In the latest move in a fast-growing campaign against
using animals as tourist attractions, the advocacy group People for the Ethical
Treatment of Animals (PETA) reached agreements with six tour operators/wholesalers to stop
offering elephant rides.
“We really believe we’re on the brink of this major
industry shift, where we’re going to see it’s more common that tour providers
reject these types of activities than affiliate with them and endorse them,”
said Stephanie Shaw, PETA’s corporate liaison.
Six tour ops have stopped offering elephant rides on animals in captivity, such as this one in Nepal.
This latest effort by PETA was spawned by an incident in
Thailand in February in which a Scottish tourist was trampled to death by an
elephant after being thrown from its back while riding the animal.
PETA used the widely reported incident to launch a campaign
intended to communicate to tour operators the harm the organization believes is
being done to elephants being used as tourist draws, which can in turn harm the
“People know that elephants are highly intelligent
animals,” Shaw said. “They are important to people.” But, she added, “People
are not aware what these animals endure. All of these ritualized training
sessions are designed to break these animals.”
Last week, PETA received confirmation from Costco Travel,
the travel booking arm of the Costco warehouse-club chain, that it would be
eliminating elephant experiences from its tours and packages as well, bringing
to six the number of tour operators that have agreed to eliminate elephant
rides from their tours in the two months since PETA launched this initiative.
In addition to Costco, PETA has received commitments from
Alexander+Roberts, Butterfield & Robinson, Collette, First Festival Travel
and Mayflower Tours, all of which have agreed to stop offering elephant rides.
The momentum comes amid mounting backlash against
companies that use animals as an attraction. That backlash has resulted in
major changes across the industry.
Last month, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment said it is
ending its orca shows and shutting down its orca breeding program, three years
after the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” a critical portrayal of
the program that created a great deal of negative publicity.
Feld Entertainment, parent company of Ringling Bros.
and Barnum & Bailey Circus, said that Asian elephants would no longer
perform in its traveling circus as of May, two years ahead of the schedule to
phase them out.
In addition to PETA’s latest push, 20 travel companies
last fall agreed to stop selling elephant rides and shows, according to World
Animal Protection, an animal-welfare nonprofit. Those companies included G
Adventures, Intrepid Travel and the Travel Corporation (comprising tour and
river cruise brands such as African Travel, Brendan Vacations, Contiki, Insight
Vacations, Lion World Travel, Trafalgar and Uniworld Boutique River Cruise
Animal-rights issues again came to the forefront last
summer when news emerged that a U.S. dentist had paid $50,000 to hunt and kill
what turned out to be a prized Zimbabwean lion named Cecil, sparking global
outcry against the ongoing practice of big-game hunting.
“We are on the brink of this major shift and sea change
of public opinion in what happens to animals when we exploit them for public
entertainment,” Shaw said. “In captivity [elephants] don’t have a happy life.
They’re hauling tourists on their back, beaten into submission. People who care
about elephants should never ride one.”
As animal-rights groups are increasingly successful in
raising awareness about animal-rights issues, which in turn will lead to
diminishing demand from tourists for animal interactions, it is not clear what
will happen to the creatures that will no longer be needed or wanted for
Shaw said that, just as is the case with SeaWorld, where
the orcas already in captivity will live out their lives and be placed in
exhibits, the ideal scenario for elephants in captivity is for them to be
placed in humane sanctuaries. The larger goal of the campaign is to ensure that
future generations of elephants are not born into captivity.
As for whether the removal of elephant rides from
itineraries will deter business, operators reported that they have not found
that to be the case.
“We found that it didn’t actually impact the demand for
any of our trips,” Intrepid’s director and co-founder, Geoff Manchester, said
last year after the company removed elephant rides from its trips. According to
Manchester, around 15% to 20% of travelers might be disappointed when they
learn that they will not be experiencing an elephant ride. But after they
receive an explanation, he said that number drops to about 5%.
Elephant rides, Manchester said, are “not one of the main
reasons why people choose our trips.”