Free online learning tool aims to improve welfare of elephants in captivity

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Elephant Conservation Center, Laos.

Dr. Janine Brown, research physiologist at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute.

ACES project manager Dr Ingrid Suter.

Nicolas Dubrocard, ACES Director

The online course developed by ACES educates visitors on responsible elephant tourism experiences in Southeast Asia.

Standards for captive Asian elephants (ACES) is inviting the travel industry and consumers to take a free online course to help raise awareness of captive elephant welfare and responsible tourism practices in Southeast Asia.

The world’s first online course developed by ACES aims to enable travel professionals and consumers to make more informed choices about elephant tourism experiences in Southeast Asia.

Elephant-based tourism remains one of Southeast Asia’s most popular experiences. But with its many sensitivities, it can be difficult for tour operators and travel professionals to confidently support and promote to their customers.

The free online course Regenerative travel: Responsible Travel for Elephant-Based Tourism in Southeast Asia, highlights both the positives and negatives of elephant-based tourism. It lasts approximately one hour and covers topics such as local culture, environmental values, community development, species conservation, animal cruelty and responsible tourism marketing.

You can view course details as a guest on the Atingi website. To complete the course, participants must register their details and the course can be completed at their own pace.

The course has already won praise from the world’s foremost elephant expert, Dr. Janine Brownresearch physiologist at the Smithsonian National Zoo and Institute of Conservation Biology. Dr Brown has published numerous studies of Asian elephants in captivity and said: “ACES is essential to ensure responsible elephant tourism and supporting sites are doing the right thing.”

John RobertsSustainable Development & Conservation Group Director, Hotels in Minor and Director of Elephants and Conservation, Golden Triangle Asian Elephant Foundationargues that underlying elephant welfare issues stem from many factors and arise whether an elephant encounters tourists or not.

“This module helps us remember this fact and shows us how well-managed elephant tourism can be used as a tool to address the welfare issues inherent in the captive situation”he said.

“It is also useful to introduce the tourism professional to how much an elephant camp is part of the local community and how much human livelihood depends on providing the best welfare to captive elephants.”

ACES Policy Officer Dr Ingrid Suter is a world-renowned expert on the welfare and conservation of elephants in captivity. She says the lure of man-elephant experiences in Southeast Asia will continue to be strong, but the tourism industry has a key role in enabling travelers to make informed choices about where to visit and influence more elephant owners to implement higher animal welfare standards.

“Elephant-based tourism is complex, but elephant sites bring vital income to remote areas and also play an important role in conservation, culture and community identification,” she says.

Dr Suter acknowledges that many animal rights groups are strongly opposed to elephant captivity and tourist experiences.

“It’s true that industries that work with animals should always come under scrutiny”she says.

“However, although done with good intentions, blanket bans on elephant activity can lead visitors to sites that are unregulated and have poor standards of care. With the help of the tourism industry , we can ensure that stakeholders and travelers are able to make informed decisions about the elephant activities and sites they choose.”

We also know that accredited, high-quality elephant-based experiences can significantly improve visitor knowledge and education about the threats facing wild elephants in Southeast Asia.”

Asian elephants are classified as an endangered species and are threatened with extinction. The main threats facing wild elephant populations are the lack of suitable habitats, poaching and human-elephant conflicts.

There are approximately 5,000 elephants living under human care in Southeast Asia. Many were born in captivity and for various reasons cannot be released into the wild.

Elephant-based tourism has grown significantly over the past 30 years. Typical elephant-human visitor experiences include elephant riding, trekking, viewing, and feeding. Tourist sites are more likely to have the existing infrastructure, experience and veterinary expertise necessary to be centers of conservation and population management.

Over the past two decades, Thailand and other Southeast Asian countries have introduced improved legislation, regulations and welfare standards for elephants.

ACES developed both this training course and the 2022 Elephant-Based Regional Tourism Strategy as part of the Deutsche-funded Asia Pacific Tourism Association (PATA) Tourism Destination and Resilience Project. Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH.

With many elephant camps reopening after Covid-19, ACES is strengthening its engagement with the travel industry and elephant sites to continue to raise standards of elephant welfare in Southeast Asia.

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