Anne Majumdar

Elephant rides are not only cruel but dangerous too, a new report has confirmed with a recent incident in Phuket supporting the findings.

When two elephants went wild over a barking dog in the popular Thai tourist spot earlier this month, three Chinese tourists and the elephant’s mahout were injured.

There have been 17 reported fatalities in the past six years in Thailand alone, according to World Animal Protection which has just concluded an 18-month investigation into 220 elephant entertainment venues across Thailand, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia.

The resulting report revealed a number of other worrying facts. Of the nearly 3,000 captive elephants surveyed, three in four were living in “unacceptable welfare conditions” – that marks a 30% increase on the 2010 figure, thought to have been driven by an overall rise in tourism to Thailand specifically.

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However, it’s not all bad news.

In South East Asia, 194 elephants across 13 venues were found to be in high welfare venues indicating the start of a shift in the industry, according to Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife and Veterinary Advisor at World Animal Protection. That means they are allowed to roam freely with direct tourist interactions either totally prohibited or limited.

“The travel industry has the opportunity to change the lives of thousands of elephants by proving there is a strong demand for tourist experiences that allow elephants to be elephants,” Schmidt-Burbach said.

“We hope that a shift in tourist demand will encourage lower-welfare elephant venues to stop exploiting their animals. These intelligent and social giants deserve a better quality of life.”

On top of that, a recent TNS survey found that the number of Aussies that believe riding an elephant is acceptable is down 9% on 2014 levels to 44% – a sign the consumer tide is well and truly turning too following a major education piece driven in no small part by the travel industry.

Intrepid was the first global travel company to end elephant rides – a move which managing director James Thornton as described as a “huge commercial risk”.

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“Elephant riding was on every traveller’s bucket-list when Intrepid made the decision to remove rides from all our trips,” he said.

“But we couldn’t ignore the research and we believed our travellers would support our decision once they had all the information.”

Thornton confirmed the “leap of faith” has paid off.

“People want to do the right thing,” he said.

“It’s up to the tourism industry to help spread the word”.

To date, World Animal Protection has convinced more than 160 global travel companies to stop offering travel packages that include elephant entertainment like rides and shows.

 

Have you noticed a change in attitudes when it comes to elephant rides?