Responsible travel Sri Lankan elephants | Photo courtesy of mistermunay, Flickr

Published on June 16th, 2014 | by Geckos Tales Team



Read time: a bit over 3 minutes

Elephants are definitely one of our favourite creatures in the world. And in recent years, an entire industry offering travellers elephant ‘experiences’ has developed. Unfortunately, many of these experiences have pretty negative impacts on elephants and their welfare is very much compromised.

Along with our sister company, Intrepid Travel, we recently announced that we’ll no longer be offering elephant rides on our trips. And we wanted to contribute to the conversation a little more – as so many of you are clearly passionate about this issue.

We’ve already discussed the basics of elephant and animal welfare. And now, we want to go into what we can do to help elephants and animals we come across on our travels.

Elephant activities to avoid

• Rides – saddles may be left on all day and insufficient cushioning may cause discomfort to the elephants.

• Use of hooks, sticks and other tools to control the elephant can cause them pain.

• Elephant painting may seem peaceful, but in reality the training of an elephant to be compliant to the mahout’s movements would only be achieved through threat of pain.

• Elephant football entails training the elephant to respond to a command (again through threat of pain) to make movements that can be very unnatural and physically stressful. The things weigh 1500kg – they’re not designed to play football.

• Other extreme activities such as tight rope walking (highly risky – a 1m drop would be fatal), riding a tricycle and playing basketball all entail cruel training techniques.

In the above circumstances, it is clear that the five freedoms we spoke about in our last post are not being granted. Amongst animal welfare professionals, it is widely understood that elephants cannot be kept adequately in captivity. They are large, they are demanding and they are not domesticated animals. If you ever see an elephant doing something it wouldn’t do in the wild (playing football, for example), it is, generally speaking, being mistreated.

What can you do to help elephants?

• Share your new understanding of appropriate elephant welfare – share this post!

• Keep in mind a few simple key points to look out for when visiting a venue with wild animals:

  1. Freedom to move without restraint. Are the animals free to move without restraint when not used for tourists? Can they interact with other animals on their own terms?
  2. No signs of abuse or distress in the animals. Are the animals healthy and without wounds and not showing any behavioural problems? Do the animals seem calm but not apathetic?
  3. Clean and natural husbandry conditions. Are the animals housed in a natural environment? Is the area kept clean?
  4. Fresh and varied food available. Is fresh, unprocessed food available at all times? Can the animals forage natural food? Most animals also require free access to water at all times.

• Don’t ride elephants or patronise shows where the elephants are clearly made to perform unnatural or human-like activities. You should voice your concerns to the appropriate tourism authorities when you get the chance.

• If wanting to help elephants or experience them at close range, please support a venue that clearly prioritises the elephant’s welfare. We can help with suggestions. The situation of captive elephants across the world requires improvement and by bringing support to better welfare-providing venues, other venues will be pressured into improving the lives of  elephants.

In summary

• The keeping of elephants adequately in captivity is just not possible because they are not domesticated and they are big, demanding animals.

• The initial training of elephants for entertainment of tourists is extremely cruel.

• Many of the activities they are made to do are physically and psychologically damaging and stressful.

• Captive breeding must be seen with scepticism and as potentially counter-productive for conservation purposes, as well as totally disregarding the basic principles of animal welfare.

• The existing captive elephant populations need action to improve their welfare.

And like we mentioned above, a fantastic way to get the word out about elephant welfare is to share this post!

Cover photo courtesy of mistermunay, Flickr

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About the Author

We run awesome trips around the world. But when we're not on the road, we're sitting here and writing loads of travel-related insights, tips, information and advice. Geckos Tales is your go-to source for whenever you need to find something out about pretty much anything.

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