Elephant Rides – Yes or No? (24.07.17)

So you don’t agree with purchasing ivory, but what is your view on elephant rides?

The travel industry, which supports many elephant riding facilities in Africa and Asia, is presently re-evaluating this practice. We at Nomadic Thoughts have had to consider where, if at all, we should be encouraging our clients to experience direct contact with elephants.

As elephant numbers continue to fall, the question of whether one should book an elephant ride has become an ethical one, thanks to campaigners’ efforts to highlight the plight of this most regal of animals.

Although recognised as an iconic way to travel on wilderness safaris, during cultural festivals or even simply when visiting recognised elephant sanctuaries, the fact is that one of the planet’s largest, most social, emotional and intelligent animals is suffering from tourists’ thirst for a bucket-list elephant ride. Particularly in popular tourism destinations such as Thailand, India, Nepal, Cambodia, Laos, Sri Lanka as well as parts of Africa.

Although on the face of it enjoying an elephant ride can be a calming and gentle experience, the darker side of the practice comes into focus with reports of cruel training methods, harsh working conditions and even tourist deaths due to ‘rogue elephant behaviour’. On the other hand, stories of animal cruelty have to be balanced by the fact that thousands of experienced mahout elephant keepers rely on the animal for a living.

The question is whether the growing number of elephant sanctuaries provide a humane environment not only for the animals themselves but also for the mahout trainers and their families.

With so many stakeholders involved, the future of elephant tourism appears blurry at best. In the majority of cases tourism’s very existence goes a long way towards safeguarding and protecting elephants in Africa, but the plight of their Asian cousins’ interaction with tourism is often less clear. Thailand, for example, has between 3,000 and 4,000 elephants in captivity, approximately twice as many elephants in tourism activities as in all other countries put together. Having assisted in the deforestation of their own natural habitat, many of these elephants are now reliant on tourism for their existence.

The positive power of tourism can be harnessed to assist in the future of all those involved in elephant tourism. At Nomadic Thoughts, through local colleague updates as much as through our own experiences, we continue to source positive elephant engagement experiences and we encourage all to check and report back on local conditions. For example, as EarsAsia advises, there are many well-known Thai sanctuaries embracing change.

However, as things stand we do not currently book elephant rides, preferring to let clients make their own evaluation of whether each individual practice is beneficial to the particular animals and local community involved.

To assist in the matter we recommend the following links. Please do let us know if you have other information sites to suggest:

EarsAsia          Elephant Conservation            Helping Elephants       Elephant Experts

Peta                 World Elephant Day                WWF            Protect an Elephant