Province officials cite safety concerns and animal welfare as reasons why the tourism activity will be stopped across all of Dak Lak.
Influential rights group Animals Asia explains that elephant riding results in the pachyderms experiencing significant physical and emotional stress. Often the animals do not receive proper nutrition and are chained up when not forced to perform arduous labor for hours. The industry also hinders conservation efforts, as many times wild elephant calves are stolen from their mothers at a young age and can never fully return to the wild. “That is one of the highest levels of animal cruelty, especially because it is for entertainment,” Dionne Slagter of Animals Asia noted.
Elephant riding has also proven dangerous for humans. Last year an elephant trainer was killed by an elephant that was kept for giving rides; two months later, a tourist was seriously injured when she fell off while riding.
While these developments are certainly positive, the plight of wild elephants in Dak Lak and Vietnam as a whole is concerning. There are estimated to be fewer than 100 wild individuals nationwide now, down from an estimated 2,000 in the 1980s.
Dak Lak spends 55 billion VND to end elephant riding tourism. The People’s Committee of Dak Lak province agreed to spend 55 billion VND to support elephant owners, groomers and care centers to end elephant riding and switch to a friendly tourism model.
On November 14, Mr. Tran Xuan Phuoc, Director of the Center for Elephant Conservation, Animal Rescue and Forest Protection in Dak Lak Province, said that the above funding was sponsored by Animals Asia (AAF). . The support payments will be made from November 2022 to December 2026, in Buon Don district (Yok Don national park, center; tourism companies) and Lak district.
At the end of last year, Dak Lak province signed a contract with AAF on a model of elephant-friendly tourism. Accordingly, the province does not organize elephant-riding tourism, elephant swimming contests, soccer games, road parades, etc. The AAF’s funding is supported by the province to be spent by the province’s owners and requested to compensate for the reduced income due to stopping elephant exploitation. . Tourism centers are provided with funding and techniques to transform the elephant-friendly tourism model…
In recent years, the status of tourist elephant riding has affected the health, life expectancy and the number of elephants in the area. According to the Dak Lak Elephant Conservation Center, the province has about 140 elephants, a 90% decrease compared to 1980. In 2018, AAF also sponsored 65,000 USD to end elephant riding tourism in Yok Don National Park.
VnExpress reports that at a recent tourism conference, Nguyễn Thụy Phương Hiếu, deputy director of the Dak Lak Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, described elephant riding as a form “exploitation” that would be discontinued. “Instead Dak Lak, home to many of Vietnam’s surviving elephants, will consider other services such as bathing and feeding the animals to offer tourists new experiences,” she said. The department didn’t provide a specific timeline, however, regarding when elephant rides will cease operation.
The rest of the elephants in Ban Don will mark the shift of Vietnam’s tourism industry, when friendly tourism models can be widely applied in practice. With these models, visitors do not affect nature and the environment, but can also improve their understanding and contribute to nature conservation activities.