The Elephant Caravan is a walking exchange platform for Asian elephant specialists from ASEAN countries.
Domesticated Asian elephants have been serving people in Asia since times immemorial. Used as beasts of burden to transport goods and people, as war animals or more recently in the tourism industry, elephants deserve respect and must be used humanely.
There is a growing global concern about their use in tourism. While it is great that visitors are aware of the harmful elements of tourism, visitors can react to misinformation and may be unaware of the positive benefits elephant-based tourism brings to the endangered Asian elephant population. In 2014, several leading travel companies have ceased elephant tourism under the guise of cruelty prevention.
Unfortunately, this decision ignores many cultural, social and economic realities. By discouraging elephant-based tourism, travel companies are rendering tourism elephants unemployed and forcing them to earn income by working in the illegal and dangerous logging industry, or being illegally sold to neighbouring countries where they will end up living a miserable life in zoos and circuses.
Logging elephants work extremely long hours, calves and reproductive attempts are unwelcome and elephants often suffer severe abscess and broken limbs. Not exactly a happier, healthier life for the elephant or the elephant owner. Most logging mahouts are eager to work in the tourism industry.
Of course, elephant-based tourism is sometimes (if not often) done unappropriately, leading to abuse of elephants and lack of proper care. This indeed has to change.
The proposed participation of leading elephant specialists in the Elephant Caravan will address he challenges of elephant use in tourism and will try to change the misperception that all elephant tourism is cruel, all mahouts are mean and all elephants suffer. It is simply untrue.
Elephant tourism actually has the potential to save elephant populations from extinction. Sadly, allowing them to live unimpeded in the wild is proving disastrous for global populations.
The caravan will initiate a dialogue for all elephant-based tourism stakeholders in Laos, and hopefully to a wider audience in Asia.
The Elephant Conservation Center is part of an asian network of elephant specialists initiated in 2015: the Asian Captive Elephant Work Group. ACE-WG will be a great forum for tour companies, Asian elephant specialists, government officials and other stakeholders to come together and work through the problems associated with elephant-based tourism.
Problems and discussions may include conservation efforts, public perceptions, reproduction, and certainly the need for a national charter or ethical standard.