Irresponsible ‘Responsible Travel’

Logo RTIn August 2014, Responsible Travel went viral with its long awaited decision to denounce elephant trekking and safari. On a website link the company states: “… the more questions that are asked about elephant riding, the more it becomes clearer that not only is this not an ethical means of conserving elephants – it is, in fact precipitating their extinction in the wild”.

Founder Justin Francis in The Independent further explains that “[t]hose used for elephant back rides can suffer damage to their spines, sores on their skin from the equipment and wounds from the bull hooks used by their handlers. Elephant riding is very different to horse riding because the animals have not become domesticated through years of captive breeding. For elephants, all their wild instincts remain, even if they are born in captivity.”

So far so good.

Expecting the company to remove abusive elephant rides from its itineraries in Nepal, Elephant Watch Nepal was shocked to find that an exception has been made for safaris in this country!

P1040627In an additional write up on its website, the company introduces a ‘grey area’ in the use of elephants. Despite overwhelming evidence for the abuse of Nepal’s safari elephants, an exception has been made, as ‘Chitwan National Park in Nepal is one example where elephant rides being a positive force for conservation. The park and its buffer zone protect some of the last remaining Bengal tigers and Indian rhinoceroses, as well as wild elephants and leopards. Elephant safaris are one of the most popular – and safe – ways to discover these exceptionally rare species in Chitwan, and revenue from these safaris contributes greatly to the upkeep of the park and surrounding area, and the protection of its wildlife.’

How true is this statement? Simple: it ain’t.


1. Revenues from the elephant rides go to the pockets of the owners, and are NOT used for conservation. The entrance fee to park and bufferzone ares are used for conservation but without rides the income will remain stable as people will use other means to view wildlife.

2. There are many other/better ways to view wildlife in Chitwan. Jeep, canoe or walking safaris are safe and are more respectful as the wildlife is not encircled by countless elephants. They also benefit more community members. Most Western tourists actually enjoy this kind of safari better as no animal abuse is invoved.

3. All safari elephants in Nepal are smuggled across the border from India. In the first half of this year alone 3 new elephants arrived from India.

4. Some elephants are captured from the wild. In 2010 the Indian police busted a gang in Assam that captured and trained wild elephants for safari tourism in India and Nepal.

5. Private elephants do not contribute to wildlife conservation. Government elephants are used in anti-poaching activities. Private elephants ONLY benefit their owners, no one else.

6. Nepal has not welfare rules for safari elephants. They are overworked, overloaded, undernourished, beaten, chained, and deprived of any kind of natural behaviour.

7. Nepal has no elephant sanctuary. This means elephants do not retire. Handicapped and sick elephants too have no place to go.

Ironically the only source quoted by Responsible Travel is a tourism entrepreneur, who directly benefits from the elephant safaris. This is no coincidence: his company is the only accommodation featuring on the Responsible Travel website. It appears money can change the minds of the most ‘responsible’ among us…

Elephant Watch Nepal (EWN) has been discussing the issue with Responsible Travel in great detail, who have replied that for now it will not change its stand on safaris in Nepal.

EWN is deeply disappointed in the stand of Responsible Travel. The fact that the suffering of Nepal’s safari elephants continues in the name of ‘responsible’ tourism is unacceptable. The decision to exempt Nepal is an embarrassing one for the company, and based on all the wrong arguments.