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YDNP ELE 20191010 elephants Bun Kham and


Ethical Elephant Coalition

This group is a collaboration by various members of the Asia for Animals Coalition network.

YDNP ELE 20191010 elephants Bun Kham and


A future in which captive elephants live as naturally as possible and are respected, free from human stressors and experience positive, full-filling lives.

YDNP ELE 20191010 elephants Bun Kham and


To maximise the welfare opportunities for elephants by providing environments that promote their psychological wellbeing under human care and to demonstrate elephant management models which provide elephants with a degree of choice as to how and with whom they occupy their time

YDNP ELE 20191010 elephants Bun Kham and


  • Provide a resource for organisations to  develop ethical elephant management models for captive elephants and for the public to identify ethical elephant tourism facilities.

  • Raise public awareness of the emotional, cognitive, social and biological needs of elephants.

  • Promote the  transition of facilities to management models that meet elephants needs.

  • Advocate for the effective protection of elephants and their natural social structures in the wild.

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An ethical way forward for captive elephants in Asia

An ethical way forward

The Ethical Elephant Coalition (EEC) is composed of experts from the Asia for Animals Coalition, the largest network in Asia working as a united voice for the animals. Through our members' own projects of ethical elephant tourism models and tried and tested methods of providing appropriate care for elephants across Asia we offer this resource to fellow animal welfare organisations and members of the public to raise awareness of how the lives of the captive elephants in Asia can be improved.

Our teams work with local communities, elephant owners, tourism facilities, mahouts and  governments to  develop alternatives and ultimately a better life for elephants who cannot be released into the wild.

The issues facing elephants in tourism camps in Asia

The issues facing elephants

Elephants are managed in tourism facilities across Asia. Many of these are used in riding tourism during the day and are either taken to forested areas at night, hobbled or on long chains attached to trees, or chained within the confines of the tourism facility. Due to such management regimes the welfare of the individual elephants is often compromised. These elephants may spend extensive hours chained in one place, often with little access to food or water and with few opportunities to express their natural behaviours such as foraging, roaming and socialising. These conditions have a detrimental impact on their physical and psychological well being. 

Their use for interactive tourism presented a public safety risk with both tourists and mahouts at risk of being seriously injured or killed if an elephant behaves in a manner which becomes dangerous to the tourist. Elephants are large and potentially dangerous animals and in order for tourists to have an interactive experience a mahout must keep the elephant under control. In most cases this is achieved via a bullhook or a sharpen tool used to ‘guide’ elephants into the places and positions that the mahout desires. The bullhook or other tool is used in some situations to mete out physical punishment. No matter how gently the bullhook may be used with an animal in the presence of visitors, at some point it had to be established as a negative reinforcer in order to be effective. That means causing enough pain and discomfort that the animal remembers, and seeks to avoid that experience by complying with the instruction being given. A smaller handheld ‘jab-stick’ may also be used to jab the elephant in sensitive places such as behind the ears, to ensure it complies with the instructions from the mahout.

The use of these instruments removes an elephant’s choice and control over its immediate environment and actions, forcing it to comply with the wishes of the mahout regardless of whether or not the action it is being asked to perform is in the best interest of the elephant. 

Many elephants at tourism camps are also forced to endure the indignity and in many cases physical pain of being made to perform circus tricks, such as standing on their heads, spinning in circles whilst standing on one leg and walking on top of rolling barrels. Forcing animals to perform unnatural tricks also portrays them to the public in a humiliating manner, instead of showing their natural grace and beauty and thereby promoting empathy and respect

Creating a kinder world for captive elephants

Ethical Elephant Tourism models ensure elephants are managed in a manner conducive to their psychological needs; allowing them to function where possible as elephants would do in the wild and to spend as much time as practically possible free from direct human intervention


Ethical Elephant Tourism models should not include activities such as:

  • Elephant riding by tourists

  • Tourists bathing with elephants

  • Elephants being restrained to allow for close contact photo opportunities

  • Interactions with elephant calves

  • Elephants being restrained to allow for hand feeding

  • Elephants forced to perform unnatural tricks via public shows


The ethical elephant coalition members are working across Asia in partnership with elephant owners and businesses to transition away from direct public interaction practices to ethical alternatives.  We support tourism projects in Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand and Nepal supporting elephant owners to manage their elephants in ways which allow them to meet their needs as much as possible, and these owners are benefitting from having happier, healthier elephants whilst at the same time receiving an income via ethical tourism.

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