During our years of experience in Southeast Asia, Journeys Within has found that environmental protection and animal welfare throughout the region is in its infancy. Many struggling families make ends meet by catching endangered creatures to eat or sell. Others keep animals for labor, show and sport. Indeed, if you look closely at the many temples within the region, you can see evidence of animals such as elephants being used in farming, logging and warfare for hundreds of years, and these sacred animals are considered an integral part of the local culture.
As Journeys Within Tour Consultants and Directors personally inspect every tour and hotel, we have been witnesses to both best- and worst-case scenarios in regards to the treatment of animals. A core pillar of our company philosophy is that we believe that a tour company not only has a responsibility to its guests, but also a responsibility to the communities and environments within the countries in which we live and work. For this reason, we have been very careful to select tour and hotel partners that share this belief. We declined to send our guests to support tiger experiences, such the one at Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua Temple (known as the Tiger Temple), more than 10 years ago because these tours did not (and still don’t) provide healthy environments for the tigers.
Animal welfare in Southeast Asia has understandably been featured in the media lately and there is a strong public outcry to cease and desist any activities associated with animals. However, it is also important to keep in mind that these are generally not wealthy communities, and without sustainable programs to support and protect animals such as elephants and tigers, these amazing creatures are in danger of being neglected, euthanized or hunted due to lack of funds to care for them.
We recommend a middle path and wanted to share a few animal experiences that are doing amazing work in helping to protect endangered species within Southeast Asia in a safe and sustainable fashion. Journeys Within offers tours specifically tailored for guests who have a strong interest in wildlife and conservation, such as the Cambodia Conservation Tour, where guests can be sure that the animal interactions that they are supporting truly give back to the local animals and people. Here are some of our favorites:
- The Elephant Valley Project in Mondulkiri serves as a sanctuary and recuperation center for elephants in need and for retired elephants. The elephants are released back into a natural habitat. Guests can visit and observe the family groups as they forage in the jungle and the elephants choose whether or not to wander up and say hello to visitors.
- Sam Veasna Center (SVC) provides wildlife viewing trips with exclusive access to Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) sites across Cambodia, where travelers can view a variety of rare birds native to Cambodia. This non-profit strives to provide an alternative sustainable livelihood based on eco-tourism for the local communities in return for no hunting and land use agreements.
- The Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre in Phnom Penh cares for and rehabilitates animals rescued from the illegal wildlife trade. We highly recommend the Bear Care Tour, run by the non-profit Free the Bears which offers a “behind the scenes” tour of the world’s largest Sun Bear Sanctuary.
- The Nam Nern Night Safari in Laos is a boat-based tour into the core of the Nam Et-Phou Louey National Protected Area. This adventure provides a rare opportunity to view protected wildlife through a program that is designed to support alternative livelihoods for the locals who have grown up hunting and tracking by retraining them as naturalists and guides, and generate community support for conservation of tigers and other wildlife by donating a portion of the funds to the local community for schools.