We often get asked about our stance on various animal encounters, from petting lion cubs to riding elephants. For years, elephants have been used to attract and entertain travellers in destinations across the world. If you’re a wildlife lover, it makes sense that you’d want to get up close to these gentle giants. However, there is a darker side to elephant riding, and a myriad of reasons why we are firmly against it.
Although riding an elephant is on many travellers’ bucket lists, the facts behind how they end up in tourist establishments is shocking. In order to make elephants calm enough to ride, they are separated from their mothers as babies and forced through a horrific training procedure. Known as the ‘crush,’ this cruel practice involves physical restraints, severe pain and starvation.
To get to the point where tourists are able to ride them, elephants have to endure a world of suffering. Even when they’re not training or being used for performances, elephants are kept chained and isolated from one another. As well as the physical effects of rigorous training, these wonderful animals are subjected to psychological torture.
World Animal Protection have been campaigning to end the cruel treatment of elephants in the tourist entertainment industry, a worthwhile cause we are happy to support. We’ve recently joined 200 other travel companies in calling on the travel industry to stop selling elephant rides and shows to customers. The many travellers who dream of interacting with elephants will still be able to do so at respectable sanctuaries and in the wild, where these animals truly belong.
At Jacada, we actively discourage our travellers from riding elephants and only sell experiences that allow our travellers to responsibly interact with these majestic animals. Walking alongside elephants in a sanctuary, for example, is an ethical way to get up close to them. Although we sell a number of experiences involving elephant interactions, we encourage our travellers to see these wild animals in the wild where possible. With wild elephants roaming the national parks of Asia and Africa, there are plenty of opportunities to respectfully witness these animals in their natural habitat.
In Sri Lanka, Gal Oya National Park is one of the country’s least visited national parks, but one of the best places in the country to see Sri Lankan elephants. This remote park is centred around the expansive Senanayake Samudra reservoir. Swathes of evergreen forest sit alongside savannah landscapes, making it one of the most beautiful places in the world to see elephants. These impressive animals can be spotted roaming the savannah, or swimming between islets on boat safaris.
For an impressive elephant spectacle, head to Minneriya National Park for the annual ‘Gathering.’ A unique phenomenon that takes place during the dry season (from May to October), this is the largest assembling of Asian elephants at any given time across the world. Herds from all over the North Central Province head here to enjoy the fresh green grass and bathe in waters surrounded by wetlands, grasslands and scrub jungle. Seeing elephants here is a much more engaging, awe-inspiring and responsible way to interact with them than seeing them in captivity.
Thailand is renowned as the place to go for elephant interactions, so it’s often difficult to tell which sanctuaries are treating the animals in a humane way. Our expert travel designers have recommended Chiang Rai’s Elephant Valley, a sanctuary that puts the elephants needs first. Here, travellers can walk through forest alongside these animals, help out at bathtime or enjoy a picnic with these gentle giants. Visitors will also learn about elephant biology, behaviour and conservation from the local guides who live and work here.
South Africa’s Kruger National Park is home to a wealth of wildlife, and is home to more varieties of mammals than any other reserve in Africa. In Thornybush Nature Reserve, a great place to responsibly interact with elephants is at the Hoedspruit Endangered Species Centre. Here, elephants bred in captivity are rehabilitated and cared for until they are eventually strong enough to be released into the wild. On daily tours of the centre, visitors can travel in open safari vehicles with experienced guides, witnessing elephants and other animals as they would do if they were in the wild.
In Kenya, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust runs one of the most successful orphan-elephant rescue and rehabilitation programs in the world. This inspiring organisation has successfully raised over 150 infant elephants and accomplished its long-term conservation strategy of effectively reintegrating orphaned elephants back into wild herds. One of the pioneering conservation organisations for wildlife and habitat protection in East Africa, the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust sets a commendable example. Here, visitors can witness the orphans during their midday mud bath and feeding, from 11am to 2pm daily.
Our knowledge of how to responsibly interact with animals, including elephants, is constantly changing. At Jacada, we’re sure of one thing though: the most responsible way to interact with elephants is by seeing them in the wild. Here, elephants are free to roam as they please and are able to thrive in the environment they were born to be raised in. Find out more about how we encourage our travellers to travel responsibly here.
Want your next trip to involve an ethical elephant encounter? Speak to one of our travel designers to start planning your next holiday.