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EU projectsCaptive Elephant welfare initiative

Captive Elephant welfare initiative

Elephants in captivity are an ethical concern in the tourism industry. The rapid growth in tourism’s demand for interaction with elephants across Asia coupled with inadequate government regulations has resulted of poor treatment of these animals in many of the elephant facilities. Other facilities however are working in compliance with the best achievable practices in close partnership with Elephant experts and universities. Up to date no international accepted  assessment system was existing. The so-called Elephant Camp Animal Welfare Assessment initiative aims to recognise the better camps and to motivate those not yet complying towards better animal welfare.

Elephants in Asia

With over 3000 years of captive elephant history and given that there are over ten thousand captive elephants in Asia it is important to establish scientific facts, respect local culture and lay down solid foundations that ensure the welfare of captive elephants as well as their traditional mahouts.

Despite calls for action from various animal rights groups, actual improvement of welfare standards has not progressed over the last years due to unclear, conflicting or not practically viable expectations.

We believe responsible tourism encouraging elephant experiences of the highest standard is the most immediate, viable solution. We believe by engaging stakeholders to seek holistic improvements and setting standards across the industry, more can be done to protect elephants. Hard work and hard choices based on scientific facts, balancing the interest of individual Elephants, the mahouts, and the conservation of the Asian Elephant, are required by all involved.  

Leading Asian tour operators with support of the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) and PATA have therefore initiated a process to establish a widely supported set of standards and criteria as a guideline and reference for elephant camps. The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare initiative will provide tour operators as well as their clients the ability to make an informed, ethical choice

Information meeting for Thai Elephant camp owners and managers (August 2017)

The assessment

The assessment is based upon international animal welfare and sustainability principles including the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) principles for captive Elephants. The best practices have also been subject to consultation from individual elephant experts from various disciplines (e.g. elephant veterinarians, mahouts, behavioural experts, biologist, animal learning experts, researchers). Based on a careful process a final draft of the best practices was reached in 2017. They includes more than 160 elements divided over 7 themes and 24 subthemes and provides detailed guidelines for the camps as well as the assessors covering not only the elephants but also the staff, mahouts, sustainable business practices and the relation with the local communities. Elephant camps that comply with the highest of standards treat their elephants in the best possible manner and are committed towards a process of permanent improvement. The scientific based guidelines cover, for example cruelty free learning science based training techniques, closely monitored and regulated working hours, rest periods throughout the day - ideally in a forested area to socialize, bathe and relax and more. Responsible camps have veterinarians on staff, and/or provide regular health checks. Elephants are not tied up with chains of lengths less than 2 metres for prolonged periods of time. Good camps work with local communities providing jobs, marketing local handicrafts and purchasing local supplies to ensure everyone benefits. Camps promoting best practices also actively support and engage in research and conservation projects protecting animals in the wild.

Any interactions between elephants and tourists are based on scientific standards and do not compromise the welfare of the elephants or endanger humans. Most importantly, all good camps register their elephants with the relevant government department, complete with DNA testing to ensure no wild stocks are being captured and added to the captive population. The assessment is designed to ensure standards set by leading experts are being met and improved.

Currently more than 30 Elephant facilities from Thailand, Myanmar, Laos, Malaysia and Indonesia enrolled in the program and are under assessment. They are committed to improvements in order to comply with best practise criteria.  

Supporting tour operators
The initiative is supported by a growing number of Asian tour operators including:.

When you travel with the tour operators supporting this initiative you can be assured that any elephant experience suggested is being held to international best practices. In this way we believe we are effectively contributing to the protection and preservation of elephants in Asia.

The Destination Management Comoanies and tour operators involved  in this  initiative will also no longer work with any elephant camp that refuses to be audited or assessed as complete transparency is needed in all aspects of the operations to gauge and ensure responsible practices are indeed in place. Thus financial gains are directed to those working on improving and ensuring the long term welfare of their captive elephants and staff and not to those operating unethically or purely for profit or under false (animal welfare) pretences.

So yes, elephants in captivity is an ethical concern under current circumstances but by working together and using tourism as a powerful tool in the right way, we can ensure the long-term quality of life of thousands of captive elephants throughout Asia and provide clients with an inspiring experience, whilst improving the lives of all involved and preserving local culture and heritage.

Animal welfare assessor and advisor training (Chiang Mai, August 2017)


Asian Captive Elephant Working Group:


Travelife was established with the financial support of the European Union.  

Travelife was developed with financial support of the European Union during the EU LIFE Environment project ‘Tour-Link’ (2004 – 2007).

Today Travelife is supported by a growing number of governments and development organisations in order disseminate the methodology across Europe and other continents.

In the frame of the INTOUR project (2010 - 2013) which was supported by the European Union Eco-Innovation programme, Travelife has been disseminated over 14 European countries. To read more you can click on the tabs on the right.

The SUSTOUR project in the frame of the EU Life Long Learning programme is currently suppporting the implementation of Travelife in Turkey, Bulgaria and France.  

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