Harm Minimisation & Reduction
Southeast Asia receives an enormous number of annual visitors. International arrival numbers vary between countries, but are diverse and plentiful. For example, 2018 tourism statistics for Thailand show nearly 26 million arrivals from east Asia alone (China, Malaysia, Japan, Korea etc), compared with a much smaller 6.7million from UK/European countries. With such huge visitation numbers, it is inevitable that many tourists will wish to visit an elephant camp during their stay in Thailand and throughout southeast Asia. It is also important to recognise the different cultural norms and values that each visitor may bring with them while holidaying in southeast Asia. Some visitors may not wish to participate in elephant-based tourism for fear of contributing to the mistreatment of animals. Other visitors may not be too concerned about elephant welfare and will happily visit an elephant camp during their stay.
With over 300 elephant camps in southeast Asia, it is clear that many visitors do enjoy elephant-based tourism, including elephant riding and bathing. While this may be unpalatable to many, is it vital that high standards of elephant care and welfare are afforded to the camps currently offering these services. By auditing elephant camps that offer human-elephant contact, ACES can evaluate elephant welfare at these sites. ACES auditors have access to the back-of-house, elephant registration papers and all areas of the camp that visitors do not see. A camp that engages with ACES is more likely going to provide a higher level of care for elephants than camps that do not offer themselves open to formal animal welfare advancements. We audit all elephant working timetables, schedules, their access to clean and plentiful drinking water, work breaks, shelters while working and substrates they walk on. This ensures harm minimisation and reduction while camps transition away from riding and into more passive forms of elephant tourism.
While we applaud a move towards no-contact elephant tourism, we also acknowledge that this change cannot and will not happen overnight. In the interim, we will continue to provide ongoing care and welfare assessments to the elephants at these camps. Changing behaviours always takes time and while positive changes are currently occurring, we believe that the elephants currently working can work in acceptable conditions and still maintain very high levels of welfare and enrichment. This claim has been supported by academic findings, that show camps with high elephant welfare have less-stressed elephants.
Styles of elephant training are also assessed by ACES. The truth is that even elephants in free-roaming camps will need to learn how to follow verbal commands from mahouts. Even the most liberated of elephant camps will need to perform routine foot, teeth and rectal examinations on elephants. It is in the elephants’ best interest that they are well prepared for any physical check they may require. Training allows an elephant to feel safe and in control; greatly reducing the need for physical or chemical restraint and therefore reducing stress levels and the potential for mistakes or disasters. Training an elephant to respond to commands does not need to be harmful and there are many successful positive reinforcement and target training techniques currently performed at elephant camps through southeast Asia. An elephant does not need to be starved or physically mistreated to learn and obey commands.