Elephant Interactions Abroad Are Definitely Not Okay
An Animal Rights Article from All-Creatures.org

FROM PAWS Performing Animal Welfare Society
September 2020

If there is one rule to follow, it’s that interactions with elephants – including rides, touching, bathing, and direct contact – are never humane.

Elephant trekking
"Elephant trekking"


Let Fodor’s know that animal cruelty in tourism should never be condoned, much less promoted. Contact Jeremy Tarr, Editorial Director, Fodor’s Travel at jtarr@fodors.com and urge Fodor’s to do the right thing for elephants and take a position against elephant-tourist interactions.

Tell LIVEKINDLY that there is nothing compassionate about riding, bathing, or interacting with a captive elephant. Contact LIVEKINDLY Senior Editor Charlotte Pointing (who wrote the article) at charlotte@livekindly.com and urge LIVEKINDLY to do the right thing for the elephants and their readers by taking a clear position against elephant-tourist interactions. 


Maybe a trip to Thailand or another Asian country is on your post-pandemic bucket list and you want to find an elephant experience that is “humane.” If there is one rule to follow, it’s that interactions with elephants – including rides, touching, bathing, and direct contact – are never humane. Unfortunately, the elephant tourism industry is working overtime to convince the traveling public otherwise.

Recently, PAWS wrote to Fodor’s Travel and the vegan media source LIVEKINDLY which claims to promote a compassionate lifestyle. Both companies had published articles about elephant tourism in Thailand. While the Fodor’s article blatantly regurgitated industry spin on tourist-elephant interactions, LIVEKINDLY’s attempt at a “balanced” story included naïve observations. For example, the author suggested that use of a bullhook could be “calming” for an elephant, when in fact the elephant is being dominated by this threatening device. Fodor’s did not respond to our letter, however, LIVEKINDLY responded that it “in no way supports or condones the torture or abuse of animals.” Yet that’s what their article does. A second communication and offer to help them develop a position statement on elephant tourism went unanswered.

Elephant tourism has been steadily growing, especially in Thailand, and it is a highly profitable business. To feed the industry, more and more elephants are being bred. The calves – some as young as three years old – are traumatically separated from their mothers and subjected to brutal training and a lifetime in captivity in poor conditions. World Animal Protection released current video of Asian elephant calves being cruelly “broken” and harshly trained for entertainment use in Thailand – evidence that these practices continue. Neither the Fodor’s nor the LIVEKINDLY article acknowledged the video.

Captive breeding does not serve any conservation purpose, nor does it make elephant tourism any more ethical or sustainable. (The COVID-19 pandemic, which shut down tourism, has demonstrated how quickly elephants can go from being a source of revenue to a serious financial burden.) In addition, calves are sometimes snatched from the wild for tourism, which threatens the survival of this highly endangered species.

Don’t be taken in by “standards” set by the elephant tourism industry and its supporters. These may address some of the abuses now, but in the long run they mainly will serve to protect industry interests and perpetuate money-making activities such as riding and bathing elephants. As long as these practices continue – and tourists are in direct contact with elephants – these animals will be subjected to inhumane measures to control them. As much as the industry may try to convince travelers that training methods have changed, they really haven’t. Elephants must be strictly controlled whenever tourists are around them.

There is no scientific evidence to show that elephant-tourist interactions are good for elephants. Recent studies promoted by the elephant tourism industry were conducted by researchers without animal welfare expertise and, due to inadequate methodologies, their conclusions are unreliable. The limitations of captive environments and the danger involved in tourist-elephant interactions make it clear that less interaction is needed to protect both elephants and tourists.

Of course, the best place to see elephants is in the wild. But if you’re set on a captive elephant experience, choose an observation-only facility with optimum care and welfare. These places offer settings in which elephants can engage in natural behaviors, with tourists respectfully watching from a distance. They also provide employment for mahouts and local people. Not all places that call themselves sanctuaries or rescue centers provide good welfare, so it’s a good idea to check World Animal Protection’s Elephant-Friendly Checklist of facilities in Thailand, Cambodia and Nepal.

Whether in Thailand, Nepal, Cambodia or India, elephant rides, performances (including “painting”), and interactions are something to avoid. Organizations such as World Animal Protection and Wildlife SOS (India) are campaigning to inform tourists and urge them to forego elephant rides and interactions. Only tourist demand for the more humane observation-only experiences will drive the tourism industry to change – this means you have the power to make a difference!

For more information, read World Animal Protection's report, "Elephants, Not Commodities. Taken for a Ride 2", with a forward by Jane Goodall. It's full of in-depth information on elephant tourism. Read Elephants. Not Commodities

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