//ABTA comment: animal welfare guidelines on elephants

ABTA comment: animal welfare guidelines on elephants

We’re changing our animal welfare guidelines on elephants, says Clare Jenkinson, senior destinations and sustainability manager

The welfare of animals in tourist attractions is a priority for the work of ABTA and our members, and it has been a focus of our activities for well over a decade now. Seeing or engaging with animals while on holiday is a popular activity for many people.

But we also know that the welfare standards of animals in tourist activities vary significantly across the globe – with some countries having limited or no national regulations.

ABTA is currently in the process of updating our animal welfare guidelines, which were the first of their kind when they were originally launched in 2013. We are aiming to publish the revised guidelines by the end of the year.

One of the changes will be making any tourist contact with elephants without a barrier – including riding and bathing – an unacceptable practice. Similarly, elephant shows and activities such as elephants playing football or painting pictures will also be unacceptable, as defined by evidence provided by experts. The strong weight of evidence suggests that often harmful training methods are used to be able to control the elephants, in order for them to then engage in various activities.

ABTA believes strongly that elephants should not be subject to punishment and cruelty. The existing guidelines currently list elephant riding as a discouraged practice – with many ABTA members choosing to stop selling such activities. By classifying these activities as an unacceptable practice, it sends a clear message to suppliers and holidaymakers that the UK travel industry does not support them.

We are very aware that no longer selling an attraction doesn’t mean the problem of poor treatment goes away, which is why members work with suppliers to help them develop a responsible alternative. For elephants, that would be moving to activities where the animals are viewed from an appropriate distance while providing them with as much access to their natural habitat as possible, and ensuring they are not subject to any punishment and cruelty.

This clearly takes time, and it also requires travel companies to understand and work within the complexities around elephants in tourism, such as the dependence on these animals for communities’ livelihoods and cultural attitudes towards animals. Making the practice unacceptable should help to emphasise to suppliers in destination the need for change.

Picture by AJ Robbie