No More Rides: Vietnam’s 1st Ethical Elephant Tours Are Proving To Be A Hit With Tourists & The Animals!

Photos from Animals Asia

Ethical elephant tours in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park began earlier this month as part of an Animals Asia initiative that could change the face of elephant tours in the country.

The national park has ended all tourist rides, and instead began new tourism experiences where visitors observe the park’s four elephants freely roaming the natural forest.

“Elephant rides are a thing of the past in Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park, replaced by the country’s first and only ethical elephant tours,” Animals Asia posted on its Facebook page. “Visitors to the park now trek to observe the four elephants roaming naturally in the forest. If successful, it could convince other elephant owners in the country and even the region, to turn their backs on rides and embrace welfare.”

Before the project began, Yok Don’s elephants were chained to trees with heavy riding baskets on their backs, waiting for tourists. They worked for nine hours a day, and had no access to water, were unable to touch each other or express natural behavior such as roaming, dusting, mudding, scratching parasites from their skin or foraging as they would in the wild. A tourist ride lasted from 10 minutes to an entire day in the forest.

“This project has entirely changed the lives of the elephants at the park and it is also providing a much better experience for the tourists,” Animals Asia Animal Welfare Manager Dionne Slagter said in a statement on its website. “Exploitation has been replaced with respect.”

Now, the elephants are free to roam the forest throughout the day. When thirsty they walk to the river to drink, if they are dirty they clean their skin in mud baths or against trees, and when they are hungry they forage for their favorite food.

“In the wild, elephants spend up to 18 hours a day foraging and this is exactly how Yok Don’s elephants now spend the majority of their time,” continued Dionne. “It is rainy season here and there is food everywhere. They all look so much healthier and are increasingly confident in how far they roam.”

While the elephants roam the forest, their mahouts follow to ensure they are safe and to avoid any potential conflict.

In the first two weeks, 11 tourists have joined the tours, including visitors from South Africa, the UK and Australia.

While the tours will evolve over time, early feedback from visitors has been hugely positive. 

The official agreement between Animals Asia and the state-run national park was signed on July 13, 2018 and runs until April 2023, providing ample opportunity for the project to become profitable.

Vietnam’s wild population of Asian elephants has reportedly fallen to below 100, while fewer than 80 live in captivity across the country. Sadly, most still provide rides for tourists.

In recent years, Vietnam has taken emergency steps to conserve the country’s remaining wild populations by establishing the Elephant Conservation Centre, where Animals Asia provides animal management and welfare advice.

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