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Practicing responsible tourism with elephant-friendly travel

Many of us take trips to learn about the world we live in, and are increasingly looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences – which sometimes include interacting with animals. As a world leader in international education, EF Education First has committed to respecting and promoting animal welfare as we help our customers explore the world in more sustainable ways.

At EF, we’ve taken an elephant-friendly travel pledge as part of our collaboration with World Animal Protection, an international nonprofit organization founded nearly 40 years ago to create a better world for animals. This pledge is just one aspect of our overall commitment to animal welfare, and since launching the collaboration in 2018, EF has worked with World Animal Protection to implement animal welfare guidelines throughout all our travel programs worldwide.

Activities that impact animals’ normal behavior patterns or may compromise their health have been eliminated from our programs, and elephant welfare and education are critical pieces of our commitment. While many people visit elephant entertainment venues – of which there are many scattered across the world – they don’t always realize the inhumane conditions these majestic animals face, nor the cruel process of “breaking their spirit” they have to endure in order to accept humans on their backs. So, while you won’t find elephant rides or performances on any EF program, travelers will find opportunities to learn about these creatures and the roles we can all play in helping them thrive.

As part of EF’s collaboration with World Animal Protection, EF travelers may observe elephants from afar but do not participate in activities that impact the animals’ normal behavior patterns or may compromise their health. Photo Credit: EF Go Ahead Tours traveler Bea D.

“Education is fundamental to EF, and our elephant-friendly travel pledge with World Animal Protection is another step toward creating more informed global citizens,” said Alex Luther, Director of Service Learning Programs for EF Educational Tours. “Instead of simply removing activities that don’t meet our animal welfare standards, we’re finding new opportunities, such as reputable sanctuaries dedicated to conservation and rehabilitation. By using tour experiences as opportunities to educate travelers about these issues, we hope to make an even larger positive impact on the world around us.”

So, what does this look like? Students traveling with EF Educational Tours might find themselves conducting a service learning project in Thailand where they’ll help with the upkeep of an elephant sanctuary while also learning about the Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare and how to become an “animal-friendly traveler.” EF Go Ahead Tours’ Thailand-bound travelers can take an “elephant exploration walk” before helping prepare food and medicine for the elephants, chatting with a “mahout” (an elephant caretaker) about their historic role in Thai culture, and eating lunch while overlooking the elephants’ natural bathing spot.

EF customers learn about elephants and the roles we can all play in helping them thrive. Photo credit: @kaesherr on Instagram.

“We have a responsibility to show our travelers how they can play an active role in making the world a better place,” said Lael Kassis, Vice President of Market Innovation and Development for EF Go Ahead Tours. “We’re constantly looking for new ways to incorporate educational elements into our experiences, such as working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare to incorporate anti-poaching talks into our Kenya wildlife safari tours.”

By educating ourselves on how we can safely and humanely visit elephants, we can work together toward a better future for these gentle giants. Are you considering incorporating elephant tourism into your next trip? Be sure to check out World Animal Protection’s elephant-friendly tourist guide so you can do your part and avoid venues that don’t have their best interests at heart.

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