The Yok Don National Park in southern Vietnam has put an end to the practice of elephant rides and replaced it with the first ethical elephant experience of its kind in the country.
Southeast Asia is known for its elephants. Tourists come from all around the world to sit atop a trained elephant as it tromps through the jungle, kids laughing as the elephants spray water everywhere.
But what tourists don’t realize is that those elephants are often kept in horrible conditions: chained to trees without food or water, forced to work all day long in the oppressive heat without breaks, and unable to engage in the proper social behavior that all elephants need.
However, things are about to get a whole lot better for Vietnam’s large mammals.
The Yok Don National Park is taking the chains off their elephants to offer the country’s first ethical elephant tours. Instead of riding on the bag of an overworked and underfed animal, tourists will stay back at a safe distance and watch the park’s 4 elephants roam, forage, and even play, all without a cruel taskmaster chaining them to a tree for hours at a time.
Already, the resident elephants are looking a lot better, according to Animals Asia spokesperson Dionne Slagter. “In the wild, elephants spend up to 18 hours a day foraging and this is exactly how Yok Don’s elephants now spend the majority of their time. They all look so much healthier and are increasingly confident in how far they roam.”
Because the elephants were previously semi-domesticated, tourists are able to get quite close to them without the animal charging in self-defense– something that wild elephants often do when threatened.
Vietnam is down to just 100 wild elephants, with 80 more believed to be in captivity providing rides for tourists. This number is down from 2,000 elephants in 1990.
In order to secure the elephant’s release, Animal Asia, a wildlife advocacy group that focuses on Asiatic wildlife, partnered with UK-based Olsen Animal Trust to essentially pay elephant owners to free their animals. The Trust will pay owners what they would have made had they continued to operate tourist rides while the ethical elephant tours ramp up.
The hope is for the ethical tours to eventually replace elephant rides entirely, at which point Animal Asia will focus their efforts elsewhere.