Tourism & Cruises

PETA shined a light on elephant mistreatment. Now this tour company is ending all rides

Jennifer Buda and some kids ride an elephant before the start of the Cole Bros. Circus in West Palm Beach in 2011. Animal-rights activists were protesting the circus’ record of handling elephants and other animals. Since then, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus retired its elephants and other travel companies have stopped offering tours that involve riding elephants.
Jennifer Buda and some kids ride an elephant before the start of the Cole Bros. Circus in West Palm Beach in 2011. Animal-rights activists were protesting the circus’ record of handling elephants and other animals. Since then, the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus retired its elephants and other travel companies have stopped offering tours that involve riding elephants. Sun Sentinel

It didn’t take much to convince travel company Shore Excursions Group to stop offering tours that involve riding elephants.

Paul Kiritsy, president of the Weston-based excursion provider, said the company spoke to PETA perhaps twice at length on the mistreatment of elephants held in captivity — and that was all they needed to agree to pull the plug.

“After thoughtful conversations with PETA, an organization we greatly respect, we elected to discontinue the sale of elephant tours,” Kiritsy said in a statement.

PETA applauded Shore Excursions Group’s decision Monday, which includes a commitment to not offer any tours with elephant rides in the future. The Shore Excursions Group, which offers more than 3,000 excursions in more than 300 cruise ports world wide, is the largest company in the travel industry dedicated to setting up tours at cruise stops.

We are seeing this groundswell of opposition for the use of wild animals for entertainment.

Stephanie Shaw, PETA’s corporate liaison

The swift move by the company is indicative of a greater movement in the travel industry to be more sensitive about animal welfare, said Stephanie Shaw, PETA’s corporate liaison.

“That is not unusual,” Shaw said. “We are seeing this groundswell of opposition for the use of wild animals for entertainment.”

A search for elephant excursions on the Shore Excursions Group’s website came up blank this week, making the Weston company the latest in a group of travel companies that have taken a stand against excursions that involve humans coming into contact with wild animals.

The controversy around elephant rides came into the spotlight again in February 2016, when a British tourist was mauled and gored by an elephant in Thailand while his 16-year-old daughter watched. The two were on an elephant riding excursion when the animal starting acting aggressively. A day after the incident, a video taken by a tourist at the same Thai park a week earlier emerged, showing handlers jabbing a docile elephant with a bullhook.

Other companies have also agreed to stop offering elephant rides, including TripAdvisor, Alexander+Roberts, Collette, Costco Travel and Tauck.

Shaw said elephants used to give tourists rides are often separated from their mothers, kept in tight quarters, chained and bound with ropes, and often prodded with sharp objects, including bullhooks, by their handlers.

Awareness of animal mistreatment increased exponentially after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which detailed the alleged unfair treatment of killer whales in captivity. That documentary, too, was sparked after a captive whale, Tilikum, killed its trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at SeaWorld Orlando in 2010.

The documentary set off a domino effect, prompting several companies to drop components of their business that profit from contact with wild animals.

In March 2016, SeaWorld announced it would end its orca breeding program. In May, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus said its touring elephants, a century-and-a-half long tradition, would be retired to a conservation center in Florida. And in October, TripAdvisor agreed to stop selling tickets to all attractions that involve wild animal interactions. (The Shore Excursions Group will continue to offer other animal-related tours, including dolphin encounters and camel rides, which PETA also discourages. The company said they have not yet considered other changes.)

Other companies have also agreed to stop offering elephant rides, including small group tour operator Alexander+Roberts, tour company Collette, Costco Travel and guided tour and cruise organizer Tauck.

“It’s really not a contentious issue,” Shaw said. “Once people find out what these elephants endure to force them to be submissive enough to give a ride, [they stop offering the service].”

Chabeli Herrera: 305-376-3730, @ChabeliH

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