03 January 2017

Elephant Welfare in Asia 2017

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This January is Wildlife Month at Buffalo Tours and we are kicking off a month of animal action with a look at elephant tourism in 2017. Wildlife issues are close to our hearts and we hope we can help to create a better environment for all Asia’s animals through our combined responsible travel efforts in 2017 and beyond.

Elephant Welfare in Asia: The Problem

The welfare of Asia’s captive and wild elephant populations has been one of the most prominent wildlife discussions among travellers and tourism professionals across the region. From increasing tourist numbers and continued demands for unethical interactions, to the ever increasing deforestation of their natural habitat, the fate of the Asian Elephant is certainly still a major concern for 2017.

While plenty has been achieved, by both the tourism industry and conservation projects worldwide, there are elephant sized strides that still need to be taken.

Where we are now

In 2014 Buffalo Tours pioneered an audit process that sets best practices to protect and preserve captive elephants in Asia. The approach recognizes the tens of thousands of captive elephants in Asia, most often a product of the logging trade, that cannot be returned to the wild. It also recognizes that captive elephants require expensive and professional care. We believe that tourism is a viable solution to these issues and our approach ensures costs for elephant welfare are covered only through responsible means.

Taking a variety of existing standards and guidelines and adapting them to suit specific requirements, Buffalo Tours developed a uniquely comprehensive audit process based on 81 criteria. These criteria were researched, tested and adjusted so they could be used efficiently and effectively by a wide number of staff across several countries, as well as other public and private institutions who share our concern for animal welfare.

Since launching the audits we have audited a total of 40 elephant camps across 5 different countries. Out of these camps, 22 have met our standards and the rest have been dropped from our list of suppliers, pending their compliance with the demands of the audit.

You can view a full list of these camps here.

elephant-sanctuary-kuala-gandah-malaysia-smallResults so far

For the qualifying camps, we have managed to increase their revenue by over 200%. This has created the incentive needed to expand the scope of our auditing and pressure an ever increasing number of camps to comply with our standards.

Using these figures and the resulting improvements in elephant welfare, we hope to convince other members of the industry to put similar pressure on the camps, thereby increasing the scalability of the initiative dramatically.

It is estimated that there are between 15,000-20,000 captive elephants worldwide. If we are to truly change industry standards, these are the numbers that could be positively affected.

Elephant Tourism in 2017

Our approach to elephant tourism in 2017 is less restrictive than others, with the goal of real long-term change. Rather than eschew all elephant tourism completely, our greatest objectives is increasing demand for elephant interaction that does not include harmful activities. We believe that encouraging elephant experiences of the highest standard is the most viable means of care for the captive elephant population of Asia.

We see the following as crucial to real, sustainable change within the industry:

  • A market driven approach that benefits good camps and encourages substandard operators to improve.
  • The sharing of information and processes to ensure benefits across the industry and encourage discussion and improvements.
  • A positive approach that seeks to highlight best practices, rather than negative campaigns seeking pledges and boycotts.
  • To seek scientific and peer-reviewed research as a basis for criteria, rather than emotion-based criteria.

In 2017 the Buffalo Tours Responsible Travel team will be returning to elephants camps across Asia to complete a second audit. They will report upon all changes and improvements made since 2014 and hopefully introduce new responsible camps into our product range.

Furthermore, as a result of the success of our elephant audit we will be rolling out an audit of other wildlife encounters within our touring products. This is part of a wider goal of reviewing all our products and determining more areas where a responsible travel focus is important.

To speak with our experts about adding responsible elephant camps into your next travel itinerary, simply get in touch here. If you have any further questions, or even advice, please don’t hesitate to get in touch on Facebook.

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