As elephant tourism hits the headlines, and companies like Intrepid make defiant stands against the practice, Oyster Worldwide is speaking out about mistreatment of elephants within the tourism industry and how to get involved in ethical elephant projects.
World Animal Protection (WAP) researchers last week announced findings that more than three quarters of the 3000 elephants they assessed were living in ‘severely cruel conditions.’
The researchers claim that an increased market for elephant tourism, including activities such as elephant rides, is fuelling elephant cruelty.
Oyster Worldwide agree with the WAP findings that elephants are being mistreated across the globe for entertainment, and want to raise awareness of ways in which travellers can interact with elephants in safe and ethical settings.
“Oyster Worldwide is pleased that WAP has managed to bring cruelty to animals to the mainstream news. It is incredibly important that travellers and tourists are aware of some of the cruelty that goes on behind the scenes,” Destination Manager Anne Smellie said.
“At the same time, we feel that it is very important that WAP have also shown that there are positive environments where tourists can see elephants, and their visit and presence is not detrimental to the elephants’ health and wellbeing.”
The responsible projects provided by Oyster Worldwide include Thailand, Laos, South Africa and several other destinations, where travellers can work with elephants in a protected environment. These projects include either working with elephants who have been rescued from the cruel tourist trade or protecting elephants in the wild.
With a strict vetting criteria for each of the projects they work with, Oyster Worldwide work closely with their partners to ensure they maintain high standards.
“We are aware that, in Thailand in particular, there are many elephant experiences which are extremely worrying in terms of elephant welfare.”
The unethical elephant tourism trade is simply responding to public demand; many modern-day tourists now want to trek on elephants’ backs and get selfies with them.
However, Oyster Worldwide hope that the increased publicity and understanding which the WAP findings has brought to this issue will help more tourists to turn their back on these activities, which is a key step towards shutting down this industry.
“The publicity that the WAP research has raised, helping people understand why this is not a good thing, is a real step in the right direction,” Anne Smellie said.
This does not mean that travellers cannot interact with animals at all while travelling. The key to ethical animal tourism is to visit animals in their natural environment, such as on a safari, rather than in forced environments.
Other factors to consider include whether the animal has food and water, and if there is shade and shelter for the animal.
The WAP research was carried out between November 2014 and May 2016 across all venues that could be identified in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Nepal and parts of India. The research inspected 220 venues and 3000 elephants, and found only 200 to be living in acceptable captive conditions.
The report found that Thailand uses roughly twice as many elephants in tourism as all the other countries combined. The number of tourists visiting Thailand has double to over 30million in the five years between 2011 and 2016.
The research found that 40 per cent of tourists of the top nationalities visiting said they had been or were planning to ride an elephant. This means that captive elephants in Thailand gave rides to almost 13 million people last year.
As further awareness of these issues amplifies, Oyster Worldwide hope these figures can only decrease and travellers will instead look to responsible animal welfare projects and ethical tourist activities to explore wildlife around the world.