Elephant welfare and tourism operators dilemna
Addressing Elephant Welfare Concerns
When planning a visit to an elephant camp, the question of ethical treatment for these magnificent creatures often arises. Every year, the internet becomes inundated with advice on how to select an elephant-friendly camp in South East Asia, particularly in Thailand. Much of this guidance centers on condemning certain distressing practices, such as elephant riding and the use of hooks and chains. The level of interaction with the elephants is also scrutinized, guiding you towards making a conscientious choice of which camp to support and visit.
However, it's important to note that these practices, when taken out of their broader context, do not offer a complete understanding of elephant welfare. Curiously, there are camps where you might find elephants used for riding but with excellent animal welfare standards, while others may minimize interaction with elephants yet still provide deplorable welfare conditions.
Oversimplifying the issue does not serve the best interests of the elephants.
To truly comprehend the level of welfare in an elephant camp, it requires time, in-depth knowledge on the topic, and conversations with those in charge, including the camp owner/manager, veterinarians, and mahouts. Exploring areas not typically accessible to the public, such as the night resting area, pharmacy, and elephant food storage, can provide additional insights. Documented records, including veterinarian logbooks, elephant identification, and welfare policies, should be consulted. Making definitive statements about a camp's welfare based solely on visual observations often conveys only a partial truth.
Tourism Operators' Dilemma in the Elephant Industry
How can tourism operators continue to promote a lucrative activity when public opinion increasingly frowns upon it? This dilemma confronts the major operators responsible for marketing and selling elephant-related attractions to their clients. They face accusations of promoting cruelty and associating with practices detrimental to elephant welfare.
Some operators have chosen to completely eliminate elephant activities from their offerings.
However, this decision brings about two significant drawbacks:
They lose this business to clients who will find alternative suppliers.
They lose control over the quality and safety of the camps chosen by their clients.
Other operators opt for external companies to evaluate these camps using checklists devised by individuals who lack practical experience with elephants or consultation from Asian elephant specialists. What may seem crucial for elephant welfare from an office in London, Paris, or Melbourne may not align with the actual on-site realities at these destinations.
Dissuading the use of chains and the practice of holding - and in emergencies, using - hooks for elephant control can expose mahouts and clients to safety risks, for which the responsibility may not be clearly defined when accidents occur. To genuinely assess the welfare of elephants in these camps, it is imperative for these major companies to collaborate with individuals possessing a deep understanding of the field.
This is precisely why the Asian Captive Elephant Standards company was established in Thailand in 2019. It was founded to counter oversimplification and offer a comprehensive evaluation of elephant welfare and the well-being of the mahouts in these camps. This certification and assessment system is unparalleled globally, focusing exclusively on Asian elephants and boasts a team of experts proficient in elephant camp management, mahoutship, and elephant veterinary care. The time has come for industry leaders to collaborate with field experts for the betterment of elephant welfare.