Pressure is mounting on UK travel companies to immediately halt the promotion for overseas tourist venues that cause animal suffering.
Tour giants that profit from unethical elephant tourism have ignored concerns about animal welfare, according to campaigners.
But growing public outrage may force companies into action as some 84 percent of British people want to see ticket sales banned, a poll from World Animal Protection (WAP) found.
And further research by the organisation revealed big name travel companies continue to promote venues where elephants are forced to entertain tourists and subjected to a life of misery.
Katheryn Wise, WAP Wildlife Campaign Manager, said: “Holidaymakers have made it clear; they don’t want tour operators selling animal suffering, but the reality is, suffering is still being sold under the guise of entertainment. Who you book your holiday with matters.”
Campaign group Save the Asian Elephants (STAE) found at least 1,200 UK firms promoting 277 venues where endangered Asian elephants are exploited for cash.
STAE Chief Executive Duncan McNair, said: “The failure of travel businesses who are peddling these horrific and dangerous venues to reply to requests to stop is just what STAE has experienced in trying to engage with them for years.
“They’re making big money from the misery and pain of elephants and, with no law to stop them, they are free to continue, and to place their customers in great danger too.”
Mr McNair says the travel industry cannot be trusted to regulate itself and we urgently need the Government to step in before it is too late for these gentle giants.
The Daily Express contacted 20 of the worst offenders, according to STAE, but just three travel companies – Secret Escapes, Lusso Travel and Booking.com – agreed to investigate.
A Secret Escapes spokesperson, said: “The welfare of animals is extremely important to us. We are looking into these allegations fully but are confident that we do not offer packages to any locations where elephants are ridden, forced to perform for tourists, or abused in any way.”
Booking.com said it is “strongly against any entertainment that involves the use of wild animals” and is committed to “prioritising the wellbeing of animals in the travel experiences we facilitate”.
James Weaver, Managing Director of luxury travel specialist, Lusso, based in Alderley Edge, Cheshire, said: “All of us who work at Lusso are extremely concerned about animal welfare and would never intentionally choose to promote any unethical experiences to our clients.
“Lusso – and I personally as its MD – take these reports very seriously. I have withdrawn the properties in question from sale immediately while we investigate the matter urgently with our suppliers.”
Other firms approached said they were not aware of any animal welfare issues at the venues they promote, and 12 did not respond including travel giant Expedia.
Its website states that Expedia does not support trips “where animals are required to perform in a demeaning, unnatural way for entertainment purposes”.
Yet the US-based company, which operates in the UK from London headquarters and boasts a £13.5billion net worth, sells tickets and encourages travellers to visit Nong Nooch Gardens in Pattaya, Thailand. In 2000 British tourist Andrea Taylor, 20, was killed by an abused elephant at the attraction.
In a recent visit to Nong Nooch, this paper saw dozens of elephants with fresh stab wounds, chained together, standing in the burning heat in their own waste.
And another online travel giant Hotels.com told the Express that it does “not offer unethical experiences to our travellers” but a search on its website found package holidays to Mason Elephant Park & Lodge in Indonesia.
Reviews on travel comparision website Tripadvisor.com provide disturbing eyewitness accounts, with one visitor reporting seeing “chained up” elephants “poked repeatedly with nails” to go underwater.
Another holidaymaker saw elephants resembling “trained, zombie robots” rather than magnificent wild animals.
For years, large numbers of tourists have flocked to India, Thailand and other countries in southeast Asia to ride or trek with elephants, or visit circuses featuring them.
Guidelines provided by travel body ABTA encourage tour companies in the UK to avoid venues where there are “unacceptable practices”.
But STAE says the advice is routinely ignored and is calling on MPs to back the Animals (Low-welfare activities) Abroad Bill.
The bill is tabled by Angela Richardson, Conservative MP for Guildford, and is due for a Second Reading in the House of Commons on February 3.
It would see a ban on the sale and marketing of holidays to unethical elephant venues and mean travel giants in the UK could only advertise genuine sanctuaries or wildlife reserves where elephants are observed from a distance, with no human interaction.
Alex Sobel MP, Labour’s Shadow Environment Minister, said: “This long overdue bill is another broken promise from this Government. Ministers are failing to deliver and have seemingly abandoned any pretence of continuing with the Animals Abroad Bill. A Labour government will tackle issues such as unethical elephant tourism and production of fur in the UK.”
A STAE petition to end the cruel treatment of Asian elephants have reciced over 1 million signatures and will be presented to Downing Street on 24 Jan .
Asian elephants have been on the IUCN Red List of endangered species since 1986 after the population plummeted from millions in the late 19th century to fewer than 40,000 worldwide, of which one in four is captive.
Expedia was contacted for comment.
This article by Emily Braeger was first published by The Express on 15 January 2023. Lead Image: Campaigners have accused big tour companies of ignoring animal suffering (Image: Jonathan Buckmaster).
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