Koala cuddles at Dreamworld, Australia

Too close for comfort

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Most visitors don’t realise their once-in-a-lifetime selfie with a wild animal can mean a lifetime of stress and suffering for the animal.
Image credit: World Animal Protection / Carol Slater

The wildlife entertainment industry in Australia is animal cruelty masquerading as innocent family fun and conservation, with unsuspecting visitors fuelling demand for close wild animal encounters.

Queensland is a hotspot for wildlife entertainment with more zoos, theme parks and wildlife entertainment venues offering more close encounters with wild animals than any other state. It is the only state which koalas naturally inhabit to still allow the holding of koalas.

Despite industry best practice guidelines, more than 90% of Queensland zoos, theme parks and captive wildlife venues offer wild animal close encounters where wildlife are forced to endure hug, swim and feeding sessions with paying visitors.

If you can cuddle, hold or have a selfie with a captive koala it’s cruel. Don’t do it, see koalas in the wild instead.

Koala cuddles at Lone Pine Australia

Unaware of silent suffering

Recent polling shows that most people who pay for close animal encounters do so because they either love animals or want to learn about them.
Image credit: World Animal Protection / Carol Slater

Most visitors love wild animals but don’t know about the stress and suffering these animals endure when they are cuddling, holding or having a selfie with a captive wild animal.

Reducing visitor demand for cruel wildlife encounters is vital to stop wild animals like koalas, tigers and dolphins being bred in captivity for our entertainment and profit.

Following the release of our report, Dreamworld announced in November 2022 it would be phasing out direct contact between tigers and handlers, amid shifting public sentiment around performing animals.

We will continue our engagement with wildlife entertainment venues and advocate that they phase out other attractions such as koala cuddles, and to transition to a model which prioritises seeing wild animals in the wild – where they belong.

A review of wildlife tourism attractions globally found that the majority had negative animal welfare and conservation impacts.

Koala cuddles at Lone Pine, Australia

Koala cuddles

Of all the direct interaction opportunities available in Australia, koala handling is probably the most well-known and widely advertised.
Image credit: World Animal Protection / Carol Slater

Koalas, even if born in captivity, are wild animals with wild instincts and behaviours. They are solitary animals in the wild, yet in many captive venues they are kept in enclosures in inappropriately close proximity to one another.

Like other wildlife used for close encounters, they are not adapted to having close contact with humans. The naturally docile nature of koalas means that they can appear quite calm as they sit in someone’s arms or on a prop,  but this does not mean that they are not experiencing stress. 

The cruel reality of koala handling is obscured by using words like ‘cuddling’, a term used by many venues which creates the impression of a pet, young child or cuddly toy.

It is inherently deceptive as ‘cuddling’ implies mutual agreement and consent in the interaction, and the idea that both parties are enjoying it. The reality is that the koalas are being forced into the interaction and held against their will.

The reality is that the koalas are being forced into the interaction and held against their will.

Captive dolphin at Sea World

Dolphin attractions

Although wild dolphins do leap from the water, the great heights of their jumping seen in shows is the result of training and not typical in the wild.
Image credit: Dean Sewell / World Animal Protection

They also perform vertical spinning in the water, flips in the air, and pushing trainers through the water, none of which are natural behaviours and designed only for the enjoyment of human visitors. 

Internationally, the tide is turning against dolphin captivity. Canada has banned the keeping of dolphins in captivity for entertainment and in France it will be illegal to capture wild dolphins or breed captive dolphins. 

They had no choice but to perform in these shows which included a large range of unnatural behaviours.

Koala in the wild, Magnetic Island, Queensland

Animal friendly future

The majority of the Australian wildlife tourism industry continues to rely on an outdated business model that exploits captive wild animals for profit. They're forced to engage in interactions with human visitors and shows that are often stressful and demeaning.
Image credit: @NOMADasaurus

Wildlife entertainment venues do not provide the educational experience parents may think. A child seeing a captive wild animal in an unnatural setting, forced to behave in an unnatural way, simply paints a false picture of wild animals and their natural behaviour. We encourage schools and parents to opt for more kind, inspiring, and educational activities for their children these school holidays.

Our recommendations

  1. The Queensland Government must match other jurisdictions and ban handling of koalas by humans, with exceptions for keepers engaged in welfare-related activities or veterinarians.
  2. The breeding of wild animals at private venues for entertainment purposes should be banned by state governments. Only breeding for a genuine conservation purpose should be allowed.
  3. The use of captive wild animals for performances must be banned by state governments.
  4. All venues holding wild animals in captivity must discontinue any offerings that involve holding wild animals or having humans in proximity to them in a way that may cause the animals distress.
  5. All venues holding wild animals must adopt best practice photography guidelines that treat the animals with dignity and respect, not use them as photo props.


Take action

Koala cuddles at Lone Pine, Australia

Too close for comfort

Read our 'Too Close for Comfort' report and learn how a selfie with a wild animal can mean a lifetime of suffering for the animal.

Stop cruel koala cuddles

Call on the Queensland Premier to join other states in banning cruel koala encounters, including koala cuddles, selfies.

Be an animal friendly traveller

Right now, captive wild animals are being exploited for profit and entertainment. Will you be an Animal Friendly Traveller?