By Nadeem Badshah
PLANS to ban British travel firms from offering elephant riding holidays abroad have been welcomed by campaigners, who have warned the animals are often kept in barbaric conditions.
Holiday companies in the UK advertise experiences abroad in countries including India and Sri Lanka, where customers can ride or bathe with the mammals or watch them perform “tricks”.
But the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) is now looking at the best way to make the practice illegal and plans to hold a consultation.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) UK said more awareness needed to be raised about cases of elephants having flaming sticks waved in their faces and beaten with nail-studded rods.
Yvonne Taylor, director of corporate projects at Peta UK, said until a ban is unveiled, it was advising tourists not to “patronise any establishment that profits in any way from elephant captivity”.
She told Eastern Eye: “It’s not locals who fuel the archaic and cruel elephant tourism trade, it’s ill-informed tourists.
“This welcome legislation could help prevent thousands of misguided Brits from riding or bathing with abused elephants.
“Captive elephants are torn away from their mothers as babies, confined to cramped wooden crates, tied down and beaten mercilessly with nail-studded rods, and deprived of food, water, and rest.
“Flaming sticks are even waved in their faces, all to prepare them for a life of servitude in one of Asia’s many ‘elephant camps’.
“In nature, elephants live in the company of family and friends. But those used for trekking spend most of their lives chained by two legs, barely able to take a single step forward or backwards and swaying and bobbing their heads to try to quell the mental anguish caused by their captivity.”
More than 3,000 elephants are used as tourist attractions in Asia, according to World Animal Protection. Rides are commonly offered in Jaipur, Goa, Kerala, Delhi, Colombo along with cities in Thailand.
In September, the British Travel Association (ABTA) deemed elephant holidays “unacceptable” in its guidelines.
Claire Bass, executive director Humane Society International (HSI) UK, said British tourists were big business overseas, and cruel animal industries often “sink or swim by tourist pounds”.
She told Eastern Eye: “After working closely with the British Travel Association on the review of its animal welfare guidelines that led to it listing elephant rides as an ‘unacceptable practice’, we are extremely pleased to see ever more big tourism brands refusing to promote cruel elephant riding”.
“Elephants are intelligent wild animals with close family bonds, who suffer greatly in captivity.
“Sadly, many well-meaning tourists are unaware that the elephant they pay to meet will likely have started life as a baby ripped from its mother in the wild, and brutally ‘broken’ with beatings and bull hooks.
“We would welcome a strong signal from the government that British companies should not be bankrolling such cruelty – not just elephants, but dolphins in captivity, lion cub petting, wildlife ‘selfies’ and a whole host of other cruel ‘animal attractions’ that profit from misleading well-meaning tourists and exploiting animals.”
HSI in India said elephants were often illegally caught, trained in cruel conditions and made to perform activities that were not natural to them, such as walking on paved stone surfaces with heavy loads on their back.
The charity said laws and policies meant to safeguard the welfare of the animals have been inadequate.
It added: “There are tourist spots in India such as Amer fort, Rajasthan, where hundreds of elephants are engaged in ferrying tourists up and down the fort. This, considering Rajasthan isn’t even a range state for the Asian elephant, is a tremendous amount of suffering for the elephants.
“Nearly all of the animals suffer from zoonotic diseases and several of them have physical disabilities and mental trauma that goes untreated.”
Khalid Mahmood, who is standing for reelection for Labour in Birmingham Perry Barr, said: “In this day and age, it is not right for these practices. You can travel to the elephants, don’t contribute to their suffering any more. The trauma of movement in crates, the disorientation. It is quite distressing to these animals.
“I agree with Defra. It is best to see them in their habitat. With India and Thailand using elephants for tricks, it is inhumane and not constructive for their livelihood.”
International environment minister Zac Goldsmith met with animal welfare group Save the Asian Elephants in October.
He said he would urge tourists to only visit welfare-friendly attractions and report any concerns they have about the treatment of elephants to their UK tour operator or travel agent.