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Elephant back safaris
At Responsible Travel we believe that riding an elephant in a sanctuary or a camp is an unnecessary activity which contributes to the harsh treatment of the elephant and the capture of wild elephants. As of early 2019, we also made the decision not to promote elephant safaris in national parks. While elephant safaris have both pros and cons, we feel that on balance, this is not an activity that is necessary or ethical.
Case study: Kaziranga National ParkKaziranga National Park in Assam, northeast India, has an impressive conservation record. It supports a whole host of wildlife, including tiger, wild elephant and buffalo, but is perhaps most famous for its role in saving the Indian one-horned rhino from extinction. It is now the world’s largest refuge for this once critically endangered species, with two thirds of the entire global population of 3,500 animals resident with Kaziranga’s boundaries.
Along with many of India’s national parks, it operates elephant safaris in two of the park’s four zones. These rides are extremely popular with tourists, and often marketed as superior to a jeep safari, since the elephants can go off road and get very close to the park’s celebrated rhino. The popularity of these elephant safaris means they always sell out, and fees from tourists riding elephants contribute to the ongoing conservation work of the national park and the protection of its wildlife.
In addition to generating tourist revenue that supports conservation, the elephants owned by the park are also used on anti poaching patrols and to deliver supplies to isolated park staff. They are also employed in efforts to alleviate human-wildlife conflict. When a tiger strays across park boundaries and towards local villages, the park and forest department authorities carry out elephant mounted hawking operations to chase the tigers back into the deep forest ranges, away from local people.
Elephants used in Kaziranga National Park, in common with elephants that are made to give rides in sanctuaries, have all undergone harsh ‘domestication’ so that they can be ridden. With the Asian elephant classed as endangered, any elephant taken from its natural habitat to work in national parks reduces their chance of survival in the wild. That’s why although we understand that there are pros as well as cons to the use of elephants in Kaziranga National Park, we no longer promote elephant safaris.
Our view on elephant safaris
At Responsible Travel we do not endorse the poor treatment or wild capture of elephants. However, in the past we made an exception to our policy and allowed elephant rides in the case of a few national parks. We viewed the revenue raised by such rides, the visible contribution it made to the conservation of tigers and rhinoceroses, and the additional anti-poaching work conducted on elephants as too crucial to the survival of these endangered species. Recently, we have hardened our stance on elephant riding and have made the decision not to promote elephant safaris in national parks anywhere. While elephant safaris have both pros and cons, we feel that on balance, this is not an activity that we can support, and we don't view it as either necessary or ethical.
More about Elephant conservation
It's long been a highlight of many vacations in Asia, but riding elephants could lead to the extinction of wild populations, and often involves cruelty to the animals in order to sustain it.
The terminology surrounding elephant sanctuaries can be confusing, but we explain the differences between sanctuaries, orphanages and camps and discuss their ethics.
Asia has a long history of keeping elephants in captivity, to be used in wars, in the logging industry and now in tourism, and we ask what their role might look like in future.
Did you know there are two species of elephants? Can you tell them apart? And did you know that elephants, can be right- or left-tusked? Read on for more elephant facts and useful links.
Nothing beats seeing elephants in their natural habitat, whether that's in the jungle, savannah or desert. Our interactive map reveals where to encounter elephants in the wild.
Performing elephants, chained elephants, ivory, zoos and howdahs all make for very sad images, which we really don't want on our memory cards after a vacation to Southeast Asia.
Read our list of elephant sanctuaries we do and don't support, based on our comprehensive review of all the elephant sanctuaries featured on our site.
In 2007, we looked into Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage to find out if it really was an ethically-run sanctuary. The following year we removed all trips featuring it from our site. Find out why.
Elephant trekking and captive elephants are complex issues. We spoke with vacation companies, wildlife charities and NGOs to help us form our stance on elephants and tourism.