Conservation win: More safari operators ending elephant-back rides

2017-01-20 13:38 - Louzel Lombard Steyn
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Cape Town - In a bold conservation step, another elephant safari establishment has announced its resignation from offering elephant back rides. 

Safari Par Excellence, on behalf of Zambezi Elephant Trails in Livingstone, Zimbia, has announced their distancing from elephant back safaris and say they will have ended the practice at their establishment completely by end of December 2017. 

The move comes after Botswana's Abu Camp, the only facility that allowed elephant back riding in the country, was also directed to terminate its elephant back safaris.

SEE: Botswana bans elephant-back rides

The ban on the riding of elephants is an extension of these moves linked to a new government policy, guided by Minister of Environment TK Khama, to improve the welfare of elephants in captivity. His department studied their subjugation in being forced to carry tourists and found it unacceptable.

Safari Par Excellence has followed suit. 

“This decision that has been a long time in the making”, says Graham Nel, Managing Director, Safari Par Excellence, “Our approach to animal welfare as well as the decline in support of elephant back safaris has confirmed that we are on the right track.”

There has been a great deal of negative sentiment worldwide, related to elephant back safaris, as a result of unscrupulous operators who apply abusive training methods. 

The origins of Zambezi Elephant Trails, however, can be traced back to six elephants that were left orphaned after extreme drought led to culling operations in Zimbabwe in the 1960’s and 70’s. These elephants were trained for elephant back safaris on a commercial farm in Zimbabwe. 

The elephants were later relocated to Zambezi Elephant Trails, along with some of their trainers. 

According to Safari Par Excellence, neither they nor Zambezi Elephant Trails support the practice of "removing animals from the wild for commercial gain and have taken great care to ensure that no harmful training or treatment practices occur". 

But on the other hand, "releasing these animals back into the wild permanently would result in more harm than good” Nel says. Considering their lives so far, the elephants "humans with kindness and this would ultimately count against them, so the long terms plans are based on what is best for the animals." 

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The organisation, however, wants to move more towards global conservation standards and promoting a realistic picture of African animals in the world. 

Starting in January 2017 the number of rides on offer at Zambezi Elephant Trails will be reduced, with the focus being on the morning rides. 

Mid-morning and afternoon rides will only be conducted by special arrangement, they say. And although the rides will be phased out, the interaction will still continue in line with Botswana's call to offer 'less intrusive'  forms of interaction. 

“We shall actively encourage clients to interact with the elephants rather than ride them,” Nel says. Incentive groups are also encouraged to spend time to learn about and from, the habits and characteristics of the elephants. 

History of elephant back rides 

The first commercial elephant rides in Africa began in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s and soon spread throughout Southern Africa. In the region there are now 39 commercial elephant venues, holding around 215 captive elephants. At least 25 of these offer elephant rides. Seven of them force elephants to do tricks for tourists. 

According to the NGO World Animal Protection, most tourists go on elephant rides because they love elephants. They don’t know about the intense physical and psychological pain involved.

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