Today marks Save the Elephant Day, animals which sadly experience exploitation from the tourism industry every day.
To be honest, we can’t imagine being cruel to an animal as cute and talented as this.
One of the best parts about travel is getting up close and personal with wildlife from around the world, but unfortunately, many naive travellers are oblivious to the exploitation wildlife endure in order to ‘entertain’ us.
And when visiting countries like Thailand and India, watching elephants do tricks and riding on their backs is on most peoples must-do list.
Specialist travel agency Footloose Travel gave us three tips to ensure travellers are more aware of the conditions elephants are subject to, and how to have an ethical elephant adventure instead.
1. Say no to elephant riding
One of the biggest threats to elephants from the tourism industry is the surge of riding.
A World Animal Protection (WAP) survey in 2016 found that 40 per cent of tourists visiting Thailand planned to ride an elephant, but most of these travellers don’t realise the cruelty behind the activity.
Last week when TW spoke to Neil Rodgers, managing director of Adventure World Travel, he said “they [travellers] might ask questions like ‘What’s wrong with riding an elephant, it’s a strong sturdy animal?’ But they don’t know the conditions the animal is kept in.”
The WAP report found that three-quarters of the elephants they investigated in captive environments were living in “severely cruel conditions”.
Elephants can be expected to work up to eight hours per day, and the load of carrying the mahout, two tourists and the riding chair can weigh up to 500kg.
To provide the elephants with more energy they are often fed amphetamines, which can lead to an addiction.
Elephant riding, unfortunately, continues to exist due to popular demand, so travellers must be aware of what they are supporting by taking part.
2. Do your research
Travellers who wish to interact with wildlife on their holiday are generally animal-lovers, so the issue is not a lack of compassion but rather a lack of awareness.
Footloose Travel advises travellers to ask these questions before visiting a sanctuary or participating in elephant activities:
Can the elephants move around freely?
Is there limited contact with visitors?
Are visitors educated on elephant welfare as part of their visit?
If the answer is yes, it is most likely an ethical environment providing proper care and conditions for elephants.
And don’t be fooled by terms like ‘sanctuary’ or ‘refuge’ as many organisations hide behind these terms to mislead visitors.
3. Get wild
Seeing elephants in their natural habitat on a safari trip is the best way to interact with the species.
These experiences are not only ethical but also much more authentic.
David Guthrie, managing director of Tent With a View said: “A safari is the only way to truly experience an elephant; witnessing the emotional complexity of such awe-inspiring animals as they interact is a moving experience which few people forget.”
“The whole natural world on show on a safari is captivating, unearthing for many a connection they never knew they had.”
“If we go home spreading the word about the need to be interested in elephant conservation we keep our government on their toes and our elephants alive,” he added.