Kathmandu, January 25, 2016 – Animal Nepal is proud to announce Asia’s first private tourism outfit to replace elephant riding with responsible elephant tourism activities. Tiger Tops, known as Nepal’s first and oldest eco tourism company, is set to unchain its sixteen elephants, discard jungle safaris and offer non invasive tourism activities promoting natural elephant behaviour.
Encouraged by Animal Nepal, Tiger Tops has joined forces with elephant welfare expert Carol Buckley from Elephant Aid International to introduce a new way for tourists of experiencing one of the most magnificent creatures of the jungle, the Asian elephant.
During a press conference on January 22, Tiger Tops chair Kristjan Edwards expressed his excitement about the change of direction. “Tiger Tops introduced elephant safaris to the world. Half a decade later we now are ready to introduce a responsible way of using elephants in tourism,” he said. Edwards, whose change of heart was inspired by observing the cruel ‘breaking’ of young elephants, expressed an interest in helping Nepal’s safari industry becoming a more responsible one, as well as setting an example for other countries.
Carol Buckley, who helped the Nepal government unchain its elephants in Chitwan National Park, said the new approach ‘will introduce guests to a philosophy of respect to elephants’. “Activities like riding, petting, feeding and taking selfies, contributing to using elephants as props, are no longer part of the deal,” she said. Instead visitors will be invited to observe the natural rhythm of elephants, when waking, grazing, bathing, playing, feeding and sleeping. They will get a chance to help mahouts cutting grass and making ‘kuchi’, an elephant snack. Instead of riding elephants in the jungle, visitors are invited to walk behind them while observing wildlife.
Animal Nepal, after publishing its survey of captive safari elephants in Sauraha called ‘An Elephant Is Not a Machine’, introduced a campaign for better welfare standards. While Tiger Tops is the first tourism outfit to become a responsible elephant owner, other Chitwan-based resorts have expressed an interest in changing course. “We believe having a good practice example in place will pave the way for a gradual transformation of the safari industry,” says co-founder Lucia de Vries.
Tiger Tops markets itself as a leader in eco tourism and conservation activities. Established by two Texan oil millionaires in the 60s, and now run by the Edwards family, Tiger Tops promoted the establishment of national parks and a hunting ban. The company worked with the Smithsonian Institute and the Himalayan Tiger Foundation in the area tiger conservation. The Tiger Tops Elephant Camp is promoted as ‘another leap towards responsible and sustainable tourism’.
Tiger Tops Elephant Camp is located in Nawalparasi, close to the Tiger Tops Tharu Lodge. It will have the capacity for up to twelve guests. The accommodations, according to the company’s description ‘are comfortable, fully equipped safari tents with attached bathrooms and electricity’. The dining hall overviews one of the five corrals. The five corrals are designed according to the natural grouping of the 12 elephants at the Camp. The corrals will cover and area of over 11 acres. Plans are in place to unchain Tiger Tops other four elephants, based in Chitwan and Bardia, too.
Animal Nepal, one of Nepal’s leading animal welfare organisations, endorses and promotes elephant friendly tourism outfits. International tourism companies increasingly opt for accommodation and activities that promote good practices and adhere to strict animal welfare conditions. Nepal’s safari industry has seen an estimated 25 percent drop in elephant rides as a result of this trend.
At present no Asian private tourism company offers elephant friendly activities. Charity based or government run responsible places include Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary (Thailand), Elephant Nature Park (Thailand), Elephant Valley Project (Cambodia) and Elephant Transit Home (Sri Lanka).