Wildlife tourism in Brazil: do’s and don’ts

World Animal Protection explains the cruelty behind wildlife tourism in Brazil and provides tips to create a responsible tourism experience instead.

Outstanding wildlife destination Brazil

Home to some of the most biodiverse places on Earth, South America has outstanding wildlife destinations to be visited and Brazil is one of them. You will find amazing experiences there, such as whale watching at the Atlantic Coast, observing jaguars in Pantanal, checking out the Amazon River dolphins and following the lazy movements of a sloth in the middle of the jungle.

With great potential to be sold as the ideal destination for nature lovers, tour operators that work in this region need to ensure their business partners practice responsible tourism and do not contribute to animal cruelty.

In this article, we share the most common wildlife experiences in Brazil, and we will explain why each attraction must be done in a responsible way. We will also provide you with tips on how to make good decisions while choosing a business partner and recommend companies that are doing outstanding work.

Popular wildlife attractions in Brazil

Popular wildlife attractions in Brazil and the cruelty wildlife faces

Amazon River dolphin watching

Amazon is on most travellers’ bucket list, and it is where you can find the Amazon River dolphin (also known as pink river dolphin). An endangered species that catches everyone’s attention. Humans are their main threat, especially due to bycatch, an impact promoted by commercial fishing.

Tourism has also been making them suffer. Many tour operators in Brazil run Amazon River dolphin encounters in a way where visitors are allowed to get in the water, feed and even touch them. To ensure that this type of attraction continues, the animals have been conditioned to human contact.

They often use food to attract them, and this practice makes the dolphin conditioned and dependent on human activity. Obviously leading to a change in natural behavior. Additionally, dolphins compete aggressively for food, sometimes attacking each other, and sometimes even the tourists.

Spotting jaguars in Pantanal

One of the main characters of Brazilian wildlife can be observed during a trip to Pantanal. The world’s largest wetland area and considered an UNESCO World Heritage Site for its biological diversity. Jaguars are the third largest cats in the world. In Brazil, travellers can join photographic safaris during the day or at night to watch them swim, hear them roar or, with an extra bit of luck, even catching a prey. Unfortunately, some companies offer (illegal) hunting safaris to kill these felines, which are already endangered. Others operate in a way that scare and disturb these animals, besides interfering in their natural behaviour, like reproduction or hunting.

Spotting jaguars in Pantanal

Observing sloths in the rainforest

The slowest creature on Earth is also a popular wildlife attraction in South America. But because of irresponsible tourism, they are often removed from their natural habitat. Enabling people making money while travellers take selfies with them. The Social Listening Study pointed out in their ‘A close up on cruelty report’ has shown that 70% of sloth’s pictures on Instagram are of people hugging or interacting with them.

The cruelty in this type of activity happens in several ways. Passing by so many different hands in a single day, sloths get physical and psychological distress. This may develop diseases and increase the risk of zoonosis. At the end of the day, they are trapped in a cage, or tied to a rope, until another workday starts. Locals have observed that some sloths kept in these conditions live no longer than 6 months, while in the wild they can live more than 20 years.

Whale watching in the Atlantic Coast

Not so many people are aware that Brazil is a great whale watching destination. Between June and November, these giant mammals travel from Antarctica to Brazil. To mate or to simply get away from the coldest time in the southernmost point of the hemisphere. The most popular species that can be found there are the humpback whale and the right whale.

The bad side of whale watching tours is that some tour companies get their boats too close to the whales, surrounding and chasing them. This causes them to get disturbed and change their behaviour.

Responsible wildlife tours in Brazil

Tips to provide responsible wildlife tours in Brazil

To support you and your business partners to offer responsible wildlife tours in Brazil, we are sharing our tips. Please note that all our tips can be applied to many other different wildlife experiences around the world as well.

1. Provide observational experiences only

Don’t provide wildlife interaction with humans. It isn’t safe for people to touch wild animals as we will never know how they will react. And because we stress them by doing it – wild animals belong in the wild!

Besides that, it also increases the risks of zoonosis spread. Bear in mind that we are just coming out from a pandemic that was started by a zoonosis disease. It has affected the life, health, and business of people from all around the globe. Make sure you won’t be contributing to the next one.

2. Don’t feed wild animals

Once wild animals are fed by us, we change their natural behavior, and it causes major damage to the ecosystem. Another issue is that people often offer unhealthy food and an improper diet to the animals. Make sure your business partners do not feed them and explain to the travellers why they should not do it as well. Raising awareness is key here.

3. Keep a safe distance

This is applicable for all wildlife, although they need different approaches.

Jaguars

You need to practice responsible ecotourism and ensure a safe distance between the safari vehicle and the jaguar. Always avoid making any noise, and not using camera flashes. It is better if the animals are not chip tracked, since this might stress them in times when they don’t want to be disturbed.

Sloths

You can offer hikes along the jungle trails where sloths can be seen. That way you will guarantee that people will not be able to interact directly. The sloths will be safe and living their lives normally.

Whales

Whale watching tourism using boats must follow technical protocols so that it can be carried out responsibly. Look for partners that will not chase the whales insistently, that keep a safe distance from them and maintain the engine neutral during the observation.

And if the idea is to carry out a practice of whale watching totally free of risks for the animals, the suggestion in this case is to observe the whales from the land. In Brazil you can do that in different regions of the country, such as in the cities of Laguna, Garopaba and Imbituba, located in Santa Catarina State, especially during the southern hemisphere winter, when right whales use this part of the Brazilian coast.

Whale watching Brazilian coast

Amazon River dolphin

To responsibly observe Amazon River dolphins, it is necessary to maintain a safe distance from the animals – the recommendation is at least 50 meters away – and turn off the engine during observation. It is not allowed to chase the animal and make sudden movements. The vessel must remain close to the animals for a maximum of thirty minutes.

4. Guarantee an educational session before the experience

Before the wildlife travel experience, ensure that there will be an educational session for the tourists. Also include educational material and information related to responsible travel initiatives on your website and social media channels. Provide travellers with the knowledge on how they can make a difference.

5. Be clear to your clients

Explain to your clients that you can’t promise wildlife will be seen during the travel experience. Wildlife is free to choose where to go depending on their own necessities. You can offer a complimentary ticket to use another day if no wildlife is seen at all.

Recommended initiatives

Other initiatives that are recommended by World Animal Protection:

  • Sign World Animal Protection’s pledge, make it public and share it with your business partners and clients.
  • Communicate to travellers that your company and business partners provide responsible experiences.
  • Be part of serious and specialized institutions, which in practice support responsible tourism with animals. In Brazil, we have Coletivo Muda, a tourism association that believes that traveling is an efficient strategy to promote the sustainability of Brazilian tourist destinations.
  • Give a step back and analyse the products that you have been offering. Are they aligned with all that we have mentioned here? In case you identify that one of your products does not guarantee animal welfare, make sure you stop offering it and look for a responsible partner/experience instead. If you don’t find it, there is a great opportunity for you to develop a whole new way to provide this experience.

Responsible travel companies in Brazil

Meet some Brazilian tour operators and agencies that are committed to the responsible tourism with wild animals:

5 responsible travel operations

  1. Braziliando
  2. Coletivo MUDA!
  3. Uika
  4. Gondwana
  5. Pantanal biome

Braziliando

One of Braziliando’s purposes is to promote tourism with a positive social impact. They do this through authentic and responsible experiences in the Amazon. They work with community-based tourism and volunteerism based on the three pillars of sustainability. Economic, social, and environmental. The travel experiences promoted by Braziliando are created with the local community. So that the traveller can participate in the local daily activities, hear their stories, taste the regional flavors, feel the presence of nature and the interrelation between man and nature. Thus, the traveler lives an authentic experience in a responsible way and learns from traditional peoples. While benefiting the local population with the generation of income and opportunities and the appreciation of their culture.

Animal observation activities do not involve direct interaction with animals. Tourism is done ethically without interfering with the natural behavior of the species.

In 2020, due to the pandemic, to continue supporting the Amazon communities, Braziliando built one online project. VOA! (Online Learning Experience). A knowledge exchange program in which volunteers facilitate the learning of English language for community members while learning about the Amazonian lifestyle and local culture with community members.

Local culture with community members

Coletivo MUDA!

Coletivo MUDA! is the first tourism association in Brazil to commit to responsible wildlife tourism through its commitment to World Animal Protection. The collective is formed by a group of tourism agencies that believe that traveling is an efficient strategy to promote the sustainability of Brazilian tourist destinations. For the association, acting in the trade is only valid if positive impacts are left on destinations.

Many of the companies in MUDA! carry out their activities in natural areas, seeking in the environmental interpretation a greater connection between the place and the visitor. These activities involve interaction with local communities and contemplation of nature. The interaction with the fauna that they believe takes place through the look, through the camera lens, through binoculars or even just hearing the birds singing and the sound of a Brown Howler Monkey. Through the footprints of a jaguar or a tapir. They value animals that are free and healthy and understand that information is more powerful than capturing animals.

Uika

Focused on offering community-based tourism, UIKA promotes experiences and itineraries that rescue the Amazon history and culture. Since 2018, it has promoted biodiversity conservation by connecting travelers with the most authentic features of Amazonian cities and the largest rainforest in the world.

There is one travel experience that stands out for encouraging the observation of the Amazon fauna. Done through techniques, scientific research and popular knowledge. UIKA shows the possibilities to observe incredible species of birds, porpoises, and mammals in the Amazon. All without having to interfere in the habitat and natural behavior of the animals.

UIKA has a socio-environmental impact project that seeks to qualify the workforce to observe wild animals in traditional communities in the Amazon. Here direct contact with porpoises still takes place. The objective is to generate income for local communities, reduce threats against species in the biome. And that travelers from all over the world choose and be spokespeople for an Amazon that promotes tourism in a sustainable and responsible way.

Gondwana

The mission of Gondwana Brazil is to provide trips that create meaningful and responsible interactions between travelers, local communities, and the environment. Leading to social transformation that can promote a positive impact on the planet. To achieve this objective, they carefully design and operate trips that offer authentic local experiences to delight and inspire our travelers, while giving back to our community and preserving our natural wonders.

Gondwana works very closely with partners, seeking to know their sustainable practices and values as a company, prioritizing small networks and local entrepreneurs. The experiences are made for small groups of travelers, striving to comply with the minimum impact standards and to follow the particular guidelines of each destination. Paying attention to the interaction with nature. We recommend local experiences and products to our travelers, adding value to the trip while involving the communities and generating income and positive repercussions in the places visited.

Amazon river kayaking

Pantanal biome

In Brazil there are different destinations where observation tourism can provide incredible experiences and, at the same time, can be done in a responsible way. The national champion is Pantanal, a biome where large populations of the biggest animals live in the country. Jaguars, ocelots, giant anteaters, tapirs, alligators, and lots of bird species. The responsible tourism operations with animals are already consolidated and it is simple to find them on the internet. To check if you are dealing with a responsible tourism agency, you can use the steps presented here and here.

Pantanal biome

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About World Animal Protection

World Animal Protection's been moving the world to protect animals for over 55 years. From the jungle to the oceans, wild animals face ongoing threats of cruelty and abuse. Their mission is to create a better world for animals.

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