Home » This is why we no longer ride elephants

This is why we no longer ride elephants

written by Geoff Manchester August 3, 2018
happy elephant in the water

This article was originally published in May 2014 and has been updated.

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 World Animal Protection, 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 World Animal Protection into captive elephant venues and learned much along the way.

An elephant in Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park.
An elephant in Chiang Mai Elephant Nature Park.

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.

donate to end elephant crueltySo, at Intrepid we took a stance back in 2012 and began to phase out venues of concern and elephant rides. From January 2014, we no longer offered elephant rides on any of our trips. Instead, we go 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. Discover our Thailand Holidays where we visit an Elephant nature park.

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.

female traveller near elephant
Be Kind, Be Intrepid.


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.

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 the future, we’ll be able to travel and experience abundant wildlife in the wild, living as nature intended.

That’s why we’ve partnered with MandaLao Elephant Conservation, among other wildlife partners, to help support their work promoting ethical elephant care, educating tourists and providing jobs for local community members. Based in Luang Prabang, Laos, MandaLao was the first non-riding elephant sanctuary in the region. 

Here’s how you can help.

You can support World Animal Protection and their work by donating directly MandaLao Elephant Conservation. You can also check out our range of other excellent animal welfare and conservation partners through The Intrepid Foundation. Intrepid Travel absorb all administration costs so you can rest easy knowing 100% of your donation goes directly to our partners on the ground.

All images by Patrick O’Neil.

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Amaze Writers January 7, 2022 - 1:44 am

Great content. Please keep up the good work

Aaron August 30, 2018 - 2:13 am

Greatly put. Often people think that can domesticate animals because they have them since they’re born or very young, without realizing they still have their animal instinct. Elephants are not horses, they are wild animals and must be treated as such, with the respect they deserve.

Samantha Brown August 3, 2016 - 8:27 am

This is fantastic news! I have been on several trips with Tucan travel and on the last of these in Sri Lanka, our group refused on masse to have animal rides (elephant and ox). It seems some tourists leave their morals at home to get a good photo. Seeing Intrepid actively funding World Animal Protection is so powerful for me I will change to booking with Intrepid for my next adventure. Thank you and keep up the good work and see you soon!

Bill December 12, 2016 - 11:13 am

Having been to Thailand and visited an elephant sanctuary, what is keeping these animals alive is tourist dollars. They are of no economic value as working animals. Either the tourist dollar shows up or the locals let the elephants starve since they are no longer able to feed them. No government handouts, straight economics. If we take a ‘holier than thou’ approach we sign the death warrant for these magnificent creatures. The morality is not in elephant rides or elephant shows, it is what we accept at tourism and what we are willing to pay for.

Gillian Monahan September 21, 2017 - 3:09 pm

The blog is not suggesting putting elephants to work. It is saying that elephant riding is cruel and traveller demand is fuelling elephants being poached from the wild. Check out the latest report from World Animal Protection for more information: https://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/news/taken-ride-thousands-elephants-exploited-tourism-are-held-cruel-conditions

Carol Miller November 29, 2017 - 9:11 am

Riding elephants is no more or less cruel than riding a horse. Both have been trained and ridden for centuries while at the same time creating strong lifetime bonds. The cruelty is not in the riding-it’s in the training,the care and subsequent treatment. An abused animal is fairly easy to identify if one just looks. The demeanor and attitude of the animal cannot be disguised. . Elephants, like horses, are social animals and likely enjoy the company of humans, but only if it’s a mutually respectful, enjoyable relationship, which is quite possible given the incredible relationships between them over the centuries inclusing instances where the animal has saved the life of its “owner”.

Steph Spencer January 22, 2018 - 11:59 am

Actually-it’s in the training, riding & ongoing treatment. Most elephants that are used for riding (& any other type of entertainment) suffer long term physical damage to their feet & backs & leg joints, as well as mental trauma. Elephants are not meant to carry weight were the saddles go. Once they’re bodies are inevitably broken, they have no worth.

Please do your research. Time & time again, it has been documented that “crush” or phajaan is the prescribed method for training elephants to become docile enough to be ridden. Read some of the rescue stories @ Elephant Nature Park & Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary.

Anonymous January 11, 2020 - 4:08 pm

Carol wow let’s hope you are not in control of PTSD humans and or animals .
Talking like you know the feelings of an animal and how they feel and gee you can spot a traumatised elephant !!! Load of crap .

Often the kindest animals and peoples are the ones that have suffered the most is my experience.

Go do some research carol

Carla June 22, 2016 - 9:17 am Reply
Emily Kratzmann June 22, 2016 - 2:48 pm

Thanks for posting this, Carla. Absolutely heartbreaking…

Have You Ridden an Elephant? - Travelnuity February 8, 2016 - 1:27 pm

[…] Intrepid Travel was one of the earliest tour companies to stop offering elephant rides on their tours, back in January 2014, instead visiting a limited number of elephant reserves with an emphasis on welfare and freedom of movement for the animals. Singapore Zoo also stopped offering elephant rides in January 2015. Although the explanation they gave was about zookeeper safety, it’s probably likely that the increasing tide of opinion against elephant rides played a role. […]

edward jefferson December 31, 2015 - 2:33 pm

Some of life goals. Great overview.

Abena December 21, 2015 - 11:44 pm

This is great to hear Intrepid Travel! I made the mistake of riding an elephant in Thailand and it brought me to tears! I’ve since done some research into more ethiical ways of enjoying elephants on holiday, which I have wriiten about here http://adventureswithbea.com/2015/12/21/8-of-the-kindest-ways-to-experience-elephants-in-asia/

edward jefferson November 20, 2015 - 2:44 pm

I could very see how generation have changed. But it doesn’t mean that this things we should consider this things forgotten, I say this would serve this for us a memory that we have been there.

Scubanomad October 20, 2015 - 10:19 pm

I have never ridden an elephant and don’t indend to do so. For me travelling is to appreciate the nature, not to destroy it. Great decision and article!

rick baldwin June 15, 2016 - 12:06 pm

If elephants are not tamed & used for our amusement,they must be destroyed.They cannot coexist with humans,i’m sorry to report.Ask any African farmer,like I did.

Steph March 29, 2017 - 5:07 pm

What?? I don’t believe this comment- so basically they are in our way… because humans are ever expanding over the face of the earth and taking more and more territory from wild animals… so now they are an inconvenience so we have to either enslave or kill them!??

rick be September 24, 2017 - 1:48 pm

That,Steph,is reality & it’s not going to change.

Jeannie Campbell October 21, 2017 - 10:30 am

Sorry Rick, but having worked in Africa and visited 6 different African countries, you only have to look at the fantastic work IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare) and the like are doing with farmers to know that your comment is not true. IFAW and many other institutions are currently working with farmers to enable co-existence between the encroaching human urbanisation and the wild elephants being tempted onto the farms for food. The farmers no longer shoot or spear the elephants…they call their local animal welfare officer who will bring a team to immediately remedy the situation.

Andrea June 19, 2019 - 1:03 pm

Rick Be, what an entitled opinion you have of the world. The you, and only you deserve a right to live in this world how you please. Shame on you.

Carey Ostrer September 8, 2015 - 2:27 am

I was so uplifted to read this article. I have recently been following FB pages and organisations working to end the lucrative business of elephants working in Tourism. I had no idea how appalling the business was – in most cases. The life of the elephants working this way is so very deprived, and cruel. The breaking in process of young elephants captured either from the wild, or bred and taken from its mother is shocking. There is currently a campaign about working Temple Elephants in the southern States of India: Kerala, Goa, Karnataka, which is a massive money making industry, and has nothing to do with Hinduism. I have discovered that there is going to be a film, premiered in India and then going to the rest of the world where it will be used to raise awareness of the issue. I think that it will be hugely helpful in this. They have an FB page also https://www.facebook.com/forthelove.elephants?fref=ts.. Once again, my heartfelt thanks for helping to bring awareness, and not including elephant rides in your programmes. Thank you thank you thank you

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Camels & Chocolate August 13, 2015 - 12:30 am

I rode an elephant five years ago when I didn’t know any better. Thanks to posts like these, now I do! Related: Tennessee has a huge elephant sanctuary about an hour outside of Nashville where they rehab injured African and circus elephants alike. I’m dying to get in there and write a story on it, but they keep it very much locked down.

Veronica July 3, 2015 - 3:18 pm

I was reading up on elephant rides in Thailand and how some groups treat their elephants. There is a term called “the crush” where they basically crush the soles of elephants so they become drones. Very sad – thanks for taking a stance on this subject and sharing!

Ardor Reputation Management June 18, 2015 - 4:59 am

Right here is the perfect web site for anybody who hopes to understand this topic.
You realize so much its almost tough to argue with you
(not that I really would want to…HaHa). You certainly put a brand
new spin on a topic that’s been written about for ages.
Wonderful stuff, just wonderful!

Robert May 29, 2015 - 12:03 pm

Actually riding the elephant is a very interesting activity. and accommodation for these activities present in all tourist locations, especially in Asia, such as Bali. Maybe for some people, this activity is not attractive. but this activity is worth a try. if you do not want to safari while riding an elephant? certainly very pleasant. even just thinking about it. nice post.

Janie June 25, 2015 - 4:49 am

you clearly missed the point. it isn’t natural for the elephant, and many of them are abused prior to being “broken” enough to be able to entertain humans. its ridiculous.

Lisa Williams December 9, 2015 - 12:35 am

Robert, your 5 minutes of enjoyment = a lifetime of abuse for these poor creatures. Animals have feelings and feel pain just the same as you and me, why should they have to suffer just so some human can make money from them? You could have just as much fun riding a scooter!!!!!

Gemma February 4, 2015 - 9:21 pm

I have just recently visited thailand and went to chiang mai elephant nature park, this was a fantastic day and i learnt alot about how badly treated elephants are. but at the elephant nature park they are resucued and looked after and free to roam around happily and you can feed them and wash them, theres no shows or long treking.

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The World Travel Market experience - Responsible Tourism November 17, 2014 - 3:46 am

[…] the best way to enjoy a wildlife experience: without touching. Check out Intrepid Travel’s Why We No Longer Ride Elephants […]

Jacqui October 10, 2014 - 11:41 am

Thank you Intrepid for taking the moral high ground and highlighting the exploitation of elephants for the tourist trade. I too made a stand over 20 years ago while trekking through Chitwan National Park, Nepal staying at an Elephant Safari camp. While the majority of elephants were well taken care of by their mahouts, one in particular bared the scars of repeated bashings on the forehead with a metal pole! I was, and still am, distraught about the elephants mistreatment and complained loudly and persistently.

Anonymous September 15, 2014 - 7:39 pm

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.

Joy July 22, 2014 - 2:11 pm

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.

Maddie July 21, 2014 - 8:50 pm

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.

jessie July 14, 2014 - 9:52 pm

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.

Carolyn July 14, 2014 - 2:00 pm

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.

Susan Farquharson June 12, 2014 - 12:59 am

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 Jones June 8, 2014 - 2:54 pm

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 Manchester June 10, 2014 - 10:36 am

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.

Renée H June 13, 2014 - 2:25 pm

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.

Linda poore December 19, 2016 - 5:48 am

Does not matter if they are rich or poor no excuse for cruelty end of

Carol November 29, 2017 - 9:36 am

Riding elephants is no more or less cruel than riding a horse. Both have been trained and ridden for centuries while at the same time creating strong lifetime bonds. The cruelty is not in the riding-it’s in the training,the care and subsequent treatment. An abused animal is fairly easy to identify if one just looks. The demeanor and attitude of the animal cannot be disguised. . Elephants, like horses, are social animals and likely enjoy the company of humans, but only if it’s a mutually respectful, enjoyable relationship, which is quite possible given the incredible relationships between them over the centuries inclusing instances where the animal has saved the life of its “owner”.
I just rode a camel, a horse and sat on and little donkey on Intrepid tour. What’s the difference from and not elephant?

rick be November 29, 2017 - 2:40 pm

There is no difference,political correctness overrides all good sense.

Craig June 8, 2014 - 7:17 am

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.

Anonymous June 9, 2014 - 7:21 am

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

Adriano Lucchesi June 2, 2014 - 7:49 am

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

Christine Morrissey June 1, 2014 - 9:43 am

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 May 31, 2014 - 2:35 am

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!

Kay Rodda May 30, 2014 - 10:21 pm

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.

Fiona May 30, 2014 - 6:51 pm

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!

Cassandra Bladen May 30, 2014 - 4:17 pm

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.

Chris May 30, 2014 - 2:33 pm

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.

Jeane Wrigley May 30, 2014 - 11:34 am

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.

Jan May 30, 2014 - 11:24 am

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.

Marsea May 30, 2014 - 10:24 am

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!

Lindsay May 30, 2014 - 10:00 am

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.

Sue Elliot May 30, 2014 - 11:58 am

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

Lisa May 30, 2014 - 8:30 am

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.

Claire May 30, 2014 - 5:44 am

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.

temberowa May 30, 2014 - 4:51 am

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.

Valerie Schwartz May 30, 2014 - 3:59 am

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!

Joan Weaver May 30, 2014 - 3:15 am

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.

Alice Sigmund May 30, 2014 - 2:32 am

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.

Anonymous May 30, 2014 - 2:18 am

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.

Robert Hemedes May 30, 2014 - 1:28 am

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.

Sue Elliot May 30, 2014 - 8:57 am

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

H P May 31, 2014 - 11:08 pm

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

SJH May 29, 2014 - 10:44 pm

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 ?

Andrew May 29, 2014 - 9:23 pm

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

leaf May 29, 2014 - 8:37 pm

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!

Alice May 29, 2014 - 8:18 pm

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!

Helen May 29, 2014 - 7:41 pm

Great news!

Jane H May 29, 2014 - 7:31 pm

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!

David Gray May 29, 2014 - 5:07 pm

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.

Sue Elliot May 30, 2014 - 9:05 am

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

Richard King May 29, 2014 - 4:06 pm

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.

Brittney Ihrig May 29, 2014 - 1:40 pm

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.

Natalie May 29, 2014 - 1:10 pm

Excellent work Intrepid keep it up

Michael beveridge May 29, 2014 - 12:50 pm

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


Cynthia May 29, 2014 - 12:03 pm

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 Walker May 29, 2014 - 12:01 pm

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.

Mark & Linda May 29, 2014 - 10:18 am

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.

maz May 29, 2014 - 10:14 am

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!

Jennifer in Australia May 29, 2014 - 10:13 am

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..

Cath Sanders May 29, 2014 - 9:54 am

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.

Clarissa May 29, 2014 - 9:42 am

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!

Anonymous May 29, 2014 - 2:06 pm

That sounds fantastic what a great idea everyone benefits that way

Geoff Manchester May 26, 2014 - 3:35 pm

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.


YVONNE WATSON May 29, 2014 - 11:19 am

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,

Tamara May 26, 2014 - 8:47 am

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!

One World 365 May 26, 2014 - 7:46 am

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

Addis Ababa – it’s got charm… | what bolger told ja... May 25, 2014 - 7:02 pm

[…] Read more about Intrepid’s stance on elephant rides here – https://www.intrepidtravel.com/adventures/why-not-ride-elephants/ […]

Judy May 25, 2014 - 11:39 am

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.

Somsai May 25, 2014 - 8:28 am

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.

Charlotte Newman May 25, 2014 - 7:52 am

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.

Annabelle May 24, 2014 - 11:48 am

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

Genevieve Clark May 22, 2014 - 10:47 pm

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!!!

Mandy May 22, 2014 - 9:57 pm

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 Marchinton May 22, 2014 - 7:11 pm

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!


Anya Hodson May 22, 2014 - 6:02 pm

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!

Emma May 22, 2014 - 4:31 pm

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!

Anonymous May 22, 2014 - 10:18 pm

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 May 22, 2014 - 2:33 pm

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 May 22, 2014 - 4:00 pm

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 May 22, 2014 - 2:00 pm

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.

Jane Crouch May 22, 2014 - 3:03 pm

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

Anonymous May 22, 2014 - 1:26 pm

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!!

Dian Hather May 22, 2014 - 7:19 am

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.

Allie Jalbert May 22, 2014 - 7:02 am

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 May 22, 2014 - 10:45 am

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!)

Anonymous May 24, 2014 - 8:27 am

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 May 26, 2014 - 5:19 pm

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)

Leslie Donnelly May 28, 2014 - 5:54 am

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.

Allie May 30, 2014 - 7:29 am

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

Regan May 31, 2014 - 2:43 pm

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 May 22, 2014 - 6:58 am

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 May 22, 2014 - 10:59 am

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)

Nigel Bartlett May 22, 2014 - 6:32 am

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…

Taking A Stand! ‹ MIPhotos May 22, 2014 - 4:12 am

[…] applaud Intrepid Travel on their position regarding Elephant Rides – hopefully the word will […]

CH Young May 22, 2014 - 3:44 am

Well done, Intrepid Travel! Well done!

Helen wake May 22, 2014 - 2:21 am

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 .

Stacey May 22, 2014 - 1:52 am

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!!

Annika Ziehen May 21, 2014 - 8:39 pm

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 May 22, 2014 - 11:03 am

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) May 21, 2014 - 8:22 pm

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

Nic May 21, 2014 - 7:46 pm

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.

Pauline McGuire May 21, 2014 - 6:48 pm

Thank you Manch – still thinking after all these years.

John Drenen May 21, 2014 - 5:31 pm

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

Jane Crouch May 22, 2014 - 11:05 am

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

Hannah May 21, 2014 - 4:50 pm

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.

Anonymous May 22, 2014 - 12:30 pm

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)

Anna May 21, 2014 - 4:37 pm

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.

Sharon May 21, 2014 - 3:22 pm

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 H. May 21, 2014 - 2:19 pm

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.

wendy little May 21, 2014 - 2:02 pm

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.

Tanya Hansen May 21, 2014 - 12:53 pm

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.

Ally May 21, 2014 - 12:36 pm

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!

Heather May 21, 2014 - 12:33 pm

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.

Kate May 21, 2014 - 11:54 am

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.

TheSojourner May 21, 2014 - 11:40 am

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 May 21, 2014 - 12:07 pm

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 May 22, 2014 - 11:11 am

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 May 22, 2014 - 11:34 am

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 May 22, 2014 - 3:42 pm

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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