Central Highlands province mulls ban on elephant rides on safety, welfare concerns

By Tran Hoa, Nguyen Quy   October 20, 2020 | 11:28 pm PT
Central Highlands province mulls ban on elephant rides on safety, welfare concerns
Tourists join elephant-riding tours in Dak Lak Province, 2019. Photo by VnExpress/Thanh Nguyen.
Authorities in Dak Lak Province are considering calling a halt to the famous elephant-back tours following accidents and animal protection concerns.

Nguyen Thuy Phuong Hieu, deputy director of the Central Highlands province’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said at a recent tourism conference that the tours, which activists describe as "exploitation" of elephants, would stop.

"Instead Dak Lak, home to many of Vietnam's surviving elephants, will consider other services such as bathing and feeding the animals to offer tourists new experiences," she said.

Last May a mahout was killed after being attacked by a 48-year-old elephant. Two months later a female tourist from Hung Yen Province fell off an elephant and was injured, prompting authorities to temporarily suspend the tour.

Huynh Trung Luan, director of the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center, said the center would trial new tourism products using four elephants.

In the last 30 years three captive elephants delivered stillborn calves and the nearly 100 wild elephants gave birth to only four babies, he said.

Luan blamed the high mortality and low birth rates among the pachyderms on habitat encroachment, contaminated food and exploitation for tourism purposes.

Dak Lak is one of the provinces with the highest elephant population in Vietnam. In 1990 Dak Lak had more than 500 elephants, but only 45 are left now, mainly in Buon Don and Lak districts, official data shows.

Many conservationists and international organizations have called on the Vietnamese government to stop elephant rides, saying the animals should not be forced to work long hours under the sun.

"That is one of the highest levels of animal cruelty, especially because it is for entertainment," Dionne Slagter of animal welfare organization Animals Asia said.

Experts have blamed this for making elephants aggressive and attack people.

In 2018 Animals Asia and Yok Don Park signed an agreement to convert the latter’s elephant tourism service into an elephant-friendly model.

In 2019 the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia's Siem Reap banned elephant rides. According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the number of elephants in Asia decreased by 50 percent within just three generations.

Animals Asia said the animals undergo a process known as "the crush" during which they are confined and hit with bullhooks, and when they are not working they are often chained and kept in isolation.

Five elephants died one after another from exhaustion in 2015 in Vietnam due to overwork, according to Animals Asia.

Central Highlands elephants on the brink of extinction. Video by VnExpress/Phong Vinh, Vu Thinh.

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