DOI: 10.14202/ijoh.2023.49-66 ISSN:

Elephant tourism: An analysis and recommendations for public health, safety, and animal welfare

Clifford Warwick, Anthony Pilny, Catrina Steedman, Rachel Grant
  • Infectious Diseases
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Health Policy
  • General Veterinary

Background: Elephants are exploited for public entertainment tourism throughout Asia and Africa. Areas of concern include public health and safety and animal welfare. Materials and Methods: We examined over 500 scientific publications with respect to our primary objectives, as well as non-peer-reviewed materials relating to other relevant subject matters (e.g., tourism promotional websites and YouTube films) for background purposes, although these additional materials were not included in this review. Results: We identified at least 12 confirmed or potential zoonotic and other transmissible infections relevant to the elephant tourism sector, and at least 13 areas of animal welfare concern. Conclusion: Infection and injury risks between humans and captive elephants cannot be safely controlled where close contact experiences are involved, arguably creating an unredeemable and indefensible public health and safety situation. Elephant welfare within some sectors of the close contact interactive tourism industry continues to involve significant mistreatment and abuse. To alleviate key One Health concerns outlined in this study, we recommend several types of regulation, monitoring, and control regarding interactions at the human-captive elephant interface. These include legal bans on the promotion and performance of close contact experiences, combined with strong enforcement protocols; new policies toward discouraging elephant tourism; 24/7 surveillance of captive elephants; and the adoption of independent scientific positive list systems for tourism promoters or providers regarding public observation of free-ranging elephants within national parks and protected areas. Keywords: animal welfare, elephant tourism, One Health, public health, safety, zoonoses.

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