Time to reimagine Asian elephant tourism on World Elephant Day

Elephant with mahout (Credit- Intrepid Travel)

To raise awareness of the issues in Asia’s elephant tourism, a new travel guide has been released on Aug 12, World Elephant Day, calling tourists to think before they ride. Elephants In Asia, Ethically, brings together conservation experts, non-profit advocates, and industry professionals, with the aim of highlighting the issues in elephant tourism, particularly in Thailand.

The guidebook’s premise is Asian elephants’ endangerment as a species, a large portion of which live in captivity and rely on income for their care. Tourism supports thousands of captive elephants, yet their welfare runs the full spectrum from very poor to excellent.

Editor Cynthia Ord, a writer and advocate for responsible tourism, urges travelers to think beyond elephant riding when it comes to welfare. “Some elephant trekking camps hold high standards and use humane practices like very short rides.

ElephantsInAsiaEthically-Tablet_Cover“Meanwhile, some so-called ‘sanctuaries’ forbid riding but rate badly on overall living conditions for both elephants and their keepers.”

The guidebook contributors reveal the most common dilemmas for captive elephants in tourism — a shortage of space to roam, and a breaking up of the herd’s strong social bonds.

Research is scarce and opinions run strong in the complex world of Asian elephant tourism. With the guidebook at hand, travelers are in a better position to understand the situation and do their homework about their choice of elephant tour.

The book’s message is to go ahead and support elephants in tourism, but carefully. “Simply turning our backs on an elephant camp or an activity is not going to achieve improved standards of welfare for the elephants,” says Hayley Lynagh, an auditor of animals in tourism at Global Spirit.

“A loss in business from tourists is more likely to cause hardship and result in less of an ability to provide the care that these animals need.”

Among suggestions for a more positive experience are volunteering with elephants and walking with them in a more hands-off, semi-wild setting.

The guide is available to download in e-book format at www.horizontravelpress.com

Travindy is an independent website featuring news and opinion on all issues to do with tourism and sustainability. Written primarily for an industry audience, our aim is to support the transformation of the sector into one that is regenerative, restorative and fully inclusive.

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