Elephants have been used for centuries by humans in Asia – for riding, for lifting and carrying heavy burdens, religious ‘duties’ and entertainment. So, if it’s such a long tradition, does this mean that there is nothing wrong with this?
In our view, no, it does not mean this. There is everything wrong with this (whether in Asia or Africa), and Tribes Travel made a decision not to condone or sell such interactions with elephants in most situations. We’d like to explain our reasons.
We say above that elephant interactions should be mostly avoided but there are some exceptions to this that we should acknowledge.
1. There is a view that that riding elephants in some national parks in Asia should probably be allowed to continue (even though the elephants have still been cruelly treated to be trained) since they are integral to the protection of highly endangered species such as rhinos and tigers. We reluctantly agree, for the time-being – especially given that there are so many domesticated elephants out there who would potentially starve if they could not bring in an income for their owners - but on a personal level members of our team choose not to engage in elephant-riding of the sale and promotion of any elephant riding activities.
2. Elephant poaching in Africa is, sadly, an enormous and ever-growing issue. This does mean that some baby elephants are orphaned and need human help if they are to survive. There are charities, such as the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya, which does hugely good work for elephant conservation, including having an Orphan’s Project whereby the orphans are looked after with great kindness and sensitivity before their attempted return to the wild in stages. Also, in Botswana, the Living with Elephants Foundation run by Doug and Sandi Groves, is a remarkable project caring for two (there were three until 2017) rescued African elephants. And, also in Botswana, the small herd at Abu Camp is another good example of elephant interaction done sensitively, without any cruelty to the animals.In all the above examples, tourists are able to get close to the elephants within certain restrictions, and more than that, the elephants are also ambassadors for elephant conservation. There are other examples, but these give you an idea of how elephant interactions can be undertaken positively.
ASIA: Asia is where the biggest problem is as regards the use of elephants in tourism. As the tourism industry’s need for entertainment by elephants grows, more Asian elephants are poached from the wild since elephant reproduction in captivity is understandably low. So, wild elephant populations in Asia are dropping dramatically, and tourism is playing a big part in this.
AFRICA: African elephants have never had a history of being used by humans. They are far wilder and bigger, and far harder to train. For this reason it is uncommon to find elephants you can ride in Africa. There have been instances where this is possible (usually baby elephants being hand-reared due to being orphaned by poaching), but the industry in Africa has, thankfully, mostly been turning away from this in recent years, so this is now very unusual to find.