Authorities in Vietnam’s Central Highlands region are set to ban the famous elephant riding tours following accidents and animal protection concerns.
This was confirmed by Central Highlands province’s Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism deputy director, Nguyen Thuy Phuong Hieu, who said they would look at other elephant-related services such as bathing and feeding the animals to offer tourists new experiences, New Straits Times citing a report by VNExpress, a local news channel.
Animal rights activists have long complained that the elephant rides were an exploitation of the animals.
Dak Lak in the Central Highlands is home to many of Vietnam’s surviving elephants.
Last May, a mahout was killed when he was 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 the authorities to temporarily suspend the tour.
Huynh Trung Luan, director of Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Centre saying that the centre would try out 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” Huynh told Vietnam Insider.
Huynh 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.
According to official data, Dak Lak had more than 500 elephants in 1990, but only 45 are left now, mainly in Buon Don and Lak districts.
Conservationists and international organizations have called on the Vietnamese government to stop the elephant rides, saying the animals should not be forced to work long hours under the sun.
Dionne Slagter of animal welfare organization Animals Asia said this was one of the highest levels of animal cruelty, because it was for entertainment.
Some experts say such stressful conditions are to be blamed for making elephants aggressive and attack people.
In 2018, Animals Asia and the Yok Don Park in Central Highlands signed an agreement to convert its elephant tourism service into an elephant-friendly model.
Last year, the Angkor Archaeological Park in Cambodia’s Siem Reap province banned elephant rides.
According to the World Wide Fund for Nature, the number of elephants in Asia decreased by 50 per cent in just three generations.
Animals Asia says the animals undergo a process known as “the crush” during which they are confined and hit with bull-hooks, which elephants are very sensitive to, Animals Asia reported.
According to the Animals Asia, even when they are not working, the elephants are often chained and kept in isolation. Five elephants died one after another from exhaustion in 2015 in Vietnam due to overwork.