VIDEO: Less than a year on, elephants freed from tourist rides are the “healthiest elephants in Vietnam”

01 May 2019

Animals Asia set up Vietnam’s first ethical elephant tours in 2018, already the elephants look good and feel great, but more tourists are needed.

Like dozens of other Asian elephants unlucky enough to be caught up in Vietnam’s elephant riding tourism industry, life was an unending cycle of servitude for Bun Kham, Y Khun, Thong Ngan and Hnon.

They used to stand on concrete all day without shade in the baking sun, chained by the leg, waiting to serve tourists.

But for nearly a year now, all four of the elephants have been living totally different lives.

Thanks to a trailblazing initiative by Animals Asia, Olsen Animal Trust and Yok Don National Park, these individuals spend their days roaming freely in the vast forests of the park.

An elephant wandering free in Yok Don National Park

They drink when they are thirsty, forage when hungry, play together when bored and take dust baths to maintain healthy skin and fend of parasites.

According to Animal Welfare Manager Dionne Slagter, the four elephants are now the healthiest she has seen in Vietnam.

Dionne said:

“The changes we’ve seen in the elephants throughout this process are huge. They are round, they are healthy, their eyes are clear, their skin is nice and thick, no parasite bites, no injuries, no scratches. These elephants here in the Yok Don National Park are the healthiest elephants in Vietnam.”

Instead of riding the elephants, tourists now trek through the forest to observe the pachyderms behaving naturally in their native environment.

A tourist on the Elephant Experience tour

To date, feedback from those who have attended the tour has been overwhelmingly positive with one tourist, John Haslam from the UK, telling Animals Asia:

“I’d rather pay to do this tour than have someone else pay me even 100 dollars to ride an elephant because it’s just really, really wonderful and humbling seeing them in their natural environment.”

The project has been made possible by the UK’s Olsen Animal Trust, whose funding ensures mahouts – the present legal owners of the elephants – will not lose their livelihoods.

It is hoped the new model will provide as much or even more profit for the mahouts than elephant rides did in the past, becoming an example for other mahouts and facilities to follow.

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 new model to become profitable.

Animals Asia Animal Welfare Director Dave Neale said:

“The tours have been a huge success with tourists, the elephants are blossoming in their natural environment and the mahouts are happier than ever before because they can see how much better life is now for their elephants.

“But we haven’t yet reached a stage where the tours can pay for themselves. The bottom line is: tourists have to choose ethical tours over exploitative ones so that elephant owners across the country learn there is more profit in kindness than cruelty.”


Elephant chained for rides in Vietnam

In 2015, the elephant tourism industry made headlines in Vietnam when a number of animals died of exhaustion due to overwork.

Dak Lak province, home to Yok Don National Park, is famed for its elephant tourism and is believed to contain around 40 captive elephants.

According to recent data from the Vietnam Administration of Forestry, Vietnam’s wild elephant population is believed to have fallen to between 100 and 150, a figure conservationists say is not viable to ensure their survival, while 88 individuals live in captivity, mostly providing rides for tourists in Dak Lak province.

The rapid decline in numbers, from around 2,000 in 1990 to around 100 today, is largely due to loss of habitat as forests are cleared for logging and agriculture. Historically, wild capture for domestication in the tourism industry and poaching for ivory have been exacerbating factors, although poaching has ceased in recent years.

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.

TO BOOK A TOUR: Email or phone +84 (0) 262 3783 049.

Olsen Animal Trust was established to partner organisations and individuals to end animal cruelty and exploitation, enhance animal welfare, and conserve wildlife in its natural habitat. The charity, established in 2015, is inspired by the Olsen family’s love of all animals.

[Animals Asia’s new ethical elephant tours in Vietnam] Bun Kham and Y’Khun love spending time together