126 captive elephants in 26 facilities, all used for human entertainment - of which 14 facilities offer elephant back riding and only a handful of facilities show signs of stopping.
With yet another death caused by a captive elephant, this time in Zimbabwe at Adventure Zone, pressure is mounting against these sorts of facilities as conservationists, animal welfare organisations, the tourism industry and members of the general public show their distaste for using elephants for entertainment.
Three Chinese travel giants, including one of the largest companies in the country, have even stood alongside international organisations like Lonely Planet to publicly state that they do not condone elephant rides. However, only a few facilities in South Africashow any sign of stopping these practices.
Some operators have, however, decided to phase out elephant back riding - Buffelsdrift Game Lodge, located in Oudtshoorn, is one. In keeping with the World Animal Protection Association’s requirements for animal establishments they decided to end elephant back riding as of 1 November 2015. The three elephants there are still used for interactive feeding, brushing and walking experiences.
Another Garden Route reserve, Botlierskop, also recently decided to stop its elephant back rides. These elephants can now only be viewed on a guided game drive on the 3500ha property, with no other interactions allowed.
Kapama Private Game Reserve, near Hoedspruit, has also joined the group of establishments which have ended their elephant back rides. Camp Jabulani, situated on Kapama, stopped their elephant back safaris as of 1 April 2017, but they still offer an interactive elephant experience which includes touching and feeding. Despite the phasing out of elephant back safaris, these elephants will continue to spend their days participating in interactions.
However, other establishments, such as Adventures with Elephants, located adjacent to Zebula Golf Estate, still pride themselves on offering elephant back safaris. Knysna Elephant Park, another famous elephant interaction destination which has also supplied other captive facilities, welcomes volunteers with no qualifications, offers elephant wedding experiences, markets ‘touched by an elephant’ tours that leave every half an hour every day, and allows visitors to ride their elephants without the need for a saddle.
The Elephant Sanctuary brand, which has branches in Hartbeespoort, Plettenberg Bay and Hazyview, also allows bare-back rides and touching and feeding interactions. Kwa Madwala Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga, still offers saddled rides on their two elephants, despite saying that, “We could have been chosen by South African Tourism to go on a marketing trip, but because we offer elephant back safaris and interactions we were not chosen.”
Other South African facilities that currently offer elephant back rides include Addo Elephant Lodge and Safaris, Shambala Zulu Camp, Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary, Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve and Elephant Whispers. Ever more facilities, such as Glen Afric Country Lodge near Pretoria and Indalu on the Garden Route, do not offer riding but do offer walks and interactive experiences with elephants, along with a vast array of other captive animals.
Despite claims that these elephants are well looked after and lovingly cared for, there have been 17 attacks by elephants on humans since 2001 that have resulted in either injuries or fatalities, and evidence is rising that this is due to elephants being trained in an abusive and inhumane manner. Although public pressure is increasing to close these facilities, they are failing to ride the wave of change.