The show must not go on: new report shows the dark side of elephant rides
• 3 in 4 captive Asian elephants living in unacceptable welfare conditions
07 July 2017: Three in four elephants in tourist entertainment venues across Asia are living in poor, unacceptable
This is one of the key findings of a new report on the welfare of elephants in entertainment venues by World Animal
The Taken for a ride report presents the results of an 18-month investigation into 220 elephant tourism venues in Thailand, Nepal, India,
Sri Lanka, Laos and Cambodia, housing 2,923 endangered Asian elephants. Thailand uses twice as many elephants as all
other countries combined.
Since our original investigation in 2010, there has been a 30% increase in the number of elephants at tourism venues.
This represents a small increase of elephants in high welfare venues, but also a significant increase of elephants in
low welfare attractions.
Elephant rides and other attractions such as circus-style shows in which elephants perform unnatural ‘tricks’ remain
popular tourist activities. Since 2005, the charity has been campaigning to improve the welfare of elephants and a study
on tourist attitudes in 2017 has seen a 9% drop in the number of people who find elephant riding acceptable compared to
three years ago.
However, nine percent is not enough especially when cruel venues are stepping up the number of captive elephants being
used, explains Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife and Veterinary Advisor at World Animal Protection:
“As tourist numbers boom in Thailand (since our last report in 2010 we have seen tourist numbers double, with more than
32 million tourists arriving in 2016) the cruel trend of elephants used for profit-making rides and shows is also
“We want tourists to know that elephants are wild animals with instincts for the wild. Before they can be used for
tourist rides or shows, they must go through a torturous breaking in process in which they are essentially starved and
beaten into submission – all when they are just babies.
“We are therefore urging New Zealand tourists to think about the welfare of the elephants. If you can ride, hug or have
a selfie with an elephant chances are that animal has been subjected to cruelty.”
More than 2,000 of the elephants surveyed were being used for rides or shows. When they’re not giving rides or
performing, the elephants at these low welfare venues are typically chained around the clock, fed inadequate diets and
given limited veterinary care.
Direct contact with these wild animals also poses a risk to human life, with 17 fatalities and 21 injuries in the past
six years reported in Thailand alone.
But demand does appear to be shifting, and an awareness of cruelty growing -
194 elephants in 13 venues were found to be living in high welfare conditions. Generally these elephants can roam freely
and socialise and direct tourist interaction is prohibited or limited.
To date, World Animal Protection has also convinced more than 160 travel companies around the globe to stop offering
travel packages that include cruel elephant entertainment like rides and shows. Among these are popular NZ Travel
Operators - First Travel Group and House of Travel.
“The travel industry, governments, elephant venues and individual tourists can be part of the solution by driving demand
for high welfare venues,” Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, added.