Responsible travel elephant-welfare-geckos

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


Elephant welfare: what you can do to help

Read time: a bit over 3 minutes

If you were to ask an animal lover to pick their favorite, there’s a good chance they’d say ‘elephant’.

Elephants have won over the hearts of humans time and again – so an industry offering elephant ‘experiences’ to travellers, such as rides and performances, doesn’t come as that much of surprise. But unfortunately, many of these attractions have negative impacts on elephants and their welfare.

Along with our sister company, Intrepid Travel, we decided a few years ago to not support exploitative animal attractions and not offer elephants rides on our tours. And we want to offer guidance to travellers so they can make mindful decisions about animal welfare during their travels too. Here’s what we as travellers can to do help protect elephant and animal welfare.

Elephant activities to avoid

• Rides: Elephants aren’t meant to be ridden and endure an intense process called, Phajaan, in order to break down mentally. As well, walking with tourists all day and wearing saddles (and sometimes, chains) can cause discomfort, fatigue and dehydration.

• Elephant painting: It may seem peaceful, but in reality, it’s often the fear of being harmed that motivates the elephant to perform.

• Elephant football: The training done for an elephant to respond to a command (again through Phajaan) is grueling and movements like that for elephants can be very unnatural and physically stressful. Elephants weigh 1500kg – they’re not designed to play football.

• Other extreme activities: Tight rope walking (highly risky – a 1m drop would be fatal), riding a tricycle and playing basketball are all usually done through unethical training techniques.

In these activities, it’s clear that the universal standard of animal welfare, called the Five Freedoms, are not being met. It’s widely understood in the animal welfare community that elephants cannot be kept adequately in captivity. They’re large, they’re demanding and they’re not domesticated animals. If you ever see an elephant doing something it wouldn’t do in the wild (i.e. playing football), there’s a very high chance it’s being mistreated.

What can you do to help elephants?

• Tell your friends! Share your understanding of elephant welfare. I.e. by sharing this post (hint, hint).

• Keep in mind a few key points to look out for when visiting an attraction 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, without wounds and not showing any behavioural problems? Do the animals seem calm but aren’t just lying there either?
  3. Clean and natural living 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 support attractions where the elephants are clearly made to perform unnatural or human-like activities. You can also voice your concerns to the appropriate tourism authorities when you get the chance.

• If you want to help elephants or experience them up close, support an attraction that prioritizes the elephant’s welfare (we can help with suggestions!). By supporting ethical elephant attractions, other attractions will be pressured into improving their conditions.

To sum it up

• Elephants just aren’t meant to be domesticated or kept in captivity – they’re big, demanding animals.

• In order for elephants to be trained, they endure unethical procedures.

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

• The existing captive elephant populations need action by travellers like you to improve their welfare.

Want to (ethically) meet elephants in Thailand? Our Northern Thailand at a Glance tour visits the awesome, Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital. 


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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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