Koala cuddle experience

New report exposes Queensland wildlife entertainment venues offering cruel close encounters


A new report by global animal charity, World Animal Protection, is detailing how iconic Australian wildlife venues Australia Zoo, Dream World and Sea World are exploiting wild animals for profit through forced visitor interactions.

Our Too Close for Comfort report outlines how wild animals at some of the most high-profile venues are being bred in captivity, solely for the purpose of entertainment and profit, identifying koalas and dolphins as some of the worst exploited.

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. 

Ben Pearson, Country Director, World Animal Protection said: 

“The reality is that people pay to swim with a dolphin, or cuddle a koala because they love them, but they are unaware of the silent suffering these animals endure. Forced visitor interactions with an animal like a koala simply adds a layer of cruelty to their life of captivity. 

“There is a reason koala cuddling has been banned in several states alongside captive dolphin breeding. The idea of using a koala as a photo prop or keeping a dolphin in a tank for 50 years is reflective of our broken relationship with animals and the natural world.  

“Wild animals are not an endless resource for profit driven venues to commodify and exploit. And while a few venues do some genuine conservation work, this is out of step with their current business model. Promoting ‘koala cuddles’ does not aid conservation.  

The report not only calls into question the social license of these venues but their long-term financial viability, as community sentiment towards wild animals in captivity shift. 

Koala being handed to a visitor for a photo

A koala being handed to a visitor for a photo at a wildlife venue in Queensland, Australia.

Recognising the animal welfare impact of close encounters and changing community sentiment, travel companies such as Flight Centre are removing these activities from their websites, instead introducing a ‘Look Don’t Touch’ approach to wildlife instead. In response to shifting public attitudes Expedia, Trip Advisor and Booking.com, also refuse to sell experiences with direct interactions with wild animals. 

Dr Jennifer Ford, Zoologist and animal welfare expert said: 

“During my investigation, what surprised me the most was the degree to which koalas are used as photo props with little regard for the welfare of the animals. 

“We must understand that koalas are wild animals and are not adapted to close contact with humans. They are also naturally solitary and rest up to 20 hours per day. Studies have shown that koalas become stressed even in close proximity to humans, so forcing them into stressful interactions where they are hugged and used as photo props is completely unacceptable from an animal welfare perspective. 

“Observing these encounters, I saw was several koalas showing clear signs of distress, not wanting to be removed from their branch, being handled by the public in a noisy, unnatural environment. This inevitably results in stress and hence compromised welfare.” 

Together we’re calling on the Queensland Government to immediately ban the practice of allowing koalas to be handled by humans, with exceptions for keepers engaged in welfare-related activities or veterinarians.

Koala cuddling has already been banned in NSW and Victoria because of welfare concerns.  

Forced visitor interactions with an animal like a koala simply adds a layer of cruelty to their life of captivity. 

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