National Geographic Unveils Exclusive, Investigative Report on the Dark Side of the Global Wildlife Tourism Industry

With social media setting an already lucrative industry ablaze,
National Geographic exposes the extreme animal suffering that underpins
many photo-worthy, exotic animal encounters around the world.

Featured on the cover of the June issue of National Geographic, this
is the first story of its kind that explores the global wildlife tourism
industry and the unseen consequences it can have for the animals
involved, as well as provides practical advice for tourists who want to
observe exotic animals humanely.

An accompanying minidocumentary, “Inside the Dark World of Captive
Wildlife Tourism,” which takes viewers behind the scenes and on
assignment with our reporter, is available at

WASHINGTON–(BUSINESS WIRE)–National Geographic today has unveiled a special
investigative report
that takes an in-depth look at the thriving
global wildlife tourism industry and exposes how the industry takes
advantage of people’s love of animals, often exploiting wildlife for
profit from the moment they are born or captured until they die.

Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism,”
featured on the cover of the June
issue of National Geographic magazine and funded by the National
Geographic Society, takes readers to a number of wildlife tourism
encounters around the world, offering a look behind the curtain of an
industry that has long presented itself as an animal lover’s fantasy.
National Geographic uncovers that the reality the animals experience
when the photo-snapping crowds head home can be one of extreme suffering
and solitude.

In reporting the feature, National Geographic writer Natasha
, along with photojournalist Kirsten
, traversed the globe to secure a behind-the-scenes look at this
lucrative segment of the booming global travel industry, visiting
wildlife tourism facilities in Thailand, Russia, the U.S. and the
Amazon. In many of these locales, wildlife tourism attractions leverage
an increased demand for riding elephants; posing with tigers, bears and
sloths; and more to lure visitors from around the world — and it’s
working. International travel has doubled over the past 15 years,
and social media is setting the wildlife tourism industry ablaze.

“The wildlife tourism industry clearly caters to people’s genuine love
of animals, and the industry’s economy depends largely on people
believing that the animals they’re paying to watch, ride or feed are
having fun too,” says Daly. “But what we found in our reporting is that
this is rarely the case. Instead, many businesses that have been
bolstered by an increased demand for animal encounters seek to maximize
their profits — and to do so, they’re exploiting animals from birth to

Well-meaning endorsements from friends and trendsetters — especially on
social media — legitimize potentially harmful and unethical attractions
before travelers even arrive at these businesses that profit on the
suffering of animals. At the same time, selfies of tiger encounters,
elephant rides and more offer viral advertising for attractions that
tout up-close exotic animal experiences — so much so that from 2014 to
2016 the number of wildlife selfies posted on Instagram alone nearly
quadrupled. But, for all the visibility social media provides, it rarely
illustrates the animal abuse that often happens beyond the view of the
camera lens.

“Nowhere is humans’ profound love of animals more apparent than at
National Geographic, where photos of animals are among the most ‘liked’
by our social media followers, stories about animals drive significant
traffic across our website and animals are prominent in the pages of our
magazine,” says Susan
, editor-in-chief of National Geographic. “But, as our
reporting found, too often this industry takes advantage of people’s
love of animals. In sharing this reporting, we hope this complicated but
important topic gets the attention it deserves.”

National Geographic’s reporting includes practical advice for travelers
who want to experience close encounters with wildlife, but in humane and
ethical ways. See “How to Do Wildlife Tourism Right” from the June issue
of National Geographic Traveler magazine, available online HERE,
offering practical guidelines for travelers.

To accompany “The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism,” National Geographic
has produced a 13-minute documentary, “Inside the Dark World of Captive
Wildlife Tourism.” The behind-the-scenes footage illustrates
Daly’s reporting and reactions in real time as she witnesses firsthand
the animal abuse often facilitated by the industry. View the documentary HERE.
The documentary will also be available on set-top box video on demand
and TV Everywhere platforms, including the Nat Geo App and on

In addition, National Geographic will be enacting a social media
campaign, encouraging audiences to help educate others about these
wildlife tourism practices and make informed choices. Follow along using
#NatGeoWildlifeTourism and see our social toolkit for more information,
including a shareable photo, HERE.
Instagram Stories will make use of the new donation feature recently
introduced on the platform, allowing fans to help fund the journalism
that brings issues like the exploitation of wildlife to light

The story was reported by Daly for Wildlife
, an investigative journalism project funded by the nonprofit
National Geographic Society that reports on wildlife crime and
exploitation. By covering critical topics in the illegal wildlife trade,
this project shines a light on the commercial-scale exploitation of
wildlife and other valued resources, identifies weaknesses in national
and international efforts to protect wildlife, and empowers institutions
and individuals working to save at-risk species.

“Wildlife Tourism” is available online now at
and on print newsstands May 28.


***Interview and visuals available***

to National Geographic magazine “The Hidden Cost of Wildlife Tourism”
cover story

to mini-documentary

to “How to Do Wildlife Tourism Right” guide

to Editor-in-Chief Susan Goldberg’s editor’s letter about the cover story

to media toolkit here


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