The Daily Telegraph - Saturday - Travel


- Chris Leadbeater

It is one of the most evocative sights on this vast continent: the Asian elephant, sturdy legs planted in the mud, spraying water over itself on a hot afternoon. Rarely does any creature look quite as noble at bath time.

And yet, while the elephant’s nobility is widely recognised in Asia – the animal is a longstandi­ng symbol of royalty, and the elephant-headed god Ganesha is a key figure in the Hindu pantheon – the sense of respect does not always go as far as treating them kindly. Sanctuarie­s that purport to look after them often do anything but that. And the elephant ride – long a bucket-list staple of a break in Asia – can be a dubious adventure, underpinne­d by an absence of care and often by abuse.

So, if the opportunit­y presents itself to ride an elephant, should you? The responsibl­e answer is no. While an elephant whose prime “job” is to carry tourists around for money is almost certainly being saved from more exploitati­ve forms of “employment” (such as illegal logging), it may still be in poor health.

Perhaps the safest route is to follow the example of ethical tour operator Responsibl­e Travel (01273 823700; responsibl­etravel. com), which takes the line that “riding an elephant is an unnecessar­y activity which contribute­s to the harsh treatment of the elephant and capture of wild elephants”.

The company stopped promoting elephant-back safaris, even in national parks, in 2019. It also casts a careful eye over elephant sanctuarie­s, endorsing only those it believes provide the requisite levels of care, including a ban on rides (for a full list of those it does and does not support, see the company’s website). Possible holidays include a six-day elephant conservati­on break near Mae Sot, in western Thailand, from £450 per person, excluding flights.

 ?? ?? The elephant in the room: let ethical operators be your guide
The elephant in the room: let ethical operators be your guide

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