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Thousands of elephants kept in cruel conditions for tourism (by World Animal Protection)

Despite changing tourist attitudes, countries in Asia continue to grow the captive elephant industry

elephant rides in Thailand

Stupid tourists participating in elephant abuse with a smile!

A new comprehensive report released in Toronto on July 6th, 2017 by World Animal Protection, an international animal welfare charity, reveals thousands of captive elephants across six Asian countries are suffering in inhumane conditions to support elephant rides and shows for tourists.

The new Taken for a Ride report, investigated 220 tourist venues across Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Laos and Cambodia, and found that 77% of the nearly 3,000 elephants surveyed are suffering. When not giving rides or performing, elephants are typically kept on short chains, fed poor diets, given limited veterinary care and are frequently kept on concrete floors in busy and stressful locations.

Thailand is the main concern using twice as many elephants in tourism than all the other Asian countries combined. Tourism to Thailand doubled from 15.9 million to 32.6 million visitors between 2010 and 2016, contributing to a 30% rise (1,688 to 2,198) in elephants held in captivity for tourist activities.

Despite the rise in captive elephants used in tourism, a 2017 poll shows a significant drop of 9% (to 44%) in the number of people who find elephant riding acceptable compared to just three years ago. The research shows that more than 80% of tourists would prefer to see elephants in their natural environment and Canadians are no different (81%).

elephants in Thailand

Once the paying smiling happy stupid tourists are gone, the elephants are chained up like slaves!

“It’s clear that people’s attitudes are changing as travellers are learning more about the fear, pain and suffering elephants undergo to make rides and shows possible”, says Josey Kitson, Executive Director for World Animal Protection Canada. “With more awareness, people will increasingly want travel options that better align with their values. Travel companies and venues that offer tourists the chance to see elephants in the wild, being elephants, are already leading that change in the industry”. 

Many travel companies agree with World Animal Protection that the best place to see an elephant is in the wild or at a genuine elephant sanctuary. More than 160 global travel companies have agreed to no longer offer visits to venues with elephant rides and shows in any of their markets. Among these are popular global brands including G Adventures, Intrepid, TUI, the Travel Corporation (including Contiki and Trafalgar) and World Expeditions.

As well, in 2016, TripAdvisor, the world’s largest travel site announced they will stop selling tickets to experiences where tourist have direct physical contact with captive wild animals or endangered species.


elephant abuse in Thailand

Elephants are taken out of their natural habitats to perform for high paying tourists. Nothing but an old style circus.

Global tourist attitudes key findings:

  • 84% of tourists believe wild animals belong in the wild where they can live naturally
  • 82% of people would prefer to see animals in the wild
  • 76% think people should not make an income from keeping wild animals if the animals suffer
  • The main reason (42%) people give for visiting an animal attraction (including elephant riding, swimming with dolphins, etc) is because they love animals.

Taken for a Ride report recommendations:

  • Enable and encourage replication of high-welfare, elephant-friendly venues
  • Channel tourist demand towards more humane alternatives
  • Devise a set of elephant-friendly tourism standards
  • Improve conditions for captive elephants not kept in elephant-friendly venues
  • Stop elephants being poached from the wild
  • Limit captive breeding for facilities with a genuine conservation value
  • Address the needs of the mahouts and other elephant-dependent people by developing alternative livelihoods with them

About this survey:

This study was commissioned by World Animal Protection and conducted by KANTAR PUBLIC via TNS online omnibus from 21–26 August 2014 and 12–16 January 2017.  Sample size was 12,381 respondents across 12 countries. The data was weighted to be representative by age, gender and region within each country.


Another interesting article about animal protection appears on page 178 (The Animal Friendly Traveller) in this issue of Globerovers Magazine: