We encourage a ‘look but don’t touch’ approach to wildlife activities and avoiding attractions involving ‘performance’, riding or closely engaging with wild animals in the tourism sector.
We take the look but don’t touch approach with all animals but the plight of the elephant in tourism, particularly in South-East Asia, we believe deserves greater awareness. As part of our commitment to deliver responsible travel, we believe we have a responsibility to help travellers understand the truth about the horrific practices that young elephants are subject to in order for them to allow people on their back or for them to perform any trained activities.
Our highlighting of this is not to vilify tourists who have ridden elephants in the past, we are certain if at the time they were aware of what happened to the elephant for it to submit to being ridden, they would seriously reconsider their decision to experience an elephant ride. The same applies to any types of entertainment where an elephant performs “trained” activities – in order for the elephant to do as instructed, this wild creature has to “learn” to submit to humans.
This process starts initially with baby and young elephants destined for the tourism industry being taken from their mothers and their herds whilst they are still babies. In the wild, elephant mothers and their children stay together as part of the family and their herd for their entire life.
Once removed from their mothers, the torture begins. Elephants in captivity throughout Asia are subjected to a violent and punishing ritual known as Phajaan, or crushing of their spirit, in order to “train” them for a life of serving and amusing tourists. It’s a practice that has been reported on by various organisations and publications over the years, but perhaps none as poignantly as National Geographic in 2002.
“It’s a sound not easily forgotten. Just before dawn in the remote highlands of northern Thailand, west of the village Mae Jaem, a four-year-old elephant bellows as seven village men stab nails into her ears and feet. She is tied up and immobilized in a small, wooden cage. Her cries are the only sounds to interrupt the otherwise quiet countryside. The cage is called a “training crush.” – National Geographic.
This shocking truth is not isolated to Thailand, elephants are wild creatures so if any property anywhere in the world offers riding, soccer, dancing, painting and other such ‘trained’ activities, this is supporting the need for more torture and trauma of young elephants.
There is an upside with the growing awareness of travellers and the opportunity it provides to highlight animal attractions and experiences which maintain good animal welfare standards.*
FCTG, as part of its Responsible Travel Charter Worldwise, has conducted an audit of 10,000 suppliers and travel products to assess their animal welfare practices in accordance with the globally recognised ABTA Guidelines.
In addition to the Audit, FCTG’s Responsible Travel Charter (Worldwise) continues to educate our people and customers to make good travel decisions based on fact and knowledge. We do this in various ways, one being via the ‘5 Tips on how to be a responsible traveller’. One of the tips relates to animal welfare, “Care for Wildlife”, where we encourage a ‘look but don’t touch’ approach to wildlife activities and recommend to our customers that they avoid any attractions that involve ‘performance’, riding or closely engaging with wild animals.
FCTG also reinforces this commitment by NOT promoting, marketing or advertising, experiences that include elephant riding and/or other cruel practices such as Running with the Bulls. Our approach however is NOT to simply remove all of those products which do not align with our goals but to try and promote suppliers who have implemented good animal practices; in conjunction with this we are working with other operations where animal welfare is an issue to help bring them up to approved animal welfare standards.
Why not just remove the particular product or supplier from your range?
If we remove ourselves from the relationship, we no longer have any influence over change in that park/property thus removing the ability to effect change for good. For smaller businesses, we also need to consider the social and economic impact that our decision might have on a small, local community/family business. If they can longer generate an income from that business and can no longer afford to feed their families and the animals in their care, it could have a detrimental impact on them and very bad outcomes for the animals in question. Worldwise seeks to engage with those businesses whose practices do not align with our goals and encourage them to move towards best practices according to ABTA Guidelines.
The welfare of animals is very important to us, not only as a company but to the individuals that make up the company. We believe that all animals should live in a reasonable state of welfare and are committed to doing our part to make this a reality.
* A 2017 ComRes survey found that 71% of respondents would be more likely to buy from a travel company that cares for animals.