Traveling is a life-changing experience. There’s nothing like immersing yourself in the sights and smells of a new destination, sampling exotic foods, and learning about a culture different from your own. But not every spot on the map is worth the hard-earned vacation dollars of an animal lover.
“There are a lot of tourist attractions out there that misrepresent themselves as rescue facilities or places dedicated to conservation,” says Debbie Leahy, manager of captive wildlife protection at The Humane Society of the United States. “Like anything else, the consumer has to do their due diligence to make sure the facility is what it claims to be.”
Here are six destinations animal lovers should avoid, plus tips on where to go instead:
The financial troubles in Greece haven’t just taken a toll on the country’s human population; Greece’s animals are also in jeopardy. At Attica Park, Athens’ only zoo, many animals were at risk of starvation in 2015. The financial crisis has also been difficult for pets whose owners can no longer afford to keep them.
From Thessaloniki to Santorini, the country’s streets have seen an influx of strays, especially pedigree pets that require expensive grooming and more frequent or expensive vet visits. While there are plenty of good Samaritans trying to help Greece’s strays, the country as a whole has faced criticism for its treatment of animals.
Where to go instead: Turkey. Cats have always had a special place in Islam. Here stray cats are well-fed and welcomed in businesses and mosques.
The tradition of bullfighting has been part of Spain’s culture for centuries. Much to the bulls’ chagrin. At the end of the one-sided “fight,” the animal winds up being killed.
Where to go instead: Argentina. Many of Spain’s former colonies have banned the blood sport, including Argentina. Bonus points: In 2016, Argentina also introduced a bill banning animal testing.
Every spring for the past hundred or so years, villagers in Bulgaria have warded off disease, illness and evil by sacrificing a dog. The country officially ended the practice in 2006, but videos of the ritual in action have surfaced from as recently as 2011. It’s believed some remote villages still practice the tradition today.
Where to go instead: Austria. The country’s 2004 Animal Welfare Act featured some of the world’s toughest animal protection legislation, including banning owners from clipping their dogs’ ears and tails.
For decades, thousands of animals have been killed during the dog meat festival in Yulin, located in the Guangxi province of China. The festival was supposedly banned, and has made headlines worldwide in recent years as animal activists have worked tirelessly to shut it down, but many animals are still being killed in street markets and illegal slaughterhouses.
Where to go instead: Italy. The country outlawed the euthanasia of healthy companion animals in 2015 and instead controls stray populations through humane trap and neuter programs.
Riding on the back of an elephant through a steamy south Asian jungle sounds like a thrilling adventure, but it’s the opposite for the animal. According to World Animal Protection, elephants have not evolved to carry weight on their backs. They must be trained to serve as tourist taxis, a process that involves separating them from their mothers at a young age and subjecting the normally-social animal to long periods of forced isolation.
“It’s called ‘the crush,’” said Elizabeth Hogan, the U.S. wildlife campaign manager at World Animal Protection. “It literally refers to the need to break the animal’s spirit.”
Where to go instead: Tennessee. The Elephant Sanctuary in Hohenwald, Tennessee is the country’s largest natural habitat refuge for endangered African and Asian elephants. Fourteen solar powered “EleCams” stationed throughout the habitats provide a non-invasive opportunity to watch as the elephants graze, forage and swim.
The city and its surrounding municipalities have had breed bans in effect since the 1980s, says Cory Smith, director of pet protection and policy at The Humane Society of the United States. The ordinance bans “Pit Bull Breeds,” including American Pit Bull Terrier, American Staffordshire Terrier and Staffordshire Bull Terrier. Upon second offense, the dog becomes the property of the city-operated Denver Animal Shelter.
Where to go instead: Prince George’s County, Maryland. Smith says this community just outside Washington DC has a “pro animal” infrastructure that includes humane animal control programs, a cat cafe and robust adoption programs.
Helen Anne Travis is a freelance writer based in Tampa, FL. She also writes for CNN, The Guardian and The Globe and Mail.