Elephant Tourism under Fire as Trampled Handler Loses Leg

Monday, 6 June, 2011
Cape Town, South Africa
The trampling and severe injuries caused to an elephant handler in South Africa by one of his charges has again thrown into the sharp focus the dangers of a form of tourism driven by greed and without any conservation benefit, says the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW – www.ifaw.org).

On Saturday a handler at the Knysna Elephant Park, in the Western Cape Province of South Africa, was attacked by a bull elephant leaving him with injuries so grievous that one of his legs had to be surgically amputated. In June 2005 the same elephant named “Harry” and described as the park’s “star attraction” attacked and killed a handler at the park.

“The taming and training of elephants for the safari industry and for interactions with the public is inexcusable, and should be stopped. This is a form of tourism that has no conservation benefit and is completely unregulated,” said Jason Bell-Leask, IFAW’s Director Southern Africa and Director of IFAW’s Elephant Programme.

Bell-Leask said no dedicated laws exist in South Africa to govern methods used in training elephants for safari tourism, and that trainers and handlers do not require any formal training or education to be able to handle elephants.

“Our investigations into the taming and training of elephants for this industry have shown that extreme levels of cruelty are used to make the animals compliant.

“Historically, the common argument from tourism operators is that by taking young elephants from the wild for the safari industry, they are saving them from sure death in ‘culls’, when nothing could be further from the truth.

“Fortunately that practice has been stopped, but it hasn’t served to help those elephants already caught in the safari net. This is an industry of greedy and willing participants in a practice that allows elephants to be subjected to training that is wrong, cruel and exploitative, and which pays no attention to the psychological and social needs of these highly intelligent creatures,” said Bell-Leask.

“Captive elephant tourism is not responsible tourism and should not be supported in any shape or form. Elephants belong in the wild,” he said.

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Céline Sissler-Bienvenu, Director, France and Francophone Africa
Director, France and Francophone Africa
Dr. Joseph Okori
Regional Director, Southern Africa and Program Director, Landscape Conservation
Faye Cuevas, Esq.
Senior Vice President
Grace Ge Gabriel, Regional Director, Asia
Regional Director, Asia
James Isiche, Regional Director, East Africa
Regional Director, East Africa
Jason Bell, Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Vice President for Conservation and Animal Welfare
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Peter LaFontaine, Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Campaigns Manager, IFAW Washington, D.C.
Vivek Menon, Director of IFAW partner, Wildlife Trust of India
Senior Advisor to the CEO on Strategic Partnerships & Philanthropy