World Animal Protection (WAP), an international animal charity, has accused one of the best known names in the international travel industry of refusing to stop promoting “cruel elephant rides” in countries like Thailand, India and Zimbabwe.
WAP says the Thomas Cook Group, which claims on its website to “care deeply about animal welfare” still sells tours to a number of venues that promote what WAP terms animal abuses in Thailand, India and Zimbabwe. According to WAP, Thomas Cook has now “committed to stop selling elephant rides and shows from the start of their 2015 winter season in this market [Northern Europe] only”.
WAP alleges that Thomas Cook’s global headquarters has ignored multiple invitations to sign WAP’s Elephant-friendly Tourist Pledge.
Elephant rides are popular with tourists, but WAP says they cause “huge suffering for the animals” behind the scenes.
“Taken from their mothers when young, they are isolated, starved and beaten until their spirits are broken in a barbaric training method known as ‘the crush’.
“These baby elephants often suffer from bloody wounds inflicted during these beatings, and the great trauma they endure stays with them throughout their lives, and can leave them suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder.”
WAP says about 3000 elephants are “suffering in captivity today in cruel entertainment venues across Asia and Southern Africa”.
WAP seems to have singled out Thomas Cook for particular attention, saying the company “promotes and sells elephant rides, feeding and souvenir photo experiences. This is in sharp contrast to their website, which states that Thomas Cook aims ‘to help…develop ways to protect the welfare of animals in tourist attractions’.”
WAP says it began conversations with Thomas Cook Northern Europe in January 2014, “and although they still won’t sign the Elephant-friendly Tourist Pledge, they have this week committed to stop selling elephant rides and shows from the start of their 2015 winter season in this market only. Whilst this is welcome, it is a further sign that The Thomas Cook Group’s position towards animal welfare is contradictory.”
A statement from WAP continues: “63 travel companies across the world have stopped selling elephant rides and shows following World Animal Protection approaches. This includes The Travel Corporation, which features major brands Contiki and Trafalgar. G Adventures, the world’s largest small-group adventure travel company, has also made this commitment. World Animal Protection is also in discussion with NZ travel agents to stop selling and/or promoting elephant rides and shows.”
WAP’s director of wildlife, Kate Nustedt, says: “We are shocked that an international name like Thomas Cook is behind the curve on animal welfare and appears unwilling to end the promotion of cruel elephant rides in all its markets.
“Thomas Cook is the oldest and best known name in travel dating back to1841. Over 22 million customers choose to travel with them each year, with sales of over £8.5bn, demonstrating the importance they could play in stopping the promotion of elephant rides.
“We’d welcome the chance to work with Thomas Cook on solutions that not only put a stop to cruel elephant rides and shows, but also ensure that tourists can enjoy seeing elephants in the wild.”
Edited by Peter Needham