ethics

A Podcast Just For You!

What makes AEI different from other social enterprises who are owned by women and have a dozen awards for their benefit to the community and the environment? Well... we are actually the only one! Listen to our story and what our founder has to say about being 'successful'. 

Listen to the newest episode of The School for Humanity Podcast to learn more about AEI and why travelling ethically helps us, you and the planet!

"Why is that monkey in a cage?"

monkey in a cage

I was recently talking to someone about our work at Animal Experience International, when she stopped me to ask why the photo I was showing her was of a spider monkey in a cage.

Did AEI support caging wild animals?

This was an important question, and a topic I am also passionate about as a wildlife veterinarian. I do not want to see wildlife kept in captivity if they can be living their lives free in the wild. The spider monkey in the photo was actually being housed at a wildlife rescue centre in Guatemala. This is an amazing organization that works tirelessly to rescue wild animals that have been captured as part of the illegal wildlife trade. When animals are confiscated from smugglers or from people using them to entertain tourists, they need somewhere to recover from their terrible ordeal. Some require medical attention. Others need supportive care. And orphaned babies need to be raised until they are old enough to care for themselves. While at the rescue centre, the animals are housed in enclosures that keep them safe, while protecting the humans that care for them.

So yes, they are in cages - but only temporarily. The goal is always to release them back to the wild. Staff and volunteers work hard to make the animals’ experience at the rescue centre as comfortable as possible. The wildlife are provided with environmental enrichment, places to hide and an enclosure set up that allows them to carry out their natural behaviours. The animals are moved to larger and larger enclosures as they begin to heal, and contact with people becomes less and less. For this spider monkey, he will eventually be housed with other spider monkeys in a large enclosure deep in the forest of the rescue centre and will see people as little as possible to minimize his exposure to humans. One day these spider monkeys will all be released to live their lives free in the jungle.

Gibbon Island in Thailand

Gibbon Island in Thailand


AEI also supports several wildlife sanctuaries that provide a safe home for animals that cannot survive in the wild, and therefore cannot be released. Our elephant and wildlife sanctuary in Thailand is an excellent example of an organization working to provide a dignified and comfortable home for rescued, non-releasable animals. Their enclosures help to protect the animals, and are as large and natural as possible to ensure the animals are comfortable. Take for example their gibbons that cannot be released for one reason or another. These amazing primates are given an island to live on, separate from the main centre and are even fed remotely using a pulley system so that they are very rarely in contact with people. They are allowed to live as naturally as possible without human interference.


It is a sad reality that wild animals need to be kept in captivity at times in order to help or protect them. AEI supports organizations that house wildlife on a temporary basis, as part of a rescue and rehabilitation program. If providing long-term sanctuary we ensure that the best possible care is being offered the animals and that their lives are enriched and natural behaviours are encouraged. This is something that is very important to us - because wild animals deserve to be kept wild.

Want to volunteer with us in Guatemala or Thailand? Check out our program pages to volunteer anytime during the year (animals need help all year round and so we send volunteers all year round). Want to volunteer in Guatemala WITH us? Why not sign up for Expedition Guatemala? Take part in the rehabilitation of wildlife with your own two hands and understand the amazing work that is being done, first hand. 10 days volunteering with wildlife in February, sign up today!

Confronting the Aftermath of Animal Trafficking in Costa Rica.

When you google ocelot, this is what comes up:

Can you keep an ocelot as a pet?

Is it legal to have an ocelot as a pet?

Are ocelots dangerous pets?

_____

Animal trafficking is alive and well in the Americas. It's disturbing how these animals are captured. It's harrowing to see how they are illegally trafficked from the country. It's heartbreaking to see what their lives become when they are stolen from the wild and live as unhappy pets in small enclosures. 

This is an animal sanctuary we recently visited in Costa Rica. While sanctuaries are not perfect (only the wild is), it did a pretty damn good job explaining to people why these animals couldn't be realised back into their forest homes. Spoiler alert: humans. When these animals are trafficked sometimes their teeth are ripped out without anaesthetic, sometimes they are declawed without anaesthetic, sometimes they are just taken so young they never had a chance to learn how to be wild. They can't hunt, socialise, den or even really cat. 

Humanities obsession with owning things and our entitlement over the natural world has spelled often a life of torture and psychosis for the animals who survive animal trafficking. 

If you love animals, keep them in the wild. Ocelots are not for you, no matter how cute you think they are. 

While this enclosure is pretty good habitat for this cat, it pales in comparison to the life she would have if she was in the wild.

While this enclosure is pretty good habitat for this cat, it pales in comparison to the life she would have if she was in the wild.

Readers Digest says no to elephant...

rides!

Why? Because they asked us what tourist attractions were overrated. We thought about this idea at first. We love being tourists, that is why we started AEI. We love travel but we love giving back- the real reason we started AEI. 

We love going to new and exciting places and getting selfies with other tourists. We love meeting people at landmarks we had only dreamed of visiting. We love coming back and showing silly grins from silly friends exploring places that have been explored before, just not by us. We love being tourists. We love touring the world. So did we really think there were things that were overrated. Then we remembered the horrible torture of elephants and we remembered yes, of course there were things that were overrated- they were things that take advantage of animals, people and communities. 

Elephant rides help no one. Before elephants can be trained to have someone (or someones) on their back they have to be horribly broken as babies. We would explain it more, but it really is horrific. A quick search on google will keep you crying for days. After elephants are terribly broken, they can be dangerously shipped all over the countries they are living in. Sometimes on the back of trucks, sometimes on trains, always horrified and in danger of hurting themselves and others. Once they get to the attraction they will be working in they are typically not given enough water, socialisation or room to roam. They are chained when they are not boringly walking the same track over and over again with heavy loads on their backs. Do the elephants like this? Of course they don't. Do the communities that have elephant rides located close to them? Typically they don't either. They see these elephants languishing in the sun, in pain, bleeding and rocking due to boredom and torture. Not many communities we have talked to are excited to say they host exploitative acts. 

So why even have them anymore? Because people want to see elephants and don't know there is a better way! The better way is visiting and volunteering at elephant sanctuaries. Places were elephants are allowed to live in social groups with enough water, browse and space to walk, without chains and painful isolation. We help people volunteer in Thailand at such a beautiful and loving place, you can volunteer their, too! Check out our Elephant Sanctuary Volunteering page and write us a note if you are interested. 

There aren't too many things that we think are overrated when you travel, but we for sure think there is no good tourism when there is exploitation. 

Check our Readers Digest's article about overrated tourist attractions and see what we have to say about elephants!

Are All Volunteer Programs Positive?

Unfortunately: no. 

"Volunteering" doesn't automatically mean you will be helping. Which is why before we send any volunteers anywhere we make sure the work isn't just safe and ethical. It's real.  

Before partnering with a program we ask to see their release rates; their animal handling protocols; check if they are accredited, registered, certified or part of any in-country or worldwide animal alliances, charities, colleges or trusts. We also visit them as the final step into making sure our clients are taking part in the best programs in the world. 

But why is this necessary:

Unfortunately there are a lot of groups out there that are taking advantage of volunteers, animals and people. People want to travel and give back and their good intentions and motivations shouldn't be taken advantage of.

Never volunteer on short term programs that have you with children or marginalised community members. In Cambodia regions 72% of children in 'orphanages' still have one or both parents (research conducted by UNICEF Cambodia). Some parents use their children as pawns on the street- begging for money instead of sending them to schools. Begging is seen to make more money immediately than the investment of school. When we give money to children begging on the street we lock them into a cycle of unsustainability, lower education and poverty. We strongly encourage you visit sites like ChildSafe International to learn more about child exploitation and how you can travel fairly. There are more than 215 million child laborers worldwide. If you see a child who you suspect is being forced to work please contact ChildSafe International or Interpol.

What about animals?

Unfortunately, while researching conservation and animal programs we are starting to see the same startling trends being noted with 'orphanage volunteering'. People are stealing animals from the wild, running fake sanctuaries and charging volunteers to 'help'. Volunteers are going, spending a lot of money and thinking they are helping but not actually doing anything but harming these individual animals and sometimes whole populations. Without the proper care these animals live terrible lives languishing in enclosures not suitable for them and eventually die of malnutrition or other very much preventable deaths. There are some programs that have volunteers working hands on with lions just to have those lions released into game hunting reserves. These blood lions are being raised not for conservation but for killing.

We all want to be hands and feet for programs helping the world around us. But, we have the responsibly to who we are helping to make good and educated choices so we are benefiting not hindering the cause.

Why We Will Never Volunteer With Kids.

When we started AEI we wanted to help people like you make the very best decisions while volunteering with animals. We visit all the programs, we look at release records, humane welfare standards must be high and we show preference to programs that have home stays- so you can live IN the community you are volunteering in.  We make sure the footprint you leave is as beneficial as possible- in the community and the environment. This is also the reason we don't have programs that have our volunteers working with kids. But why? Don't kids need help, too?

Did you know certain forms of volunteering can be harmful to the very people you’re trying to help? Did you know that 80% of children living in orphanages are not orphans and that volunteering at or giving to such places may be supporting the exploitation of children?
 

Working with children in institutions, such as orphanages or schools, is a job for local experts, not for volunteers who are just passing through. Children deserve more than good intentions, they need experienced, skilled and supervised caretakers and teachers  who know the local culture and language.

If you would like to support children, speak with a local child protection organization to see how you can help (we have a list of contacts for you). There are many ways you can support children without directly caring for them. Look for opportunities that involve empowering and transferring your skills to local staff to have a long-term  positive impacts, such as marketing or communications, website development, graphic design or fundraising (again, we can put you in touch with great organizations that would love for you to help).
 

We want to make sure we were always making a beneficial difference to the communities. We want to make sure that we do right by you, the community and the youngest and most vulnerable members of the community. For those reasons we decided to become a ChildSafe Supporter. We want to help protect children from abuse and exploitation and help our volunteers better protect children while abroad.

Do you have questions about ChildSafe or about how you can help the community without harming children? Just ask! That's why we are here!

Nora and Heather

PS: Are you a Floridian looking to volunteer locally? Check out All The Rooms for their blog about the best places to volunteer in Florida