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Thursday 10 May 2007

Elephant-back Safaris “Simply Accidents Waiting to Happen” Warns Top Tourism Insurer

Elephant-back safari operators are under fire from Africa’s top tourism risk insurer which says the gung-ho attitude of certain elephant tourism players makes their operating practices “simply accidents waiting to happen.”
As thousands of travel industry heavyweights from across the globe gather at the annual tourism Indaba in Durban this weekend, a new report released by IFAW (International Fund for Animal Welfare – shows a marked upswing in the number of elephant back safari operations – and highlights the concerns of the major insurer of “high risk activities”.
In the report An Overview of the Commercial Use of Elephants in Captivity in South Africa the chairman and founder of the “high risk activities” insurer says the lack of formalised norms and standards or protocols within the industry is of considerable concern,
“My experience is that many in the industry in South Africa seem to be happy to go it on their own and believe they know everything there is to know about elephant training. Some operating practices are simply accidents waiting to happen. There have been a number of incidents in the past and they will happen again,” he said.
As the only specialist risk managers in the tourism and wildlife industry in South Africa, the insurer has eight branch offices in other African countries and has extensive expertise and knowledge on risks associated with “high risk” activities. The company first insured captive elephants more than 15 years ago. Their risks are covered through Lloyds of London.
IFAW’s newest report on the status of the elephant tourism industry shows an industry markedly on the increase. Since its first investigation in 2005, the numbers of elephants kept in captivity for commercial use has grown by 25 per cent – from 89 to 112.
At least three handlers have been killed by elephants in the past two years, and there have been a number of incidents in which people have been injured – most recently two British tourists suffered serious injury and were admitted to hospital when they fell off an elephant in April 2007.
“IFAW has long been calling for better legislation to manage the elephant safari industry which is nothing more than an awful blight on South Africa’s tourism landscape,” said Southern Africa Director of IFAW, Jason Bell-Leask.
“Our investigation has shown that most of the new elephants that have entered the safari industry are animals forcibly removed from their live wild herds, only to be subjected to training that is wrong, cruel and exploitative.
“Ideally this industry should be banned altogether in the interests of elephant welfare, but also from a human safety point of view. If that cannot be then IFAW would welcome regulations to prevent any further growth of elephant safari tourism,” said Bell-Leask.
The insurance industry views many tourism activities including horse riding, scuba diving, bungi jumping and interacting with captive elephants as “high risk activities.” All, with the exception of the elephant back industry (including elephant walks and other human elephant interaction), have carefully drawn up protocols and norms and standards.
In the report the insurer said proper norms and standards were also necessary to ensure that captive elephants were properly treated. He added that their underwriters, Lloyds are also “desperately concerned that any activity they underwrite does not have the slight hint of inhumane of cruel treatment of animals.”