One of yesterday’s talks really stood out for me – a presentation on how wildlife tourism affects bears in the wild. Visiting bears in their natural habitat could actually be detrimental to their behaviour and disturb them.
In North America for example, bears keep well away from people in vast forests, but there is growing concern as the number of tourists encroaching on their habitat is increasing all the time.
Bears are known to be quite shy of people and when tourists are around they can be prevented from enjoying their normal everyday activities, like fishing for salmon from rivers.
At WSPA we are also concerned about the other side of wildlife tourism too.
In some countries, young bears have been caught from the wild and cruelly trained to stand on their hind paws and dance. The nose or muzzle of the bear is pierced and a rope is passed through the initially raw wound, which allows the bear owners to make adult bears ‘dance’ on command when they tug on the rope, causing intense pain.
Although dancing bears were once common throughout Europe, WSPA helped to eradicate the practice from countries such as Turkey and Greece in the mid 1990s.
Campaigns by WSPA and local animal groups are, however, aiming to see the end of this cruel trade in the next few years. A key part of this project has been providing dancing bear owners with alternative livelihoods or training, to give them a better way to provide for their families.