In 2010, Intrepid Travel conducted extensive research into tour operators dealing with elephants and as a result banned elephant riding from all its holidays.
Since then, more than 150 travel companies have followed suit and the movement against using elephants as entertainers in Asian countries is gaining traction.
World Animal Protection is pioneering the plan to boycott the inhumane treatment of elephants in the tourism industry with its Unite for the Herd campaign.
The action calls for agents – and anyone passionate about the issue – to sign a petition at worldanimalprotection.org/pledge-for-elephants
The charity and its ambassador, singer Alesha Dixon, teamed up with Intrepid to host a one-off event discussing the campaign and its importance.
What does Dixon say?
Although the mistreatment of elephants in tourism can be found in most Asian countries, for Dixon it started in Thailand: “Five years ago I visited Thailand with my family and saw an elephant show – it was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever had.
They were playing football, and I could see blood on them. I looked around and thought, am I the only one thinking this is wrong?
“Now, my main objective is to raise awareness. I talk about the campaign on This Morning, share it on social media and talk to everyone.
But we couldn’t shout about it as much as we do without the travel industry. Agents have a great responsibility – they are the gatekeepers and the most important part of the puzzle. We need their help to change mindsets and make a difference.”
How can I identify an elephant-friendly company?
To start, download the extensive list of elephant-friendly travel firms at worldanimalprotection.org.uk
If a company you are considering selling is not listed, there are a number of factors that you can use to determine whether a venue or operator is elephant-friendly.
If you can ride it, hug it or take a selfie with it, there’s a very high chance the elephant is being mistreated.
Is it living in a spacious natural environment? Is it allowed to mingle with other elephants? Are the mahouts (elephant keepers or trainers) honest about the realities of keeping elephants?
Make sure companies can confidently answer “yes” to these questions. Bad TripAdvisor reviews also help to identify the bad seeds.
Why does it matter?
World Animal Protection’s Chiara Vitali shared heartbreaking tales of why Unite for the Herd is so essential. “The crush” is a process by which mahouts take baby elephants from their mothers to “break their spirit” with metal rods and chains.
The fear that they encounter at this time is then used to force them to carry tourists and perform circus acts for the rest of their lives. “They’re abused in order to entertain us, and that’s wrong on every level. It’s our duty to protect them,” added Dixon.
What can I tell customers?
Vitali highlighted the key message to share. “There is another way to get close to elephants, not in shows or during rides. See them in their natural habitat and bonding with their family.”
Elephants in the wild roam 6-13 miles a day, so keeping them in small, concrete quarters is inhumane. Don’t always trust mahouts – they might not be well enough educated in animal welfare to know any better, and sadly, companies that mistreat their animals often mistreat employees.
Ask customers to sign the pledge to support Unite for the Herd, be vigilant about which companies they travel with, and share the information with friends and family.