Deadly Elephant Safari Tourism Under Fire

Friday, March 10, 2006
Cape Town, South Africa
Animal welfare groups reacted angrily this week following the trampling to death of a safari park elephant handler in South Africa, saying his death was a tragic consequence of a form of tourism driven by greed and without conservation benefit.
The man’s death – the second of an elephant handler/trainer in South Africa in less than eight months – reportedly occurred when the elephant attacked him while he was trying to herd it back to a main group of animals.

IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – www.ifaw.org) and its partner organisation, the Ethical Conservation Network (ECN), have accused the elephant safari tourism industry of exploiting elephants for profit at the expense of human safety and animal welfare concerns.
 
“It’s hard not to say ‘we told you so’,” said Jason Bell-Leask, Southern Africa Director of IFAW.

“But another family is grieving this week, and all because of a form of tourism that requires animals to be taken from the wild, subjected to completely unregulated training methods that are open to abuse, and then presses them into carrying tourists around on their backs for a profit.

“As elephant tourism becomes more extensive the likelihood of more people – including high paying tourists - being injured and killed becomes more likely.”
 
The incident happened at Camp Jabulani, a R6,000.00 per person, per night luxury lodge within Kapama Game Reserve, and which offers clients twice daily elephant back safaris as part of its activities.

According to Kapama’s website, its 12 elephant were relocated from Zimbabwe where their safety was in jeopardy.

In June 2005 a handler was killed by a bull elephant at the Knysna Elephant Park.

IFAW and ECN, through their Born to be Wild! Campaign, oppose the removal of elephants from the wild for commercial use. A 2004 investigation by them into the elephant safari industry found that no dedicated laws exist in South Africa to govern methods used in training elephants for safari tourism.  Trainers and handlers do not require any formal training or education to be able to manage elephants.

“Increasing numbers of elephants are being taken from the wild for lives in captivity, including the elephant-back safari industry, with the common argument from tourism operators claiming that they are ‘saving’ young elephant from sure death in ‘culls’,” says Bell-Leask.

“IFAW is not in agreement with this view and it is abundantly clear that this is an industry which has no conservation value whatsoever.

“Far from being the ‘saviours’ of baby elephants, they are greedy and willing participants in the practice of taking young elephants from the wild to be subjected to training that is wrong, cruel and exploitative, and which pays no attention to the physical, behavioural, psychological and social needs of these high intelligent creatures.

“Elephant tourism is not responsible tourism, and should not be supported in any shape or form,” he said.

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Experts

Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Cynthia Moss, IFAW Elephant Expert
IFAW Elephant Expert
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Program Director, Elephants Regional Director, South Africa
Program Director, Elephants, Regional Director, South Africa
Peter Pueschel, Director, International Environmental Agreements
Director, International Environmental Agreements
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Regional Director, South Asia