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Captive Elephant Welfare Initiative

Elephants in captivity are an ethical concern in the tourism industry. The rapid growth in tourism’s demand for interaction with elephants across Asia coupled with inadequate government regulations has resulted of poor treatment of these animals in many of the elephant facilities. Other facilities however are working in compliance with the best achievable practices in close partnership with elephant experts and universities. Up to date no international accepted standard and related assessment system was existing. The so-called Elephant Camp Animal Welfare Standard and Assessment initiative aims to recognise the better camps and to motivate those not yet complying towards better animal welfare.

Elephants in Asia

With over 3000 years of captive elephant history and given that there are over ten thousand captive elephants in Asia it is important to establish scientific facts, respect local culture and lay down solid foundations that ensure the welfare of captive elephants as well as their traditional mahouts.

Despite calls for action from various animal rights groups, their approach is often not based on scientific facts, does not engage mahouts and elephant (family) business, does not present achievable solutions nor looks at long term sustainability and the survival of the species as such.

We believe responsible tourism encouraging elephant experiences of the highest standard is the most immediate, viable solution. We believe by engaging stakeholders to seek holistic improvements and setting standards across the industry, more can be done to protect elephants than by staging boycotts or signing pledges. Hard work and hard choices based on scientific facts, balancing the interest of individual Elephants, the mahouts, and the conservation of the Asian Elephant, are required by all involved.

Leading Asian tour operators with support of Travelife for Tour Operators, the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) and PATA have therefore initiated a process to establish a widely supported set of standards and criteria as a guideline and reference for elephant camps. The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare Initiative will provide tour operators as well as their clients the ability to make an informed, ethical choice

Information meeting for Thai Elephant camp owners and managers (August 2017)

The standard

The standard is based upon international animal welfare and sustainability principles including the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) principles for captive elephants. The standards have also been subject to consultation from individual elephant experts from various disciplines (e.g. elephant veterinarians, mahouts, behavioural experts, biologist, animal learning experts, researchers). Based on a careful process a final draft of the standard was reached in 2017. The standard includes more than 160 criteria divided over 7 themes and 24 subthemes and provides detailed guidelines for the camps as well as the external assessor covering not only the elephants but also the staff, mahouts, sustainable business practices and the relation with the local communities. Elephant camps that comply with the highest of standards treat their elephants in the best possible manner and are committed towards a process of permanent improvement. The scientific based guidelines cover, for example cruelty free learning science based training techniques, closely monitored and regulated working hours, rest periods throughout the day – ideally in a forested area to socialize, bathe and relax and more. Responsible camps have veterinarians on staff, and/or provide regular health checks. Elephants are not tied up with chains of lengths less than 2 metres for prolonged periods of time. Good camps work with local communities providing jobs, marketing local handicrafts and purchasing local supplies to ensure everyone benefits. Camps promoting best practices also actively support and engage in research and conservation projects protecting animals in the wild.

Any interactions between elephants and tourists are based on scientific standards and do not compromise the welfare of the elephants or endanger humans. Most importantly, all good camps register their elephants with the relevant government department, complete with DNA testing to ensure no wild stocks are being captured and added to the captive population. The assessment is designed to ensure standards set by leading experts are being met and improved.

Currently more than 30 elephant facilities from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia have enrolled in the program and are under assessment. They are committed to improvements to comply with the standard.

Supporting tour operators
The initiative is supported by a growing number of Asian tour operators including:.

When you travel with the tour operators supporting this initiative you can be assured that any elephant experience suggested is being held to the highest of international standards and practices. In this way we believe we are effectively contributing to the protection and preservation of elephants in Asia.

The destination management companies (DMCs) and tour operators involved in this initiative will also no longer work with any elephant camp that refuses to be audited or assessed as complete transparency is needed in all aspects of the operations to gauge and ensure responsible practices are indeed in place. Thus financial gains are directed to those working on improving and ensuring the long term welfare of their captive elephants and staff and not to those operating unethically or purely for profit or under false (animal welfare) pretences.

So yes, elephants in captivity is an ethical concern under current circumstances but by working together and using tourism as a powerful tool in the right way, we can ensure the long-term quality if life of thousands of captive elephants throughout Asia and provide clients with an inspiring experience, whilst improving the lives of all involved and preserving local culture and heritage.

Animal welfare auditor and advisor training (Chiang Mai, August 2017)

For more information please contact:

PATA Sustainability: ssr@PATA.org
Travelife for Tour Operators: info@travelife.info
Asian Captive Elephant Working Group: http://acewg.org

Resources

http://sustain.pata.org/interview-dr-andrew-mclean-human-elephant-learning-program/

Statement

http://sustain.pata.org/captive-elephant-welfare-initiative/

http://acewg.org/news/

www.travelife.info/index_new.php?menu=projects&lang=en

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Supporters of an ivory ban protest outside the Legislative Council in Hong Kong, China January 31, 2018. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

“We now need to see all other countries close loopholes that still allow the illegal trade of ivory to continue.”

Lawmakers in Hong Kong voted to ban all ivory sales in the territory on Wednesday, a move environmentalists hailed as a definitive measure to help curb elephant poaching.

The policies represent a massive step forward in the fight against elephant poaching across Africa and in parts of Asia, where the animals are slaughtered for their tusks. Environmentalists estimate more than 33,000 elephants are killed every year to help feed the demand for ivory, which is seen as a status symbol in some Asian countries.

Countries including Thailand and Vietnam are now the largest remaining markets for the ivory trade, and officials are calling on more sweeping bans to be instituted around the globe.

Read the full article here.

By Nick Visser for the HuffPost.

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PATA acknowledges that elephants in Asia are indeed working animals, and that owning an elephant is an investment. Recognising that there is a growing rift between stakeholders regarding animal welfare, The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standard and Assessment Initiative has been developed.

The purpose of this initiative is to ensure that activities and experiences at elephant camps are conducted in a responsible way, understanding the increasing concerns from both informed travellers and animal rights groups.

 

The challenge:

  • Growing concern of tourism industry stakeholders (Western travellers and operators) regarding animal welfare
  • Elephant camps in Asia lack set standards and an accompanying evaluation system
  • Some tour operators are evaluating camps based on self-developed checklists, an inefficient use of resources and a source of confusion on acceptable and responsible management practices amongst camps

 

Until now, there has been no widely accepted set of criteria for evaluation systems present for elephant camps in Asia.

 

The solution

Recognising the above issues, the PATA Tour Operator Sustainability Working Group, under the Chairmanship of Travelife for Tour Operators, developed a first draft of the standard on the basis of the ABTA Animal Welfare Guidance. Stakeholders and experts were given the opportunity to comment the standard. The draft has been revised several times following testing at elephant camps in Phuket and Northern Thailand. A final draft of the standard was ratified in February 2017. The standard includes in total, 166 criteria divided over 7 themes and 24 subthemes (see table). Specific implementation and auditor guidance and tools are presently being developed for the relevant criteria, with an auditors training to be conducted later this summer.

 

The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standard and Assessment Initiative is an answer to the growing concern of tourism industry stakeholders regarding animal welfare.

 

Who is involved

The Elephant Camp Welfare and Sustainability Standard is an initiative of Travelife for Tour Operators and the PATA Sustainable Tour Operators Working Group (TOWG), a subdivision of the PATA Sustainability & Social Responsibility Committee, the aim of the TOWG is to develop common standards and tools in order to jointly evaluate suppliers (e.g. accommodations, transport, excursions and attractions).

Present key members of the working group include: EXO Travel, Khiri Travel, Buffalo Tours, Go Vacation, Destination Services, Diethelm Travel, Destination Asia. The initiative is endorsed by PATA, World Animal Protection (WAP), ABTA and the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG), an informal network of elephant welfare experts and veterinarians, who are working to improving welfare standards of elephants in captivity on the basis of a scientific consensus.

 

Get involved

The key objective of the standard and evaluation system will be to support in- and outbound tour operators in their objectives to better select camps and to motivate camps towards improved animal welfare and sustainability standards. The initiative is open for other in- and outbound tour operators in Asia and its source markets that are PATA members in good standing.

Participating TOs will have the following benefits:

  • Receive annual updates on the performance of their camps
  • Opportunity to propose camps for an onsite audit
  • Receive information on camps not yet in your portfolio
  • Ability to share and access information between in- and outbound partners
  • Ability to provide clients a specific choice in compliance with their expectations

 

Be a part of the solution

For more information or to participate, please contact PATA Sustainability & Social Responsibility Specialist, Chi Lo: chi@pata.org or Travelife for Tour Operators General Manager, Naut Kusters: n.kusters@travelife.info.

Elephant Camp Animal Welfare and Sustainability Standard

 

Note: PATA aims to support, endorse, and provide education about this issue; however, we are not responsible for enforcing how elephant camps and tour operators perform.

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