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 Park

Kaziranga 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.
Written by Vicki Brown
Photo credits: [Page banner: USAID Biodiversity & Forestry] [Intro: USAID Biodiversity & Forestry] [Our views : Paul Mannix]