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New Year, New Standards

The team at Asian Captive Elephant Standards (ACES) haven’t taken a break over the holiday season. Instead, we have been busy consulting with our advisors to review and strengthen our captive Asian elephant welfare and camp auditing criteria.

Our comprehensive review process involved many consultations with our captive Asian elephant advisors – a team of highly qualified Asian elephant experts from around the world. This includes staff from the Smithsonian Institute, Chiang Mai University, Houston and Singapore Zoos. “Reviewing our criteria on a regular basis is so important” says Mr Nicolas Dubrocard, Co-Founder of ACES. “Many auditing companies are loathe to review and make changes to their processes and paperwork, as it means making changes on so many levels. They simply can’t be bothered. But at ACES we see it as critical to take on board all the new research and findings that Asian elephant experts recommend. This is what keeps us assessing elephant camps to the highest standards of captive Asian elephant care in the world”.

ACES is the only regulatory system dedicated solely to the welfare and protection of Asian elephants living under human care and engaged in elephant-based tourism. ACES provides in-depth assessments of elephant venues to ensure each elephant is receiving the highest level of care available.

Some audit companies offer broad, generalist guidelines for all animals from dolphins to monkeys. Focusing only on the Asian elephant allows ACES the ability to gain extensive knowledge and dedicated support from world-renowned specialists in the field of captive Asian elephant welfare. ACES provides a ‘cradle to grave’ approach for elephant welfare, and is suitable for elephant camps, tour operators, governments, tourists, and species conservation groups.

ACES staff receiving auditor training in 2022

Elephant-based tourism will always be a jewel of southeast Asian tourism, but ensuring elephants are not exploited is a massive concern for tourism markets. “Many visitors to southeast Asia describe a complete lack of transparency or lack of trust in the tourism product” says Peter Kulmapijit ACES Co-Founder and a former Asian elephant camp operator. “They have no way of knowing whether an elephant is being hurt, exploited or forced to work. The only way to build trust and credibility is by strengthening scrutiny and regulating activities at each venue. ACES camp regulation goes well beyond any national regulation. It is international excellence applied at a local level”.

ACES believes that stronger industry regulation is needed to ensure all elephant-based tourism is ethical, humane and all elephants receive international standards of veterinary care and welfare. “Auditing elephants camps is not without its controversy” says Dr Ingrid Suter of ACES, who holds a PhD in captive Asian elephant management. “We get abused regularly by people saying that elephants should not be kept in captivity at all, and that all elephant tourism is cruel. This is outdated and an incredibly insulting viewpoint. There are so many experienced and qualified vets, camp managers and mahouts out there that provide a level of care equal to or higher than any staff at western zoos or sanctuaries. It's time people are educated and realise that elephants are no longer just kept on chains. Camp management can be very enriching, not to mention play a vital role in endangered species conservation. But of course you need to visit the right camp, and that is what we help tourists and tour operators with”.

The staff at ACES want visitors to realise that elephants are no longer taken from the wild for use in tourism. Many elephants at venues today have been born into captivity and are much safer than their wild counterparts. They are free from poaching, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict. A significant amount of science into Asian elephant management has been produced in the past decade, with findings included in ACES’ camp criteria.

Routinely monitoring academic findings, consulting with Asian elephant experts and modifying our auditing criteria is the best way to ensure expert findings are applied in a practical setting and directly benefiting elephants. ACES audits elephant venues throughout southeast Asia, with the auditing process having complete back-of-house access to each venue. This ensures our team can assess all areas of each camp, and not just the areas that tourists get to see. ACES also offers consultation services to tour operators to support their assessments of elephant venues.

We encourage tour operators to contact us with their elephant venue questions and concerns. And of course we encourage visitors to vote with their visit and only support elephant camps that have the ACES logo at their camp. This way you can be certain that they are offering their elephants the highest standard of elephant welfare possible.

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