Travel company eliminates “unethical” elephant rides in Thailand

A Canadian-based travel adventure company calls elephant trekking tours “unethical” and will now send its clients to elephant sanctuaries in a bid to improve the welfare of the endangered species in Thailand.

Life Before Work Travel (LBW Travel) says it is the first Canadian company to take this step and hopes other outfitters will follow its lead. Company founder Bradly Hedlund said the tourism industry contributes to further deterioration of the Asian elephant population in Thailand and the surrounding countries where it sources it supply of elephants destined to ferry around tourists.

“The capture of wild elephants from Myanmar to supply the tourist trade in Thailand is recognized as a significant threat to the species. A recent report by Prof. Vincent Nijman describes cruel elephant trade and how calves are herded into pit traps and older elephants are often shot. Once captured, a traditional method is used to break the spirit of the animal before they are ‘tamed’ for tourist camps,” the company said in a recent statement.

Prof. Nijman’s report, prepared for TRAFFIC, the wildlife trade monitoring network, says government data counts only between 2,500 and 3,200 wild elephants left in Thailand, while the captive population sits at 4,169 animals.

ElephantTRAFFICreportPhoto: TRAFFIC

“A Thai government-led clampdown against the trade began in February 2012 which examined the authenticity of the origin and ownership documentation of elephants held in captivity, but was not backed up with the necessary legislative changes to consolidate any gains made,” according to the report.

Eric Elder, marketing director at Edmonton-based LBW Travel, said that while elephant rides are a popular activity, he hopes that tourists understand that the company is making the wellbeing of these animals a “top priority.”

“We have decided to take this somewhat risky leap away from elephant rides. Moving forward our tours will be replaced with visits to elephant sanctuaries where we can positively impact the lives of these animals,” he said in a statement.

LBW Travel has also stopped taking tourists to Tiger Temple, another popular attraction that has been criticized for illegal trade in animals, breeding in captivity, inadequate housing and compromising the safety of tourists.

The company’s patrons and others have been quick to express their gratitude.

“Thank you so much for making this decision and caring about the lives and welfare of these animals,” Judy Taylor-Atkinson wrote on the company’s website.

Photo LBW Travel/Facebook

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