Traveling the World: A relationship between Humans and Animals

One of my passions, traveling or not, is animals.  Growing up in the countryside with a horse field in my backyard as a kid definitely helped nourish this, as well did trips to the zoo, camping, and watching animal documentaries on public television.

Traveling opens up the possibility to see some of your favorite animals in their native natural environments. Me, I’m a monkey man. I love monkeys. My favorite animal hands down is the Orangutan.  The Orangutan is the main reason I want to travel to Borneo. Sure Borneo has beaches, mountains, and diving but it’s the Orangutans I want to see. When I got to the Monkey Temple in Kathmandu with hundreds of the furry little critters running around I nearly lost my shit.

In heaven at the monkey temple.
In heaven at the monkey temple.

This world provides a strange balance between man and nature, usually unbalanced in mans favor, and I’d be a hypocrite to call myself a vegetarian animal saving hero.

In Mongolia I helped save a baby horse from wolves and then turned right around and had horse dumplings for dinner (granted I karmatically got food poisoning). I ate a spitting cobra’s still beating heart in Vietnam and drank its blood with vodka.  I’ve even eaten live octopus known as sannakji in Korea. In the Philippines I spent time shouting and placing bets at cockfights

So, am I a bastard or a conservationist? I’m neither; I’m a traveler.  Traveling is undoubtedly an experience-based activity.  You are engaging in life, sights, sounds, local customs, and tastes that more often than not sometimes involve eating or seeing animals do things you may not have originally been comfortable with in your homeland.  

That being said, I do have lines I won’t cross and things I won’t eat or participate in; I think the healthiest approach to your relationship with animals when traveling is by creating boundaries.

In the name of justice no animal should be given greater precedence over another animal, but it happens, I’ll donate to save the dolphins before the rats for sure. I’ll never eat dog, I’ve had dogs my whole life and I love them, I’m sure I’ve eaten one unwittingly in Asia, but never on purpose.  Like a fingerprint everyone has his or her own unique approach to their relationship with animals.

Met this zen master in temple garden in Kyoto.
Met this zen master in temple garden in Kyoto.

A time when I drew my first line was when I witnessed animal abuse first hand in Nepal.  I signed up to ride an elephant through the jungle, which was an incredible except for the elephant driver and guide beating the shit out of the elephant with a fire poker the entire time. It ruined the entire experience, which was amazing, but left me with the urge to beat my guide with the fire poker. I vowed to never ride another elephant after that experience until I was sure it was being treated humanely. To this day I’ve never ridden another one.

A massive tourist trap and animal abuse mecca are the tiger parks in Thailand, specifically the “Tiger Temple” also known as Wat Pha Luang Ta Bua. You may have seen photos on the internet of travelers laying against an adult tiger, it looks incredible right? But what would cause the world’s alpha predator to submit to tourist after tourist pulling their tales, laying on them, and posing for pictures with them. Tranquilizers baby.  These tigers are higher than Hunter S. Thompson at a free LSD giveaway. If you want to turn Earth’s greatest land animal into a submissive stoner pussy you load him up with enough drugs to put down, well, a 500 lb. tiger.  The tigers don’t live long under these circumstances, unbeknownst to tourists, and more than likely end up in soups and medicinal concoctions in neighboring countries that believe tiger meat and bone possess magical abilities. 


Learning a secret handshake from a new friend in Thailand.
Learning a secret handshake from a new friend in Thailand.

It’s not all bad though, there are a lot of great places to volunteer where you can actually help animals, hey hey.  One of these is the well-known Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It’s a chance to interact with elephants in healthy environment and support a good cause at the same time run by experts that are doing more than trying to make a buck, even though they are most definitely making a buck.

So remember, the traveling experience affects all life, human and animal, and the time will come where you are going to have to decide where you stand on that relationship.  Maybe rats are your thing and you want to dig on the Karni Mata Temple also known as the “Rat Temple” in India. Maybe you are the hardest of the hardcore animal activists on the planet and are cognizant of your every footstep in an animal’s habitat. Maybe you don’t care at all. That’s for you to decide, but the time will come when you will have to decide.  Until next time fellow animals and wanderers- ST

Next entry: 7 Ways to Travel In and Around Bangkok Thailand

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    Posted on April 05, 2014 at 1:25 pm

    Good story ... I’m not really a monkey fan ... don’t trust many of them but love the proboscis monkeys and orangutan of Borneo

    • Shameless Traveler

      Posted on April 23, 2014 at 3:34 pm

      Yeah Heather, those monkeys can be little tricksters sometimes. I’ve seen little monkeys swipe food right out of peoples hands and then if they can’t get the food they jump on their head and beat it like a drum. Interacting with monkeys is definitely a spectator sport haha.

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