I have wanted to start a new series on my blog for a while now. My idea was to interview some of the bloggers I greatly admire and have followed for a while, and who I feel have an important message to share. Its also nice to spread the love, and introduce you to some new blogs. I have decided to kick this series off with me interviewing the amazing wildlife tourism blogger Sam, from travel blog Yoko Meshi. I met Sam at a London Travel bloggers meet up, and as soon as she told me her passion was trying to educate and make people aware of ethical wildlife tourism, she was my girl. One of my tribe. One of my people. Lets face it, if you know me, you would know that she had me at animals……………..
So Sam, welcome to my blog! Tell me a little bit about why you started a blog, and what you blog about?
I started my blog a little over 4 years ago now and it has always been based around travel. I started my blog after finding blogs like Vickyflipflops.com and wheresmollie.com, I loved how they were showcasing travel and making it seem more accessible for people. I had recently started travelling more frequently and just before I started my blog I visited Asia for the first time. I then decided I wanted to write about it and tell everyone the incredible things I have seen. Over the years it has progressed in to a side hustle for me, something which I am so proud of. My main focus is on travel around the 9-5 but I also heavily feature my other passion in life – wildlife.
I know what you mean about sharing travel tales. I get so excited when I visit somewhere, I feel like I want to run around telling everyone about it! So, in terms of your interesting blog name, Yoko Meshi, where did that come from?
I will tell you a secret, I do not like my blog name but I feel it is too late to change it now haha! No one can ever pronounce it. Yoko Meshi actually means ‘the trouble with speaking another language’ in Japanese, when I first started my blog I wasn’t sure whether it would be just travel related so I thought I would choose a name that did not obviously relate to anything.
I actually like your blog name! Its different. I think many people start their blogs with a name that suits, but as our blogs progress and grow, we evolve a little dont we. I too went with a very generic name, so I could write about anything. So Sam, where did your passion for raising awareness in the ethical treatment of animals in tourism etc come from?
My ‘real life’ career is a Veterinary Nurse and animals have been my whole life. Being around animals is quite literally part of who I am. Part of my travels was led by wanting to see different animals around the world, but sadly with that I also saw the bad side of this, where animals are used as a way to make money. I quickly learnt that tourists were funding this industry, most of the time very naively. I decided I wanted to use the platforms I had built over the past few years to try to educate people on this. So far I am using my blog to do this a lot, I also recently started a podcast called The Wildlife Tourist, but going forward I really want to use my instagram to showcase it more as well.
Ohhh I am so with you here. It breaks my heart what I see sometimes abroad. I genuinely think that some people are just naive to how animals are used in tourism, and would be horrified by the background if they knew it. You are doing an amazing job at getting the message out there. Do you think that it is getting better or worse for animals caught up in tourism?
This is a hard one. In some areas it is getting better, for example elephant riding, but with this other industries seem to be thriving, such as the lion cub petting in South Africa. Changes are being made but there is such a long way to go, there are charities doing incredible, tireless work to help these animals, but sadly I do feel social media has a lot to answer for, I do not feel at present social media is doing enough to stop images of animal tourism cruelty being shared, inadvertently, these channels are fuelling these industries.
I have to agree with you about social media. So many people want that “photo for the gram”. They see others do it, so dont give a thought about why they are able to ‘pet” a lion etc. Its so sad. For those people that are not sure of exactly what wildlife/animal tourism is, could you give an example?
Yes sure, sadly this could be a never ending list as it happens on so many different levels! However, an obvious one is Elephant riding, mainly tourist paying to ride elephants in parts of Asia. The tourists are sold the story that the elephants like giving rides, it is normal etc, when the truth is, the elephants go through a process called ‘spirit breaking’ at a young age in order to let them be ridden. This information is easily found via Google if you want to find out more. (It is heartbreaking, so prepare for upsetting images, but I feel people should absolutely know what they are funding if they do these rides – kerry) A lesser known one is the Luwak coffee trade in Indonesia. Luwak coffee is made from the beans within the cherries that the civets (a small mammal native mostly to Asia) excrete in pellets. When the pellets are collected from civets in the wild, no cruelty is involved. But in an attempt to produce more civet coffee, farmers have started catching the civets and keeping them in small, crowded barren cages. Caged civets are encouraged to gorge on an unbalanced diet of coffee cherries. There is now a growing civet coffee plantation tourism industry in Bali where tourists visit caged civet cats and sample the coffee. This is causing more and more civets to be caged and abused.
That is awful! Its like taking a huge step backwards isn’t it! Again, I am sure that many people are totally unaware Sam. Education is key, and you are doing a great job at that. People need to know! In a perfect world, what would you love to see stopped completely both home and abroad? .
The sharing of lion cub selfies on social media. Last year I was invited to South Africa with a charity called Four Paws international to learn about the truth behind the lion parks in South Africa. I spent a week learning about the link between lion cub petting and canned hunting. That was a hard week for me, in some ways I was living my dream, I had been invited on a press trip to South Africa to learn about wildlife conservation, in other ways I was hearing about how brutally these beautiful animals were being treated. During the week we spoke a lot about social media, how people who visit these parks (with out knowing the truth) then share their lion cub selfies on Instagram, Facebook, etc, people are then finding these images and want to visit these places as well. It is a vicious cycle that social media needs to take more responsibility for.
Oh I can imagine how heartbreaking that must have been. I applaud you. I follow Four Paws and they are doing some great work. Like you say though, social media fuelling it means that is a never ending battle. You also touched upon the fact that us as tourists can be misled or hoodwinked about visiting these sorts of places. What can people do to ensure that they dont contribute to the poor treatment of animals in tourism?
Research, research, research. Search Google before you go, look into what is ethical before you leave home and learn the facts. It is important you do this before you, as otherwise it is easy to get caught up in the lies while you are there. The people who run these places will tell you exactly what you want to hear to get your through the door. Also trust your gut feeling, you will know, trust me. If something does not feel right, it is probably because it isn’t.
Another thing to think about is the species. Are they a social species? Most species aren’t, therefore it is not natural for them to be interacting constantly, especially with humans. Yeah getting a selfie is great and everything, but put the animal first, is your ‘cool’ photo really worth the suffering that animal is going through?
Thats a great point about how social the animal is. That kind of gives a clue straight off doesn’t it. I agree with you about the research too. I got caught out in Mexico with what I thought was a “conservation” project with Dolphins. It broke my heart. So how can people be sure that even things like Sanctuaries are what they claim to be?
Again research. Google is your friend. TripAdvisor can quite hit and miss, as there are plenty of cruel attractions on there which get good ratings. If you are using trip advisor, look at the bad ratings and what they state. If you are planning on doing a volunteer trips always go on recommendations, and look to book through big companies such as https://wvs.org.uk/ and https://worldwideexperience.com/ , these are trusted ethical companies. I am also happy to for people to email me (email@example.com) I am more than happy to look over somewhere you are thinking of visiting.
Ohhh I love that tip about looking at the bad TripAdvisor reviews, that is where the most telling information can be found often isnt it. Thank you so much for offering people to email to Sam, thats very kind of you, and will offer people peace of mind. Thank you. I know your so passionate about educating people, so do you have any blog posts that could help people understand more?
Yes I have multiple, however, I would say the two most important ones are Playing with Lion cubs – Is a like worth more than their life
I plan to do a lot more in future so if anyone has anything they would like to see then people do get in touch as well.
Iv read these posts and urge anyone to pop across and read. they are full of great information. So to finish (and then I promise I will let you go Sam. You know I could talk about this all day) Is there any websites or reading that you could recommend to people who would love to learn more about stopping animals being mistreated in tourism?
There is a lot of information out there, which is always a good thing, however, to start with – https://www.four-paws.org.uk/ and https://www.claws-out.com/. If you are looking into volunteer positions I also recommend https://www.facebook.com/volunteersbeware/ as well as a Facebook group called ‘Volunteer with Animals’ who are also really helpful too. Be a voice yourself as well. If you know people who are going travelling, or travel to these countries, make them aware of things to do avoid. They might already know but if they don’t you could be saving them a lot of upset in the future. I am very much a believer of education being our strongest tool, therefore talk to people calmly about these issues and have the evidence to back it up.
Thank you so much Sam. I urge you to check out Sam’s podcast for even more information, and I have put all of her details and links below;
I am so happy that Sam was able to have a chat with me about this. It is something that I am so passionate about, and really agree with Sam that education is our best tool. As I said, I got caught out myself by going to what I thought was a dolphin conservation programme, but it was actually tourists being pulled along by dolphins in small walled off pools. It broke my heart. No comparrison to swimming with them in the ocean, (you can read about my shark swim in this post – Swimming with sharks on the Great Barrier Reef)
As ever, I would love to now your thoughts on this. In no way will you be judged or frowned upon, but I value your honesty. Have you learnt anything from this post? Did you know animal tourism was a thing? Have you ever unwittingly been involved with animal tourism? Did you even know that the treatment of the animals involved in this trade was less than ethical? I am so keen to get peoples views and opinions on this. Please feel free to be as frank an honest in the comments as you like.