We recently had an inquiry from a visitor asking about seeing Orangutan and Elephants in Bali. I had to inform the lady that neither animal is native to the island so they would not be getting a real Bali experience. She hadn't realised and happily decided on other activities.
Animal tourism and 'entertainment' may not be actually cruel in some circumstances but its never completely benign.
In June 2023, the World Animal Protection organisation released a report on their latest investigation into conditions at animal tourism places in Bali and Lombok.
What is shocking about the latest report is that after an investigation of 26 tourism venues, NONE met good welfare standards for animals in captivity, and nearly all did not even meet the most basic needs of the animals in their care.
Furthermore, while some venues were closed during the pandemic, and there are fewer elephants and tigers overall, there was no meaningful improvement in the welfare conditions for wildlife 'entertainment' in the 5 years since the last report!
There is an obvious extra moral issue here...without the tourist trade these venues can't pay their staff and often can't feed their animals. However if tourists stop going to these places, they will stop breeding the animals in captivity and hopefully find another way to attract tourists!
So what sort of animal tourism is being advertised in Bali and what to avoid?
Elephant riding and bathing: Elephants are imported to Bali specifically for tourism, all venues are actively pursuing captive elephant breeding and none are trying to reintroduce elephants to the wild. In sum...don't go to the elephant riding and bathing venues.
Dolphins in captivity: Around 9 dolphins are in captivity at the Bali Exotic Marine Park in severely inadequate conditions. You really don't need to see captive dolphins swimming in shallow pools.
Primates: Having lunch with an orangutan sounds fun, but they don't want to have lunch with you. There are better ways to see primates in the wild elsewhere in Indonesia. There is a link below to read our article on seeing Orang-utans in the wild in Borneo.
Tigers: Brave boy, taking a selfie with a drugged tiger - I hope you enjoyed your session, the tiger didn't! Some of the better zoos around the world carry out important Tiger breeding programs. If you can't get to India to see tigers in the wild, check the welfare scores of your local zoo and do some research on their welfare before going. Tigers are not endemic to Bali and feeding them here is not a cultural experience.
Turtles: The turtle venues on 'turtle island' in Benoa allows tourists to handle the baby turtles before they are released. This is not a great idea. However the two conservation and education centres, TCEC and Saba Asri, are focussed on rescue and rehabilitation don't allow handling except at release time. These allow you to see the baby turtles and contribute more directly to their conservation. They aren't perfect, but the WAP report says they are okay.
Luwak: See our article about the Luwak here. In general, you are going to see caged Luwak (civet cats) in coffee plantations all over central and northern Bali. The plantations are important for the Bali economy, the civet coffee is not. My suggestions is to go to a plantation (they are all similar) but don't buy coffee luwak and strongly verbalise your distaste for caged luwak to everyone. It won't make much of a difference but another tourist may also not buy the coffee luwak and then inform others.
Animal handlers on the side of the road: These are particularly distasteful; some greasy tout with a thirsty python or overfed owl or chained lizard standing near tourist venues offering for you to take a photo with their captive animal for a fee. Don't do it, its grotesque.
Wild Dolphins: In Lovina, you can take a fun boat ride early in the morning and see the dolphins in the wild. Sounds okay? It did to me too until I realised that there were dozens of boats chasing the poor things everyday. If dolphins make an appearance near your boat then great for you, but don't go chasing them! This is the same for the manta in Nusa Penida, and sea turtles all over the Bali snorkelling sites. I can't tell you not to do this, as I have done it myself, but be aware and don't touch the wild animals, just observe.
Macaques: The same advice above goes for the monkeys in Ubud Monkey Forest, Sangeh Monkey Forest, Uluwatu Temple and a couple of other areas around Bali. View the monkeys, take pictures - they are cute and funny - but don't try to touch them and certainly don't feed them. The WAP are mostly concerned about the sheer numbers of tourists in these places.
You can read the full WAP report here.