Summer activities often don’t feel complete without an outing to the zoo or circus. But what about something a bit more animal friendly? Guilt kinda ruins a good summer, don’t you think?
Like many kids, I spent most of my childhood summers going to the zoo. I even worked there for a summer. Back then, I loved staring at all the strange looking creatures who were, without question, looking back at me. I wanted to know them, play together, cuddle up at nap time. But it didn’t take me long to realize just how unfriendly zoos actually are. Captive animals are deprived of their natural environments. While many zookeepers do genuinely care for the animals, that doesn’t make up for the loss of habitat and natural diet, or the stress and anxiety that comes with living in cramped cages and being gawked and yelled at day in and day out.
The lack of access to natural food and habitat can wreak havoc on animals’ bodies (elephants, for example, normally walk 30 miles a day in the wild). They develop more diseases that are difficult to treat, and often deadly. They also develop fertility issues, and if they do reproduce, can often reject their offspring. Many animals in zoos, circuses and other captive situations often also develop a condition called “zoochosis” where they display strange habits like walking in circles or swaying nonstop. Sometimes it’s so bad they’re given mood-altering drugs.
Not exactly animal friendly, eh?
But, observing animals is enriching—particularly to young children. Learning about other life forms is part of a healthy relationship with the world, and can bring great inspiration, compassion and curiosity. Avoiding zoos, circuses, Sea World and other captive animal situations doesn’t mean avoiding animals altogether. Check out these seven animal friendly summer activities:
- Sanctuaries: Many circus and farm animals are fortunate enough to “retire” to animal sanctuaries, where they’re treated much better. Often given more space to roam, a more natural diet and not forced to perform or interact, they can live out their lives peacefully. Sanctuaries often host all kinds of summer activities, including tours, events and gatherings where you can learn the stories about the rescued animals and help support them.
- Wildlife reserves: There are wildlife reserves all over the country—often just a short drive from most major cities. You may be able to view all sorts of creatures there from rare birds and mammals to fish and reptiles. Plus, they’re often free, too.
- National Parks: Like wildlife reserves, protected National Park lands also protect some of our most majestic creatures. Visit Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado and you just might see a bald eagle, a black bear or even a moose in their natural environment.
- Whale watching: If you’re coastal, certain times of the year are great for whale watching. Check up on whale-watching tours to make sure they don’t try to bait or lure the animals towards the boats. They’re big enough that you won’t need much help in seeing them!
- Bird watching: There are thousands of species of birds in the U.S. and they vary drastically by region. It’s one of the most rewarding animal experiences around, and you’ll often see lots of other critters on your outing, too.
- Shelters: Dogs and cats are animals, too! Volunteering at an animal shelter can be an incredibly rewarding and interactive experience for you and the animals. Walk a dog, feed a rabbit, pet a cat and enjoy that connection the animals love as much as you do.
- Your backyard: Animals are everywhere. Squirrels, raccoons, coyotes, skunks, possum, fox, lizards, deer, birds—these are just some of the animals common in North American yards, and they’re as amazing and beautiful as chimpanzees or pandas. Get to know your local fauna for the exotic creatures they really are.
Keep in touch with Jill on Twitter @jillettinger
Image: Vinoth Chandar