Having an elephant experience in southeast Asia is one of life’s greatest pleasures. But a major concern continuing to plague elephant tourism are issues surrounding elephant welfare and camp management. Elephants may appear happy enough, but as a passing visitor it’s impossible to know what back-of-house care each elephant is receiving. Camps that advertise themselves as ethical and humane may in actuality keep their elephants in poor living conditions…just out of the public’s eye.
Each country has their own national laws and policies regarding captive elephant management. But these can be challenging to interpret if you are a passing tourist. Historical issues associated with poor camp practises are impossible to ignore or overlook, and sadly, elephant-based tourism has had some pretty poor players. So how does a visitor with limited knowledge of elephant care and welfare distinguish between the good and not-so-good camps? It is for these reasons that Asian Captive Elephant Standards (ACES), along with a team of Asian elephant experts, designed a standardised and quantifiable approach to elephant welfare and camp management.
An ACES audit encompasses every aspect of elephant camp management. But the most important criteria focus on elephant welfare. These criteria include:
- Body score condition and specific dietary needs for each elephant. This will vary depending on each elephants’ age, sex, pregnancy/lactation needs.
- Socialisation and ability to have physical contact with other elephants.
- Number of working hours each day and the time of day expected to work.
- Continual access to fresh and clean drinking water.
- Access to daily mud and dirt bathing, and daily bathing time away from the public.
- Quality of living shelters.
- Substrate and foot care.
- Staff workplace health and safety.
Camp assessment cannot occur without the complete willingness of each camp manager. Camp managers must guarantee transparency, be open to constructive feedback and be willing to make the recommended changes. It is highly unlikely that a camp will pass the assessment phase without needing to make at least several modifications to their current camp practices. These may be small changes such as improving bookkeeping and annual reporting, to more serious concerns of excessive chaining, poor socialisation or problematic work expectations. Camp staff must allow ACES auditors complete access to all areas of the camp, including day and night shelters, veterinary clinics, staff quarters, employment records and legal permits.
At ACES we are proud of the strict criteria elephant camps are expected to pass. Visiting an ACES-approved elephant camp means you are visiting a camp that has passed international scrutiny and has achieved the highest level of assessment available. We want visitors to Southeast Asia to enjoy their elephant experience, knowing that each and every elephant is being cared for to the highest standards possible. Trunks up to that!
Dr Ingrid Suter BEnvMan(Hons), PhD.