The Dark Side Of Wildlife Tourism And What To Do About It with Aaron Gekoski on the Sustainable Jungle Podcast #sustainablejungle

Podcast #08 · Aaron ‘bertie’ Gekoski · The Dark Side Of Wildlife Tourism And What To Do About It

“We asked a lot of people outside Safari world… People said “Yeah it was great, the Orangutans look very happy, they look very healthy”… I think [people] don’t have the opportunity to see orangutans out in the wild, you don’t know what an orangutans natural behavior is like, for example, orangutans spend almost no time on the ground, orangutans should be high up in the forest, in the canopy, going from tree to tree, so to see an orangutan on the ground is completely unnatural behavior, let alone stuck in a tiny, little, filthy cell”

Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski

Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski is an environmental photojournalist, presenter, and film-maker. Over the last 10 years, Bertie has been at the coal face of animal conservation around the world including exposing Namibia’s annual seal cull, pursuing the ‘tortoise mafia’ through Madagascar’s sacred forests, training as an anti-poaching ranger in Zimbabwe, living on-board a commercial tuna fishing vessel and reporting on Borneo’s ‘Sea Gypsies’.

His articles and images have appeared in more than 40 international publications, winning multiple awards including the 2017 Wildlife Photographer of the Year, photojournalist category.

Bertie is a currently a TV presenter for the wildlife and conservation specialists, ScubaZoo TV (SZTV) and has a number of epic projects in the works including, the focus of our discussion, a project on the dark side of the on Wildlife Tourism industry. This is a long-term project for Bertie, kicked off by a trip he made to Thailand where he visited a number of popular animal tourist attractions.

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Read our article about Bertie and Wildlife Tourism here.

This was both an inspiring and tough conversation with the usually upbeat and fun Bertie. Bertie’s passion for this issue shone through very clearly as we covered the following:

  • Bertie’s background, his work telling the stories of human-animal conflicts around the world and how he ended up working with Scubazoo in Malaysia (~1.20)
  • Why he gave up a career in advertising to become a wildlife photojournalist, how he made the switch and early days on the job in Africa (~4:55)
  • How the movie ‘Into the Wild’ inspired Bertie to jump from “model parties” to travelling to the far reaches of the planet to tell important stories and how it’s the “best thing he’s ever done” (~8:00)
  • Downsides of being a photojournalist and the happiest he’s ever been (~10:35)
  • Bertie’s winning photograph from the Wildlife Photographer of the Year Awards in 2017 and what it takes for wildlife photographs to win awards (~13:40)
  • Wildlife Tourism: an overview of the problem and Bertie’s work on the issue (~17:10)
  • What Bertie saw whilst working on this project in Thailand, including his description of the Orangutan Boxing match he documented (~18:50)
  • Why the animals go along with these humiliating routines including “The Crush” applied to elephants to break their spirit (~20:50)
  • Next steps on raising awareness and educating others on the issue (~22:00)
    • How Trip Advisor is not doing enough and Bertie’s future platform to flag the most abusive operators (~22:20)
    • Feature length documentary or series devoted to Wildlife Tourism and funding requirements(~23:05)
  • Bertie’s thoughts on why people visit these attractions, including misunderstanding of animal behaviors (~23:55)
  • More on elephants and the some of the “attractions” Bertie was exposed to (~26:00)
  • Other examples of wildlife tourist attractions including tiger selfies, dressed up monkeys, elephants doing various tricks, orangutans and dolphins (~27:15) and crocodiles (~30:25)
  • Tiger farms and illegal wildlife trafficking and how these animals are often taken from the wild (~29:00)
  • Freeland, an organization in Bangkok, focused on stopping the illegal wildlife trade (~29:40)
  • Bertie’s list of known attractions to avoid including the Samutprakan Crocodile Farm in Bangkok, Safari World in Bangkok, EcoZoo in Phuket and Phuket Zoo (~30:05)
  • Thoughts on the animal handlers and the general difference in understanding of animals as sentient beings in Asia (~31:55)
  • What we can do about the issue (~33.25)
  • How change is afoot and younger generations are starting to be much more environmentally aware (~33:55)
  • The filmmaking industry and the changing perceptions of the importance of conservation (~34:25)
  • Objectives of the conservation TV shows Bertie has been working on including Bertie’s “funservation” approach to education (~34:50)
  • How incredible Timor Leste is for ocean wildlife and Bertie’s experience with a pod of 25m long Blue Whales and a pod of Sperm Whales (~36:50)
  • Bertie’s personal experience reporting on the Wildlife Tourism story and the importance of staying upbeat (~38:55)
  • Legal status of these attractions and the extent to which they’re untouchable (~41:50)
  • Bertie’s approach to raising awareness and stemming demand for cruel tourist attractions, including the problem of “reporting to the converted” and the power of photography (~43:05)
  • More on Bertie’s Wildlife Tourism platform, Red Flag Animal Entertainment and the help he needs to get it up and running (~46:50)
  • How supporters can do their bit to raise awareness and curb demand for these attractions (~49:05)
  • Bertie is not anti-captivity: his thoughts on attractions where animals are treated well and how to find reputable places if you do want to see wildlife when travelling (~51:50)
  • The importance of reputable and responsible sanctuaries, zoos and conservation centers in educating people and animal conservation (~54:00)
  • How to support Bertie’s projects including the Wildlife Tourism platform and a crowdfunding campaign for the documentary (~55:35)
  • Advice for getting out there and telling purposeful stories (~57:50)

Notable Links

Bertie’s crowd funding campaign for a Wildlife Tourism documentary:

Aaron ‘Bertie’ Gekoski:

Bertie’s shows on Scubazoo (SZ) TV:

ScubaZoo TV:

Tourist attractions Bertie visited and best to avoid:

Other topics discussed in this interview:

  • Freeland: Organisation working on stopping Wildlife Trafficking
  • Wildlife Friends Foundation: Rescues and rehabilitates maltreated animals
  • Elephant Nature Park: Founded by Sangduen “Lek” Chailert and a genuine sanctuary for elephants treating animals with respect and rescuing them from cruelty

The Dark Side Of Wildlife Tourism And What To Do About It with Aaron Gekoski on the Sustainable Jungle Podcast #sustainablejungle

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