertainment. Avoid any Bali zoo or sanctuary that engages in captive breeding.

Look for responsible venues that keep you at a distance

Wild animals don’t need or want close encounters with humans. Avoid any experience that allows you to touch, hold, feed, wash, or take a selfie with any wild animal.

If you’re not sure if a venue offers such experiences, look on social media. If visitors tagging the location can be seen interacting with the animals, you know not to go. You can also report this content to SMACC as animal cruelty, under the ‘wild animal tourism/selfies’ criteria to help combat the proliferation of online animal cruelty content.

Book through ethical companies with ethical suppliers

It’s difficult for individual tourists to dig deeply enough to be completely sure that every single venue they want to visit during their Bali holiday has the ethical standards we’re looking for. Make life easier for yourself by always booking with reputable companies that have a proven record of prioritising animal protection.

Ethical companies care about their ethical standards and want you to know about them. Look for a clear, prominent statement on their animal welfare policy and make sure that it matches the criteria we’ve explained here.

Raise awareness online

We must demand publically that leading travel companies, like GetYourGuide, stop selling these cruel experiences to travellers.

Small actions you take can change lives:

  1. Refuse to use GetYourGuide's services until they commit to a comprehensive animal welfare policy.
  2. Demand that GetYourGuide revise their policies and stop selling tickets for these cruel attractions.
  3. Use our TikTok sound to amplify awareness and inspire others to join the boycott.
♬ Travel-responsibly - World Animal Protection 🌎

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