Working with elephants is not a simple, “right or wrong” matter, and we strongly advise working with both factual data and feedback from professionals. Our goal here is to inform and provide knowledge on key topics regarding responsible touristic elephant interactions:
Q. Are the elephants in the tourism industry still wild?
A. While they may come from the wild, they are not wild anymore. Elephants working in the camps with tourists have been trained to work with humans, sometimes, unfortunately, inhumanely in the likes of illegal logging camps.
Q. Is riding harmful to the elephants?
A. It can be. Acceptable riding is defined as a reasonable distance (around four kilometers per day), on natural ground, under natural shade, with a maximum of two in the saddle (or one bareback) plus the Mahout, avoiding the hottest daylight hours, and with ample food and water.
Q. Why does the Mahout need to use a hook?
A. A well-trained Mahout knows how to control the elephant through emergency situations using the hook, and knows the sensitive areas to avoid. Appropriate hook use is linked to the training methods between the elephant and the Mahout.
Q. Is it important to use chains?
A. Sometimes, to prevent conflict or administer care. Some signs of ‘good usage of chains’ include: long, 30-meter chains at night, so that the elephant can move and access food. During the day, there can be a short period of chaining, while keeping them close to other elephants so they can properly socialize.
Q. What is a stereotype movement and what does it mean?
A. An elephant may be swaying from one leg to the other or ‘dancing’ with their head and trunk. Repetitive movement like this is called “stereotypy” and is related to a past situation when the normal behavior of the elephant is or was restricted. It can continue, even when living conditions improve, and should be monitored by the Mahouts.
Q. How are elephants trained to interact with humans?
A. It’s almost impossible to track how each elephant has been trained in the past, whether ethically or abusively. In ethical camps, there are several techniques to train the elephants (some influenced by horse training) including positive reinforcement or target training, for example.
Q. Should elephants working in camps be reintroduced into the wild?
A. Due to drastic and tragic levels of deforestation and human incursions into elephant habitats, elephant reintroduction is rare. Concerns about human contact and the spread of disease also contribute to the rarity of elephant releases, making camps one of their only viable options for survival, at present.
Q. Should I trust a camp based on its name only?
A. Trusting a brand or a camp name is not a guarantee of ethical practices, especially without any regulation regarding elephant camp labelling. This means that owners of camps can brand their businesses any way they’d like without fearing official reprimands.
Q. Do all Mahouts treat the elephants badly?
A. But, some elephant keepers have little to no proper skills and discredit the profession. It is important to make a clear difference between elephant keepers and more skilled Mahouts, who should show great dedication and empathy.
Q. Should all activities including interactions with elephants be banned or boycotted?
A. Boycotting or banning aren’t considered sustainable solutions to common problems like struggling camps reselling elephants to logging companies or for even for their ivory. A dialogue must be engaged with the camps and elephant owners to make them aware of the level of welfare which is expected for the elephants for the long term.