Why we no longer ride elephants

Elephant family in Zambia by Johan Elzenga

Intrepid staff and travellers are a very passionate lot; unafraid to speak up about ethical and social justice issues they may be confronted with during their travels.

Human rights issues, poverty, environmental concerns…there are many, but one of the areas that Intrepid folk are most vocal about is animal welfare. From witnessing animals in distress, to captive animals in poor conditions or working animals, particularly if it’s connected to tourism, Intrepid staff and travellers don’t hold back on speaking up for the voiceless.

As a responsible travel focused business, operating around the globe, we’ve set policies around not participating in activities that exploit animals – wild or domesticated. But over the years we have witnessed a significant growth in animal venue ‘attractions’ opening up, particularly in Asia and Southern Africa, where they are often marketed as having a strong conservation agenda. It does get you wondering as to how many orphaned lion cubs or elephants there really are that need ‘rescuing’, about the value of captive breeding programs if there’s no hope of reintroduction to the wild, and the appropriateness of allowing tourists at very close range to wild animals – to cuddle a lion cub, or pose with a clearly drugged adult tiger!

The issues are complex, which is why Intrepid has been very pleased to partner for many years with WSPA, The World Society for the Protection of Animals, and be able to tap into their expertise on what’s right in animal welfare.

Elephant issues have been a strong area of concern. Having such an enormous wild animal restrained for many hours at a time and used for rides or to do human-like behaviours, such as kick a soccer ball or paint pictures with their trunks, has never felt right. So in 2010-2011 we lent support to extensive research by WSPA into captive elephant venues and learnt much along the way.

People often think that an elephant in captivity is domesticated, and so somehow it’s OK to have them under human command. But the reality is that they never have been domesticated like dogs or horses. Even if born in captivity, they are still a wild animal, and need to be ‘broken’ to accept human control. There is much evidence that this process is exceptionally cruel.

Yes, there are a considerable number of elephants that have been rescued from working in industries like logging and their carers need to earn a living to feed and care for them. But we’ve also learnt that the numbers of elephants being poached from the wild has increased to fuel the tourism demand for rides and entertainment. Some venues seem to be trying to outdo each other with novelty offerings that clearly give little regard to the elephants’ welfare. An elephant falling off a tight rope would be catastrophic for the elephant.

So at Intrepid we took a stance over two years ago and began to phase out venues of concern and elephant rides. From January this year, we no longer offer elephant rides on any of our trips. Instead we are going to a limited number of places where elephant welfare is clearly highly prioritised and the elephants are free to move without restraint for much of the day.

We’ve put a big emphasis on education and communicating our rationale. The feedback from travellers has been overwhelmingly positive. Intrepid travellers very much appreciate being better informed and knowing that their travel choice is not causing harm to these extraordinary animals. And we hope that the increased patronage to commendable venues will help encourage others to lift their standards.

Another animal welfare concern made more widely known in recent times by films like The Cove and Blackfish, is the keeping of marine mammals like whales and dolphins to entertain tourists. Intrepid has always felt this is just wrong, and don’t include visitation to these type of marine parks on Intrepid trips.

Intrepid turned 25 this year. I’m proud that over the years, we have been able to contribute to various sound wildlife conservation projects around the globe and take leadership on wildlife welfare issues. In these times of an increasing loss of habitat for wildlife, climate change and other human generated pressures on the planet, it’s important that we in the tourism industry who benefit from wildlife tourism, continue to grow our knowledge and actively participate in the best ways to protect wildlife. My hope is that in another 25 years time, we’ll be able to travel and experience abundant wildlife in the wild, living as nature intended.

Intrepid’s information on elephant welfare and your travels.

You can support WSPA and a range of other excellent animal welfare and conservation programs through The Intrepid Foundation. Intrepid Travel will match your donation dollar for dollar, up to AU$400,000 in each financial year and a maximum of AU$5,000 per donor in each financial year.

* Elephant photo by Johan Elzenga.

About the author

geoff@intrepidtravel.com'
Geoff Manchester - As a co-founder of Intrepid Travel, Geoff (also known as ‘Manch’) has had a very strong influence on setting the direction of the company and ensuring that travelling responsibly and sustainably is a part of Intrepid’s ethos. Over the years this has grown from practical, on the ground decisions involving low impact travel, to developing Intrepid’s philosophy of charitable giving, advocacy and support.

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111 comments

Huge respect to you and your company. There is NO nice way to train an elephant. Don’t believe the none sense the providers feed you.

willow0516@gmail.com'

Reading this article just solidified my decision about who to travel with this fall (and going forward) — G or Intrepid. I am so happy to spend my money with a company that makes ethical decisions such as this one, whether popular or not. There was a time I dreamed of riding an elephant, but the more I’ve learned about it, the more I’ve realized it is simply not a practice I am comfortable with. I applaud you for taking a stand.

madz.ah16@gmail.com'

Congrats guys, this is an amazing change, I have traveled with intrepid before and the experience was amazing but I took issue with the fact that many of your Thailand trips endorsed elephant rides, I have volunteered in an elephant rescue center and seen the reality behind the elephant tourist industry, I am so happy you made this change and am more likely to travel with intrepid in the future because of it.

bax-chuhaj@hotmail.com'

I really hope Intrepid no longer visits these places and ensures that their local guides are not allowed to take people there. I did a trip through India and Nepal last year and to Chitwan Jungle to ride elephants and to visit their so called sanctuary. When I spoke out about the cruelty the tour leader became quite aggressive and tried to assure me they were well looked after. I am guessing he also received commission for who he takes there as he did for most of the trip.

Well done and thank you Intrepid for taking this position on elephant rides. I hope this position goes some way towards educating the community about the plight of animals used in tourism and so persuades people to be respectful of animals not only during their travels, but at all times.

farquharsonsusan@hotmail.com'
Susan Farquharson / Reply

I am so happy to read that you no longer offer elephant rides. Wish it was the same the world over. These are dignified, wild creatures, and are do not live on this earth solely to entertain us humans. I am sure your decision will anger and pique many of your less enlightened and uninformed tourists. The more intelligent and compassionate people on your tours, however, will understand, as I do. Great decision!!

peter@seeasiadifferently.com'

I thought long and hard before posting a comment but thought it necessary that I did as decisions like this are not as cut and dry as one may think after reading the article at face value. As a tour operator we like wise had a decision to make on elephant rides. The decision to stop the rides would have been a simple one; as an alternative to Elephant treks we also offer our clients the choice of Elephant Sanctuary visits. We therefore could have stopped the treks altogether and we were so close to doing so.

This topic like many others will face us more and more as modern travellers and as we delve deeper we find that there are a lot of grey areas. What is true eco-tourism? Are the attractions / hotels that say they are green really as good as they portray themselves. What happened to carbon offsetting? And flying thousands of miles to spend a fortnight in an eco-resort built on a beautiful island but where does all the waste and sewage go. Most of us in the industry would have seen Simon Reeve when he visited the island of rubbish in the Maldives that sums this all up perfectly.

With this in mind our philosophy on elephant trekking is to tell our clients everything and let them make up their minds; to trek or not to trek. After spending time with the local tribe’s people we felt it was just as ethically wrong to take the much needed income that local minorities get from running elephant treks. An elephant is often shared amongst a few families and is sacred to them and is looked after extremely well indeed. How can you possibly say to these people that we will not support you if their animal is cared for and looked after properly. As the main issue here is of course the welfare of the animal.

The thing that not many people are aware of is that historically minorities were allowed to move around and often changed the position of their settlements depending on specific events. Due to this these people have less opportunities to make money and have therefore turned to their elephants to make extra income. If we stop this source of income we potentially make the situation worse. The minorities will then cut more of the virgin forest to make farms to feed themselves and we could also lose our minority tribes all together.

Saying this not all elephant rides are the same and of course many operations should be boycotted however we have gone through great lengths to make sure that we are supporting the areas that we take tourists to in the best ways possible.

To finish off as a tourist you have a choice to make. If you feel strongly that an elephant should not be ridden then fine – we respect that and we can show you the wonderful work that the elephant sanctuary we work with does. On the other hand if you want to ride an elephant then do the right thing. Do your research, ask questions about the welfare or treatment of the animals and check them carefully before riding them, you can look out for sores or signs of neglect and if you specifically find a particular operation not behaving ethically then make it public and warn visitors not to use this particular activity. But first, please make sure that you have correctly researched this before you effect the live hood of innocent and poor people.

As with all in life, there is Good and Bad. If we all start to easily generalise and condemn everything around us then what will be the point of travelling.

geoff@intrepidtravel.com'
Geoff Manchester / Reply

Hi Peter,

Thank-you for posting your thoughts.

The changes implemented by Intrepid have been over a more than 3 year time period, during which time in addition to our support for the extensive WSPA research, we consulted many stakeholders, including our travellers. I fully agree that it is very complex and the more you delve, the more you realise there is much to learn.

Amongst the many considerations, one of the clinchers for us in discontinuing the visitation to performance venues, and offering rides, was the knowledge that the numbers of captive elephants being used for these activities has grown and that there is clear evidence they some are being taken from the wild to meet this demand, in several countries of Asia.

Generally I can say some of our conscientious travellers will do some research on a topic like this, but in most part they look to us as a responsible travel operator, to have expertise in the area, and be offering the most responsible activities. We’ve had an over-whelmingly positive response to the provision of elephant welfare information in the last 2 years, with many anecdotes from travellers indicating it has given them understanding that has helped them be prepared in advance and make an informed choice as to the activities they partake or establishments they visit.

We know in the overall scheme of tourism in the region, our operational changes will have a small impact, but we believe they encourage the operators that have potential to improve their standards, that there are rewards to be had through offering travellers a more ‘natural’ experience that is better for the welfare of elephants.

Thanks again for your comments.
Geoff

healthybibi@gmail.com'

Honestly those you can ride on aren’t the bunch that have been treated that badly or cruelly like those in circus and in the old style logging industry. In some asian areas, they are fed and raised up properly by families for generations just like what Peter said. Although i personally feel animal welfare monitoring system is required, it would be a bit unfair to those people who care about their elephants and the only income they have is to earn from offering animal treks to tourists. You can’t be that nasty to the elephants if you want to ride on them anyway, i think travellers have to realize the fact that Elephants are not as cute if you piss them off as they are still wild animals and lots of people have been killed by elephants in places like Thailand.

cnelson_madison@hotmail.com'

There are consequences to both action and inaction. With the revelation of “Blackfish” being a fraud, I am hoping Intrepid has thoroughly researched the treatment of elephants (I am no expert). It would be a true shame if lack of support ended up costing some of the places actually doing good to close.

The places doing good are the few probably 4/5 in total in Thailand , and this action will only strengthen them.

adriano@africadosul.net'
Adriano Lucchesi / Reply

Congrats Intrepid for taking action in this sensitive issue. Another one to be discussed is the shark cage diving in South Africa.

christine.m.morrissey@gmail.com'
Christine Morrissey / Reply

I am so happy to hear this. in 2009 I went to the Elephant nature park in Chiang Mai and spent an amazing week there. I learnt what great work the sanctuary is doing and how poorly some elephants were treated in some tourist industries. I was booked with Intrepid two weeks later and part of my trip was to ride elephants. I opted out of the elephant riding, to the confusion of my fellow tourists. I would much rather see the elephants in their natural environment and support those positive tourism ventures, and elephants not coerced or forced by cruel training methods.Good on you Intrepid!!

rebecca.saban@gmail.com'

This is fantastic news! I’m so thrilled you have taken this positive step. I had been researching Intrepid Thailand trips last year and was upset to see that the trips I was interested in included elephant rides. I ended up not booking a Thailand Intrepid trip because of this. But I definitely will now! Hooray for Intrepid!

kayrod50@hotmail.com'

It’s great to see Intrepid taking a stand against animal exploitation in this way.I’ve been on several Intrepid trips and never been pressured to participate in any activities that harmed animals. The only thing that bothered me was when I saw the elephants at the Amber Fort and wished the guide could have given us time to stop and support the animal welfare group. The elephant rescue centre I visited in Sri Lanka appeared quite reasonable and didn’t give rides or anything…we just watched them go to the river to swim.
It’s nice to see so many comments that show people are thinking more deeply about this issue. It’s a shame so many people participate in questionable activities because they are pressured , are not given a choice, or are not fully informed. I do wonder, though, why anyone would think an elephant “painting” or doing tricks is ok entertainment.

I am really heartened to read this – it is only when companies like Intrepid which which ‘buy the local services’ act will animal welfare issues really be taken seriously -can you act in another country that I love, Jordan at Petra??- in the meantime am reaching for Intrepid brochure!

cbmm67@hotmail.com'
Cassandra Bladen / Reply

I read in The Australian paper today that Intrepid has now banned elephant rides and trips to elephant entertainment venues. I was so pleased I’m jumping on your website to say – Thank you! We need more travel companies to make a stand against this. Tourists only see the elephants doing cute tricks and don’t see the torture and cruel training techniques that have gone into making them submissive and obedient in Asia.
If tourists want a wonderful elephant experience, I recommend the Elephant Nature Park at Chang Mai, Thailand. There’s no rides or silly tricks – you just help them care for the rescued elephants for the day (or some people stay on site for a week or months!). You get to feed them and walk with them to the river where you can go into the water and help scrub their backs while they wash. It was one of my all time favourite travel days – so much better than sitting on their backs for a ride.

tourletter@yahoo.com.au'

It can be hard work to find out what is a true “responsible” travel activity. This comment is not really about the issue, but I wanted to share one of my favorite books of all time … if you love elephants read “the White Bone” by Barbara Gowdy.

jeanewrigley@hotmail.com'

Great bit of information! I recently travelled to Bali and had spent some time researching what best animal park to visit in terms of welfare and treatment of their ‘rescue’ animals. After spending half a day travelling to get there we arrived and I was throughly disappointed with what I saw, even though it was said to be one of the best rehab facilities for elephants on the island. I absolutely refused to ride them, and felt heart broken listening to one of the adolescent elephants crying and showcasing some aggressive and repetitive behaviours, characteristic of unhappy and ill treated elephants. It feels like a catch-22 in many ways because as ‘customers’ some of us pay money to visit with the hope of supporting the wellbeing of the animals, but this equally perpetuate the cycle of mistreatment and domestication in many scenario’s. Thanks.

janmarymears@gmail.com'

I fell in love with the elephants at Addo Elephant Park in South Africa three years ago. There was not riding – just viewing them from afar. I took my grandkids on this trip and they have subsequently done school projects on elephants and become quite knowledgable.
While in Chitwan, Nepal building a home with Habitat for Humanity, we rode elephants in the jungle. I wanted to get off almost immediately and walk back to the start but was not permitted by the mahout. Too dangerous to walk alone in the jungle and he may well have been right. We bathed elephants in the Chitwan River – which entailed riding them once again.
Then in Thailand last year I spent a day at the sanctuary in Chiang Mai. I loved it and am hoping to return for a longer stay one day. And it was not just the elephants that made this trip so worthwhile. Other former working animals – oxen – stay dogs ( nearly 400) were living there in peace.

marseanelson@yahoo.com'

This is wonderful news! I don’t consider tours that have any sort of animal ride, and I’m happy that Intrepid is taking animal welfare issues seriously. Thank you!

Where I do not agree with the mistreatment of animals I do believe that there are large amounts of positivity that can come from animal and the human with interaction. After all education is the best way to fight ignorance. I have been planning my trip with Intrepid for the last eight months. However, since I work for a marine park that rescues animals, rehabilitates them, and uses their presence to education humans about many subjects that involve animal welfare I cannot support a travel company that does not educate themselves. My marine parks supports thousands of employees and their families, keeps food on their tables, clothes on their backs, and roofs over their heads as well as thousands of animals that would have died with out their support and conservation efforts. Please study both sides of the story before passing judgment.

intrepidexpress@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Lindsay,
Thanks for your comment. Your absolutely right to raise the point that there are reputable centres committed to the care and protection of animals, which also contribute to local economies. Intrepid will continue to work with many such organisations. We’re not against all interaction with animals, we just want to ensure that any activities offered to our travellers will always be where animals are treated humanely and not put on show for the sole purpose of profit.
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Express Editor

lisaujifusa@gmail.com'

Thank you for your stance on elephants and large marine mammals. This makes me want to recommend Intrepid Travel to friends. I do wonder how you define elephants being without restraint for “much of the day”. I wouldn’t patronize a place with captive elephants unless in a sanctuary where they are only restrained for medical care, but I’m open to being educated on other legitimate scenarios. I stopped patronizing zoos, Seaworld, and the like several years ago. I’m planning a trip to Asia currently and have opted out of some popular attractions.

This is such fantastic news! For a company as respected as Intrepid to do this is a great start for the future of these animals. Thank you.

As Intrepid leader myself, I was always against these practices, even though it “seemed’ ok and most of the time our groups were assured that no harm takes place. But truly it is simply common sense, so when I traveled – this time as passenger on one of the Asian trips, I was quite surprised by the fact that so many people had no clear idea of what really happens to elephants in captivity and volunteered so easily to take part in elephant rides. These are extremely sensitive animals and overall people tend to support many of the entertainment related activities. Well, for the sake of claiming to be superior species we should finally understand that we are not superior in any way, but we should be superior in giving the right example.

vjschwartz1@gmail.com'
Valerie Schwartz / Reply

Thank you Intrepid for doing the right thing. I have seen elephants roaming freely in Africa. A life changing experience. Seeing them on a chain is heartbreaking. It is a complicated issue. As with everything, when greed enters the picture, bad things happen. The thought of people claiming to rescue animals while really killing their mothers so they can exploit the babies makes me sick. Spread the word!

oncommercial@hotmail.com'

Last year I was at the Amber Fort in Jaipur in India where elephant rides were offered up to the fort. I declined a ride as I felt it wasn’t right to put these beautiful creatures through this day in and day out just so a tourist could have a photo to take home. I commend you Intrepid for making this change. I hope other travel companies follow suite.

Asigmund2000@yahoo.com'
Alice Sigmund / Reply

I knew I liked Intrepid! Since we first traveled with you in 2001 I have respected your commitment to give back to the communities you visit and to assist in protecting the environment.

I commend Intrepid Travel for their ethical standards. I’m so glad to hear It’s rare nowaday to have a company to care about the welfare of animals over profits. Thank you Intrepid Travel.

rjhemedes@gmail.com'
Robert Hemedes / Reply

Why is the article talking about eliminating elephant rides featuring African elephants? No one rides African elephants. Indian elephants are the ones that are the ones used for rides. At least use the correct photo of the Indian elephant if you are going to go feature a sanctimonuous article.

intrepidexpress@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Robert,
Thanks for your comment. You’re right, it is predominantly Indian elephants that are used for rides, but African elephants are also kept in captivity at tourist venues and some offer rides. For this reason our decision includes discontinuing any elephant rides and we are only working with conservation centres in Asia or Africa where the wellbeing of the elephants can be absolutely guaranteed.
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Express Editor

88c571d6@opayq.com'

Elephants are ridden in South Africa, where I live. I myself have ridden elephants in the past, elephants orphaned young and hand-raised. I believed then that love kept them so well-disciplined. Maybe so, but maybe not! In one such facility, it has been discovered that cruelty is used when training them and has shocked those of us who live nearby who previously believed the elephants were treated very well indeed. Read this press release from our NSPCA. http://www.nspca.co.za/page/elephants-of-eden

sandy.hollins@gmail.com'

This is a very welcome and educational piece of information – thank you Intrepid, for bringing this to our attention. Is it possible for you to provide a list of appropriate organisations for visits ?

info@jessgramp.net'

Cynthia – if you ever return to Thailand you could perhaps visit the Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai (http://www.elephantnaturepark.org) instead, where you get to feed and wash rescued elephants instead of riding them. I did this on my last visit and it was an amazing experience!

mamboandrew@hotmail.com'

Thanks for highlighting this and making a stand Intrepid. We rode elephants on an Intrepid trip to Thailand way back in ’98! At the time it didn’t seem particuarly concerning but looking back now I’m uncomfortable just thinking about it. How can this stance be shared further so that others are aware?

Well done

theindolentcook@gmail.com'

I didn’t ride an elephant on my recent trip to Nepal, though I only had a vague idea about the ethics at the time. After more reading, it looks like we made the right choice. Thanks for the article!

I think this development is great and it would never put me off doing an Intrepid trip. My sister and I went on an Intrepid trip to Thailand 7 years ago where elephant riding was included, and we definitely had some concerns regarding the treatment of some of the animals. As well as the elephants my sister remembers a dog, at the elephant camp, being chained up around the waist in a restrictive and dangerous manner.

On a recent trip to Thailand I noticed all sorts of elephant shows and rides advertised, and I could not see how people could be in any way entertained by the exploitation of these animals. However, they must be very popular amongst tourists to stay in business!

helenyoung86@hotmail.com'

Great news!

janeroundtheworld@hotmail.com'

I am so pleased to her this. As a frequent visitor to southern Africa I have seen an exponential increase in the number of these organisations and I have never been impressed with them. It is bad enough that we have to visit overgrown zoos in order to see wild animals today – and I do understand why – but to then see Cheetah in cages and to hear the glib explanations regarding ‘conservation’ blah blah blah is more than I can bear I am afraid. I avoid these places like the plague. Wild animals are wild animals – let us enjoy them as they are without having to conquer them!

dgrayvet@hotmail.com'

Good to hear that Intrepid has taken a stance on elephant rides. I hope that it also applies to dolphin & porpoise shows along with any other activities where animals are used for human entertainment.

intrepidexpress@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi David,
Thanks for your comment. Yes, the good news is that visits to marine parks and other entertainment venues that use animals will NOT be included or encouraged on Intrepid trips. We’ve been involved in projects in the past to help save dancing bears and many other wildlife rescue projects, so ensuring that all animals are protected is an important part of our responsible travel principles.
Best wishes,
Sue, Intrepid Express Editor

nswgmtp1@hotmail.com'

3 Years ago I did do the elephant ride as part of the tour even then when I asked about the Tiger park as was told by the local guides about the conditions and treatment of these animals, I decided not to go not because I was under pressure but he told me the facts and was up to me to decide if I wanted to attend.
I joined the Intrepid tours to see places but also make Shure the money goes to the locals and every trip to a zoo or animal place was to help protect animals while enjoying a great trip.
It’s one of the few reason why Intrepid stands out from the crowd and so booking for my next big trip at the end of the year to Thailand again for a 2 month tour it will be with Intrepid they stand behind in what they believe in.

blablabla_britt@hotmail.com'

Fantastic work, I support and agree with your decision 100% I hope more corporations follow such actions, and stand up for animal rights! Well done.

Excellent work Intrepid keep it up

mcb5022@gmail.com'
Michael beveridge / Reply

We endured the elephant ride on the Peregrine trip to Sri Lanka in July 2012 and were not given any opt out options. I provided feedback to Peregrine post tour outlining how cruel the set-up was there at Harbanara and that the trip notes said optional. A number from our group have complained i believe and we were assured that the ride would be removed from the itinerary.
On another note it was very difficult to organise a local tour to Khao Sok from Khau Lak early this month without an elephant ride so there is a long way to go to get tourists onside

Michael

Congratulations Intrepid! I visited Thailand several years ago as part of a group (not intrepid) where they organised elephant rides as an activity, and I was brought to tears…so sad to see these beautiful animals restrained, poked and prodded to do the bidding of the owners. I vowed then never to ride an elephant again. We since had a fantastic adventure in Vietnam with Intrepid, and am looking at a trip to India next, so I’m so pleased to see you take an ethical stand.

allistar@mortgagehelp.co.nz'
Allistar Walker / Reply

Riding elephants as we did at Addo, in South Africa can be exhilarating and life-threatening. It can also be just plain scary. My wife and I were bareback on one African Elephant, while our daughter and son-in-law were on another. The third elephant had another couple who lasted abour 2 minutes into the ride and felt it too uncomfortable and a long way to fall to the ground. We all had a Zimbabwean ‘driver’ and the drill was driver in front, woman in the middle and bloke at the back. Bloke held it all together by putting fingers through drivers belt. We continued our trek, I would have rather watched, it was that uncomfortable, and about 10 minutes into our routine the lead elephant with our daughter on, took off without warning. Scary moment – you bet. We stopped and all we could hear was the elephant crashing through Acacia trees and bush. If you know what Acacia thorns are like you can imagine one concern, if you hear branches breaking and an elephant trumpeting, you can imagine another concern, then when you hear a scream coming from our nearest and dearest,, that is plain frightening. The now out of control elephant had passed under a low lying branch at speed, swept off our son-in-law, daughter and the driver, resulting in multi scratches, cuts and a broken wrist, not to mention shock. It could obviously have been far worse, but probably not a better result. The trip to Hospital was over possibly the worst road we travelled on in South Africa, no seal, big drop-offs, lots of potholes, which wasn’t too comfortable for our most injured. Cost to mend a broken wrist plus x-rays over other parts of th ye body as well – a mighty NZD27. The next day our’children’ rode Ostriches, which probably should be ‘no-no’ too, and the place we stayed at overnight at Knysna, where our host said, quite emphatically, ‘they’re wild animals, unpredictable and should never be ridden’. Our incident was in February 2010. We did have one of the best lunches that we had had in South Africa, and owners of the park were apologetic and paid for all expenses, including our lunches.

markshone60@yahoo.com.au'

Thank you, we recently did a tour of the floating markets in Thailand and was taken as part of that tour (unknow to us when we booked) to an elephant park for a ride. We do not support animal shows for the reasons you highlighted. The tour guide and people at “the park” were not happy when I told them we will not ride the elephant, pay to see it kick a soccer ball etc because we do not support animal shows. Our tour finished shortly after but some continued on to a crocidile farm. We saw one in Malaysia and was sickened to see what they did there.

mazhender@gmail.com'

This is so wonderful – it’s SO important to respect and consider animals when travelling. By visiting and paying money to places that mistreat animals, you are contributing! It’s so important that travel companies don’t support them either.
Well done Intrepid; this is fantastic!

jennlovespurple@hotmail.com'
Jennifer in Australia / Reply

Sounds like you have taken the right stand to help stop the exploitation. I too have ridden on an elephant years ago in Bali… I wouldn’t do it now. I recently went to the Singapore Zoo. I too, had a photo near the orang-utans. I did come home feeling sick and uneasy about the elephants . Their mahouts had sticks . The elephants had to perform several times for tourists… including one balancing on a log. The speaker claimed that they do activities to stimulate them … When I reflected I thought it is no different than circus elephants as the routine would have been the same every day and 2-or three times a day . They also were used for elephant rides. I witnessed 5 teenagers and the mahout riding on one elephant. The elephants seemed to be the hardest working for the tourist dollar at the zoo..

sanders.cath@gmail.com'

Hi,
In relation to Intepid’s decision not to ride elephants, I would be very interested to hear what steps Intrepid is taking to ensure the beasts concerned will not be worse of for the withdrawal of Intrepid’s support.

rissaleong@hotmail.com'

I’m sure someone has already posted this somewhere here, but I will mention it again anyway! There is a BEAUTIFUL elephant sanctuary/park in Chiang Mai that is run by the amazing Lek Chailert, that rescues and cares for abandoned elephants, or working elephants. For a price, guests can choose their length of stay (there is accommodation on the premises), and spend time with the elephants, feeding them, bathing them in the river, and watching them romp around in the mud. There is an emphasis on educating visitors about the process that happens to “break” a wild elephant, and it is heartbreaking to learn that this cruelty is ongoing in many parts of Asia. The people who volunteer at the Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park, also divide their time by going to nearby places where elephants are kept/working, to give them the care that their owners may not necessarily know to give. My partner and I spent 10 months travelling over South-East Asia, and this place was one of our top highlights. I truly can’t recommend this place enough and what they stand for. If you can include this place and others like it in your Intrepid trips, everyone (especially the elephants!), wins!

That sounds fantastic what a great idea everyone benefits that way

geoff@intrepidtravel.com'

Thanks for all your feedback and support.

I don’t think anyone should feel ‘guilt’ for having ridden elephants in the past. No one can be expected to have known the issues around elephant riding. Intrepid has been offering elephant riding for more than 20 years and I have ridden elephants several times. I must say I never really felt comfortable way up there and in recent times much more enjoyed walking along next to an elephant.

As the research was being undertaken Intrepid did move towards using the better operating elephant centres and working with more reliable elephant handlers. It is important to realise that it is not just the riding that makes this activity inappropriate. It is also the confinement of huge animals, the lack of time for adequate eating, the poaching, the killing of mothers to take baby elephants, etc.

And while riding and the use of elephants for other tourism-related activities is undesirable, we do need to remember that there is a large number of captive elephants in Thailand and other countries that need to be cared for (it costs a lots to feed and look after an elephant!) and many people, often from minority groups, who do not have alternative skills to support themselves and their families.

Like most issues, it is quite complex.

Thanks for your comments.

Geoff

I HAVE A passion for Elephants, and love them. Have ridden them in 3 countries, including a safari ride, feeding them and an elephant massage!! (photo gorgeous). Would not do anything, that was not OK for the elephants> and did not realize that this was an issue,

turtlestravel@gmail.com'

Well done, Intrepid! So happy to hear about this decision, and even more impressed to see how much thought and research has been put into it. This is a topic many travelers feel very strongly about. Others don’t even realize it’s an issue. We applaud you for taking a stand for elephants!

info@oneworld365.org'

Absolutely fantastic news and decision Intrepid and hopefully more travel operators will follow your lead.

pez10s@aol.com'

I visited an elephant sanctuary and hospital in Chiangmai two years ago on an Intrepid tour. I have a panting in my living room done by one the the elephants. Now I have mixed feelings about it and hope that it wasn’t done by an elephant in duress. I’d hate to think that by continuing to hang this painting, I’m condoning the kind of mistreatment you’ve rightfully decided to eliminate from your tours.

yourfence@gmail.com'

First a real big thank you then a couple of thoughts.

The thank you is for caring for wildlife to such an extent that it might even cut into your bottom line. I wish all were as thoughtful.

I used to travel extensively off road in NE Laos on the Burma border only hiring a guide, and one local guide. (01 to 09) Needless to say the forest had more species than any place I’d ever been. The local guides on learning that I liked wildlife would point out sign and quiz me to see how my knowledge was. We had a great time and I learned a lot. One thing we almost never did was see the actual animal. Animals are shy when in their natural habitat with all of the predators including humans. I was ok with that. I know enough of animals to realize when I’m looking at the largest feline scat I’ve ever seen. I’m thrilled with scrapes and tracks.

The problem is tourists demand photos, they want to at the least take photos and even better of themselves with the animal. I just can’t see animal tourism expectations being met by a piece of tiger poop. Barking deer scat looks a lot like rabbit, a thrill only to those with much interest. People are more impressed with a captured animal available for photos than with knowing that somewhere out there in the forest wildlife thrives.

ryuchan1@gmail.com'
Charlotte Newman / Reply

Wonderful to see Intrepid make this stand and support elephant friendly ventures. ENP is a great sanctuary, and there are others for people who want to spend longer volunteering with elephants.
I, with trepidation, visited the elephant Centre in Laos last year, and rode and elephant bareback (I didn’t want to go in the seat). Apart from the seats, I thought it was well done, there were only 9 elephants ‘working’, there were less than 20 people at the centre, the elephants trekked for no more than two hours, plus a bath, then were ‘free’ in the jungle for the night. No hooks in sight.

When the animals are respected and treated well, trekking/riding can be ok… unfortunately for many Thai its seen as a ‘cash cow’…

Places like ENP are not only providing a sanctuary for elephants, but helping mahouts and owners find other means for gaining income, which is essential for the elephants welfare.

peachemma75@hotmail.com'

Good on you Intrepid. As someone who works in the tourism industry, it’s sad that more companies are not this responsible.

Timgenclark01@bigpond.com'
Genevieve Clark / Reply

I travelled with Intrepid to India and under no circumstances were we allowed to ride an elephant. Our wonderful guide explained Intrepid’s policy which was well supported by the entire group. When we got to Pushkar and rode camels, my camel toes out the bone through his nose. Again our guide was very concerned and wouldn’t allow the camel to continue until his owner promised to get veterinary attention and insisted they use a head harness that left his bleeding nose alone. We could not continue until the bleeding stopped. I offered to ride on the cart. I did however do the wrong thing out of ignorance in Delhi, handling a cobra for a photo opp. This was before our group meeting at the start of the trip. Our guide informed us of what we should and shouldn’t do then. I was ignorant. A suggestion would be to add an information section on the do’s and don’ts regarding local animals on the Trip notes so we can be educated right from the moment. I felt guilty but it was too late. If I’d known beforehand. What about all the tourists who spend a couple of days sightseeing before they join the Intrepid trip? Let’s educate them too!!!

Truemandy@gmail.com'

Great to hear of this decision and all of the research that went into it. I was a Leader of Intrepid trips in Thailand 14 years ago and was uncomfortable about elephant rides and shows. At the time I tried to believe the tourism was necessary for the elephants welfare, but in Asia it can be hard to get correct facts, so I was never really sure. I’m pleased to hear that there is now research on the matter and quality control on the centres visited. And no more rides. Keep up the good work Intrepid!

Tim@purplesoup.org'
Tim Marchinton / Reply

Great Job Manch! Way to lead your team and clients yet again into the philosophical epitome of best practice. My wife and I are big intrepid fans! Between us we have joined Intrepid trips in the Galapagos, India, Thsiland, Eastern Africa, Vietnam, China and Laos. We travel almost always to try to see natures wonder in the wild!

Thank you for taking a stand for the good of all creatures!

Kudos!

anya.hodson@hotmail.com'

Fantastic news Intrepid! I know this has been a long time in the making with lots of research and debate over the best course of action. Im so glad that to hear that a decision has been made to stop elephant rides. Great to see Intrepid leading by example as always!

emmajayneknapp@live.com'

I did two trip earlier this year with Geckos and Intrepid through Nepal/India and was offered elephant rides on both, once in Chitwan National Park and again in Periyar. Both were offered to my group by the tour leaders, and I was led to believe these was endorsed by Intrepid/Geckos? In fact I thought the elephant ride in Chitwan was part of the tour?

I didn’t feel overly comfortable with the idea but went through with the elephant ride in Chitwan and felt guilty the entire time, in Periyar I declined to participate but a large number of group did go (my tour leader seemed shocked I did not want to join in and tried to push me to go).

On a positive note we were informed at Amber Fort that the company does not recommend or agree with the elephant riding there, which was great to hear!

Hi Emma,
Thanks for letting us know of this. We wish to follow up what happened and why with our operations teams in Nepal and India. Can you please email us with your full name and month travelled to: responsible.business@intrepidtravel.com and we’ll follow it up.
Kind regards, Jane Crouch (Responsible Business Specialist)

Susan-woods@live.com.au'

Great to hear,we were on a tour of India in April this year, a no. Of our group went on a side tour to an elephant camp in periyar ,although it was an intrepid tour ,it was also a peregrine tour as your company has amalgamated. Pass the message on to your umbrella companies please!!!!

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Susan,
The policies we have implemented also apply to our sister companies Peregrine and Geckos, and should be applied uniformly. I’m unclear if this was something that some of the group pursued independently of their own choice (which is out of our control) or if it was recommended or arranged by your group leader. Please drop us a line with the details to: responsible.business@intrepidtravel.com and we’ll follow it up.
Kind regards, Jane Crouch (Responsible Business Specialist)

Ruth Davidson / Reply

Hi there,
Glad to hear you’ve made this decision. Can you tell me what welfare concerns you have about the elephants at Chitwan? I’m writing a paper on Asian elephants for my studies and I’d like to know more about them.
Thanks,
Ruth

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Ruth,
I can send you through some links. Please drop us a line by email to: responsible.business@intrepidtravel.com and mark it to my attention.
Kind regards, Jane Crouch

The elephant nature park in Thailand offers an amazing educational and nonharmful elephant experience. You can even volunteer for a week (or a few…). Everyone please check it out!!

dhather@gmail.com'

I applaud you on this long and considered decision.
I travelled with you 18 years ago through the mountains of Thailand.One of my most memorable days was riding one of these amazing pachyderms ,feeling at the same time what a sad life they lead.
It appeared that they were treated with care and some kindness in this very poor region,but this was far from an ideal life.
We know better now…my daughter works for Sea Shepherd and activism is part of our life.
Congratulations

alliekat73@yahoo.com'
Allie Jalbert / Reply

What upsets me most about this is that I was assured by Intrepid travel when I did a Thailand trip including visiting an elephant ‘sanctuary & hospital’ that they were vetted and there as a rescue an rehab centre for elephants that had previously been part of the logging industry. We were led to believe by Intrepid that we were supporting conservation efforts and that the elephants would be much worse off without sanctuaries such as this that required public funding support. So now I ask whether I have unknowingly supported animal exploitation and how can I trust Intrepid’s vetting efforts going forward? Also, by just pulling out what then happens to legitimate groups trying to provide an alternative to some of the other horrible ways elephants are kept and exploited for the tourist dollar? Sorry, but I have very mixed feelings about this announcement and my trust in Intrepid travel has certainly been shaken”

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Allie, I’m unsure which venues you visited with Intrepid. What I can say is that we have been working on this over about 6 years now, talking with venue managers, and growing our understanding of what is optimum welfare. In this time we have seen some venues improve, some deteriorate and we let go of ones we felt were not making the right moves to improve. In efforts to find clearer answers on complex issues, in 2010 we committed significant funding towards WSPA undertaking an audit of more than 120 such venues. This was undertaken by an elephant expert vet, and from the results we had sound basis to draw a line in the sand as to what remaining venues we’d drop, and which we’d retain. In Thailand these venues that we still visit and commend are the Elephant Nature Park and Friends of the Asian Elephant at Lampang. There is a handful of other commendable venues, which we don’t visit… partly due to their limited capacity, and the venues not fitting with itinerary routes. In Nepal we discontinued visiting any of the Chitwan elephant venues, and in Sri Lanka we now only visit the Uda Walawe National Park – Elephant Orphanage. I can assure you that we will continue to work on these issues, and take expert advise from our friends at WSPA.
Best wishes, Jane Crouch – Responsible Business Specialist (& committed animal lover!)

I was wondering about this when I went to the elephant training center in Chiang Dao. Things seemed all right until the “trainer” decided the elephant wasnt doing a good job and slammed a stick into his head…The whole audience was mortified! I actually have video of this :(
Is this one of the facilities that are on the dont-visit list?

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi There,
There’s more than 100 places with elephants across Thailand, so I’m unsure of the specifics of the Chiang Dao venue. What you observed certainly does not sound good. At this time Intrepid is sticking with visiting the Friends of the Asian Elephant centre & hospital near Lampang and the Elephant Nature Park.
Best wishes, Jane (Intrepid Responsible Business Specialist)

ldonnell@wcboe.org'
Leslie Donnelly

I wasn’t able to attach my name/email to the last response, but I was the person who commented about Chiang Dao. It was specifically called The Elephant Training Center Chiang Dao. I went to this camp during the summer of 2011.

alliekat73@yahoo.com'

Thank you for your reply. We visited Friends of the Asian Elephant in Lampang approximately 4-5 years ago with Intrepid. They offered rides at that time on an elephant as well as selling the paintings by the elephants. While not part of the Intredid experience, they also offered Mahut training experiences for tourists. Given that you are still supporting this sanctuary, are you working with them to stop these activities or are you satisfied that these activities are ok at this sanctuary? Thanks

reganyelcich@gmail.com'

You mention – “There is a handful of other commendable venues, which we don’t visit… partly due to their limited capacity, and the venues not fitting with itinerary routes.” – it would be helpful if Intrepid could provide a list of the venues you deem “OK” but don’t use because of operational reasons. We are heading to Thailand at the end of the year with some friends and I’d like to do-my-bit as a responsible traveller if you’d be kind enough to share your knowledge.

Mel_jacobs@hotmail.com'

Just want to say, horses aren’t actually domesticated…they are still wild animals, that we break and dominate. We’ve just learnt over the years some nicer ways to go about it.

Have a look on you tube for dr Andrew McLean. He is an animal behavioural
Specialist from Australia. He has been working in Over seas to help handler better understand elephants and to create better training and handling techniques.

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Mel, our understanding is that domestication is a process of selective, human guided breeding over at least 10 generations of an animal. You can’t domesticate an individual animal during its lifespan. Some lines of horses and other animals have been domesticated … though of course there are still wild horses, dogs etc. Elephants have never been domesticated.
Thanks for your suggestion – I understand Andrew is an equine expert who has become involved with elephants more recently. We are lucky to work with Asian based veterinarian Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, whose wealth of experience includes a PHD in elephants feet!
Best regards, Jane Crouch (Responsible Business Specialist)

nigelbartlett@iprimus.com.au'
Nigel Bartlett / Reply

I rode on an elephant on an Intrepid trip to Laos two years ago. While it was an incredible experience, it was also a guilt-ridden one. The elephant did not have to do any tricks and on the walk was not beaten once, I am pleased to say.

We were told that the place we visited only rescued working elephants, and that it was an ethical operator – this is why we went there. Nonetheless, I agree strongly with Intrepid’s stance – if there is any question then Intrepid should err on the side of caution. Unfortunately, I fear that this will be but a drop in the ocean…

craig@kimpluscraig.com'

Well done, Intrepid Travel! Well done!

helenstevens54@hotmail.com'

Well Done intrepid , I have travelled 3 times with your amazing company & did unfortunately ride an elephant in Thailand , the experience was distressing seeing these magnificent animals in captivity for the use & enjoyment of us humans ,, I did get so much more enjoyment seeing these animals in the wild , as I did in East Africa .
This rule goes for any living being .

Smcfreeman@gmail.com'

Great job Intrepid Travel!!! Thank you for explaining why you have chosen to make this fantastic decision and thereby highlighting the welfare issues placed on those animals by tourists. I hope more travel companies will follow your lead!!

anysroad@gmail.com'

That is really wonderful news! On my recent trip to Thailand with Intrepid there was much discussion of riding elephants and some ended up going on trips, but to me it just felt very wrong. I am happy to have an official back-up that in fact it is!
I would like to know however if you are still supporting the elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai or if this is off the lists as well know?!

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Annika,
The 2 venues we are currently including on trips in Northern Thailand are the Friends of the Asian Elephant (& hospital) and the Elephant Nature Park.
Best wishes, Jane Crouch

hayley@lovepuffin.me'

Fantastic news, Intrepid! Great to see PEAK beginning to take a stand on this – long may it continue!

Well done Intrepid, a great move. A few years ago I naively participated in an elephant ride activity during an Intrepid trip to Thailand (an activity run by a company not owned/operated by Intrepid) thinking it would be a beautiful experience. Was horrified to see the handlers of the animals yelling at and violently beating the elephants into submission with long bamboo sticks throughout the entire jungle ride so that the elephants wouldn’t behave normally or roam freely as their instincts might tell them. I left that activity with the sickening realisation that elephants (and other animals) are treated cruelly across the world for the entertainment of humans. The way we treat our most vulnerable – children, animals or the downtrodden – reflects on us all. Bravo Intrepid for leading the way in reducing the cruel use of elephants/animals in tourism.

maccatravel@gmail.com'
Pauline McGuire / Reply

Thank you Manch – still thinking after all these years.

drenen@exemail.com.au'

Your photo is, of course, of African Elephants. Does anyone ride them?

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Well spotted John! Yes, they do…but certainly not with Intrepid!

hannah.schneider@uqconnect.edu.au'

This is a very honorable decision. I was wondering what your opinion was of the Elephant Conservation Centre in Luang Prabang? My friend desperately wanted to see it, even though I had misgivings; but I must say I found the condition of the park and especially the health of the elephants okay. Only a few aspects I would have preferred to be different. 100% agree about the plight of the poor creatures in Siem Reap! It made me very sad and angry to see tourists riding them.

Hi Hannah,
We don’t know enough about the Elephant Conservation Centre in Laos (other than what we can see on the net) to give a complete appraisal. We recommend a few simple key points to look out for when visiting any venue with wild animals:
1. Freedom to move without restraint. Are the animals free to move without restraint when not used for tourists? Can they interact with other animals on their own terms?
2. No signs of abuse or distress in the animals. Are the animals healthy and without wounds and not showing any behavioural problems? Do the animals seem calm but not apathetic?
3. Clean and natural husbandry conditions. Are the animals housed in a natural environment? Is the area kept clean?
4. Fresh and varied food available. Is fresh, unprocessed food available at all times? Can the animals forage natural food? Most animals also require free access to water at all times.

Best wishes, Jane Crouch (Responsible Business Specialist)

I went on an intrepid trip of Thailand 2 years ago. We were given a sheet outlining why the practice was cruel, despite this 9 out of 12 on our trip still wanted to ride the elephants. 3 of us (including me) sat in the car park waiting. The guide said that the other option was to go to a local marketplace, but majority ruled so we didn’t see the market we sat in the car park instead. I thought this was terrible and wrote to intrepid via feedback but we never got a reply. Glad they’ve now made this decision.

Well done Intrepid. This activity has always made me uncomfortable. In fact, any activity involving animals out of their natural habitat for human entertainment is just not on.

barbara.barbhand@gmail.com'

One of the saddest sights I saw on an Intrepid trip to Cambodia was an elephant chained to a tree moving around and around in the same grooved out circle about three feet from the tree. He looked like and was a beaten down slave whose will had been broken forced to labor for humans who didn’t care about him for the rest of his life. I’m very glad to hear of the new policy.

wjlittle24@gmail.com'

So pleased you have highlited this plight. I am sure there are many non intrepid tourists that don’t think twice about such entertainment events, gift wrapped as rescues. Well done and thank you.

tjhmch@bigpond.com'

I have been to Thailand and went to an elephant show. I have often expressed how sad it is that we humans feel the need to show animals behaving like us to see their value. It’s upsetting. The elephants sway on spot looking lost. As a family animal it’s shameful we feel we can convince ourselves that ‘humanizing’ them is justified as a means to save them.

vinayual@hotmail.com'

I was on an Intrepid tour in India 2 years ago and saw for myself the plight of some of these beautiful elephants. Our tour guide at the time (Jarvid) told us of their treatment and what they were forced to do all day everyday. He gave us the option to make our own decision – and I’m proud to say not one of us chose to support the local handlers!
I’m so pleased to hear that this is now an enforced policy across all tours! Thank you to Jarvid and thank you intrepid!

benegelati20@aol.com'

I applaud Intrepid’s decision. Many internet videos have been popping up of elephants painting pics, dancing to music, etc. and you can tell they are being coerced into doing it. I’d much rather see an elephant without a chain and being free in a habitat or being rehabilitated to be released back into the wild. Thank you.

kfmama2@yahoo.com'

Thank you. I am now ashamed to say that I once rode an elephant on an Intrepid trip. I had very mixed feelings about it at the time: on ethe one hand, it was an up close and personal experience with a magical creature. On the other hand, I was uncomfortable with the handler’s techniques and the dubious “rescue camp”. Thank you for doing the right thing and taking the time to explain why.

wideyeshut@gmail.com'

I have three chances of riding an elephant in the past but I never did. In fact, once, we already paid for the ride but when I saw a guy beat an Ellie, my heart sank and I felt guilt. I went back to the counter and asked for a refund.

I’m not a fan of organized trips but maybe, one day I’ll use yours. :)

sharon.brant@federalcircuitcourt.gov.au'

I did an Intrepid trip to India in February and had an elephant ride. It was appalling, I wanted to get off the elephant straight away. It was really said seeing them do tricks all day, chained up and then to see an elephant in the wild the next day was amazing. Good on Intrepid!

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Sharon,
I’m assuming that you chose to do this off your own volition…and possibly at Amber Fort?
Intrepid has never included elephants rides on our Indian trips, and long had concerns with the conditions for the elephants there. Help in Suffering, a local animal welfare organisation, has been doing good work to try and have the conditions for the elephants in Jaipur improved.
Best wishes, Jane (Responsible Business Specialist)

sharon.brant@federalcircuitcourt.gov.au'

Hi Jane

The ride was organised by our group leader at Thekkady when we were staying in Periyar National Park. We didn’t realise that this activity wasn’t endorsed by Intrepid. If we had known we wouldn’t have done it. We thought the elephants would be bathing in a river not a plastic pool barely enough to fit the animal and punished when it did something wrong. Perhaps the guide leaders could be educated regarding Inteprid’s policies and beliefs on this topic. Our guide leader seemed surprised and had nothing to say when we said we didn’t enjoy it!

Jane.Crouch@intrepidtravel.com'

Hi Sharon,
Thanks for these details. We are following this up with our team on the ground in India, to ensure it doesn’t happen again. If there are further details you would like to share, please drop us a line at: responsible.business@intrepidtravel.com
Best wishes, Jane

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