A baby elephant

Elephants at risk from trafficking for tourism


The survival of elephants in the wild is at risk from trafficking to the tourism sector, according to a new report from TRAFFIC.

According to the report, between 2011 and 2013 up to 81 elephants were illegally caught and sold to the Thai tourism industry.

Download the report: An Assessment of the Live Elephant trade in Thailand

At least 60% of the elephants featured in the study originated in Myanmar, where capture is a major threat to the survival of the country’s population of wild Asian elephants, which currently numbers around 4,000-5,000.

Tourism is a lucrative industry in Thailand, where elephant rides are a popular activity for visitors.

However, the elephant tourism sector relies on the taming of young elephants, which often involves sleep deprivation, starvation and beatings. 

Elizabeth Hogan, World Animal Protection Campaigns Manager for Oceans and Wildlife said, “Every day, animals are illegally captured from the wild to be exploited as tourist attractions. Often, these animals are poorly treated and cruelly trained for the entertainment of tourists. The Thai government must do more to tackle this growing trade. Tourists can play an essential part in stopping this cruelty by avoiding such attractions and by choosing only animal-friendly destinations.” 

The law

TRAFFIC’S research suggests laws for wild and captive elephants in Thailand contain problems and are open to abuse.

For example, animals are only required to be registered once they reach eight years old, leading to claims that reckless operators falsify documents to state they were bred in captivity when in reality they were captured in the wild.

The penalties for breaking the law are also low and do little to deter criminals.

The report is calling for urgent change to the legislation to make things clearer. This would mean that the law that currently separates wild and captive elements is bought in line under one law with clear responsibilities for management and enforcement, as well as a simpler process for registering ownership of live elephants.

What is World Animal Protection doing?

  • In the Netherlands, World Animal Protection ran a three-year campaign against the abuse of elephants, with some success.
  • The ‘Step off Elephants’ campaign resulted in 18 travel companies removing elephant rides and performances from their offerings.
  • A follow-up campaign is now being launched, placing tourists at the centre and aiming to reveal the true extent of the abuse that goes into ‘breaking’ an elephant for use in tourism.

What can you do to help?

Read our animal-friendly travel advice for making sure your vacation doesn't support animal suffering, and find out ways to report animal cruelty while abroad.

“Tourists can play an essential part in stopping this cruelty by avoiding such attractions and by choosing only animal-friendly destinations.

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