Our Policy on Wildlife Projects and SanctuariesLike most lovers of wildlife, our ideal would, of course, be a world in which all animals and wildlife experiences were just that – wild. The reality, however, is those days are gone and the region is unfortunately littered with parks, camps, zoos, and even “tiger temples”. Sadly, many of these are run by organisations and individuals who have little interest in the welfare of animals and whose motivation is exclusively centered on visitor numbers and chasing profit.
Having said that, there are still authentic and wholly responsible wildlife experiences to be enjoyed in Asia and, although these have become increasingly rare, you can - with the correct research and expert advice - still enjoy the natural world and much of what it has to offer.
We admit that in the past we have offered what we now, unfortunately, know to have been less than acceptable experiences but we have learned from this and our criteria for inclusion has been significantly strengthened. The reality is that many people want to see and interact with animals on their travels. That is why we invest considerable time to develop on-going research and rigorous audits to help ensure a vetted and carefully chosen selection of wildlife-based experiences can be a part of the holidays we create.
We fully appreciate this can be an emotive subject – and rightly so. We hope, therefore, the following will allow you make an informed decision as to whether you want to include an animal or wildlife experience as part of your trip:
- We believe tourism - when controlled, operated and managed responsibly - plays an essential role in the preservation of the Asian elephant and other endangered species.
- We offer wildlife camps and experiences only when we’re entirely satisfied with their management and operational procedures (and we stringently monitor them).
- We know responsible, well-run camps play an important part in wildlife conservation and education.
- We believe ethical camps have a vital role to play in supporting local communities.
- It is our belief that any tourist focused interactions with animals should be non-invasive and non-riding. However, we are aware that the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp offers elephant riding within its activity programme. Our reasoning behind still offering this camp is covered in some detail below, but we’d be very happy to answer any questions you may have.
- And, finally, we work closely with local partners and talk regularly to our clients to monitor and review what is offered and, where necessary, we work with those partners to address any issues of concern that may arise.
Wildlife Policy FAQs
- Why does Selective Asia continue to offer things such as elephant camp experiences when so much concern has been expressed about the way in which many are known to operate?
We don’t believe a ban on wildlife experiences and, specifically, visiting elephant camps (as suggested by some animal welfare organisations), is the way forward. This can’t guarantee certain animals would be treated any better; it removes the powerful role education can play in animal conservation, and a ban could impact on communities socially, financially and culturally. Only one of the camps we use allows any riding of elephants - and that (the Anantara Golden Triangle Elephant Camp) utilises techniques informed by stringent welfare standards and in which the animals are never forced, coerced or “punished” for the entertainment of tourists. That said, we would still strongly encourage you to choose one of the non-riding elephant experiences, which still allow plenty of interaction with these wonderful animals. Instead, observe and connect with the elephants in their natural environment as you accompany them on foot for their daily roam through the forest and grasslands, enjoy watching bath time as the elephants play in the pond, help at feeding time, or learn about the conservation and research projects taking place at the camp from the knowledgeable vets.
- You can’t be checking on these camps all the time so how do you select and then monitor them?
As we’ve said, we spend a lot of timing visiting the countries we feature and – of course - feedback from our clients is absolutely paramount. The selection criteria we use is comprehensive but put simply it is about offering experiences where the welfare of the animals is ultimately the only consideration and where the provider can tangibly demonstrate it is delivering and supporting animal-friendly venues. We work with a very small number of elephant organisations in total, all of which focus on education, welfare and conservation. Our managing director has personally visited all but one of these and our UK based team and local offices visit the organisations on a constant basis.
- But how do you actually choose which camps and experiences you offer?
We regularly (usually once a year) carry out an extensive audit of our wildlife programmes. This typically involves the experience of our staff while “on the ground”, our local partners and, of course, comments we receive from clients. In the past this had led to several changes to the programme and, crucially, identifying camps and experiences with which we would never do business.
- Don’t you need different selection and evaluation criteria for experiences that are truly wild and those offered by camps, lodges and sanctuaries?
That is a good question and, yes, we do treat these differently. For the former, only two things matter – that the operator behaves responsibly in ways detailed above and that the well-being of the wildlife and the protection of the natural habitat are at the heart of everything they offer. For camps, lodges and sanctuaries, the criteria get more complicated. However, in summary it is about: the responsible sourcing of animals; the on-going welfare of those animals; a focus on education and conservation, not tourism and entertainment; a commitment to local communities, and independent accreditations by the foremost international animal welfare authorities.
- So, should we include an animal camp or experience in our holiday plans?
We believe this is a personal preference but we know many people are passionate about animal welfare. Should you want a wildlife experience, we have done everything within our power to ensure we only offer those providing the highest standards. Because the world changes quickly and, sadly, there will always be unscrupulous people out purely for financial gain, our monitoring is stringent, on-going and non-negotiable. Ultimately, the natural world is beyond precious and we believe experiences and education delivered ethically and responsibly is incredibly powerful. We feel our policy is the best way to help ensure the welfare of animals, support local communities, promote awareness and, crucially, provide the eyes and ears that can identify and report those who abuse their position.
- How can you ensure the places to which you send tourists are ethical and responsible?
This isn’t easy - we’re the first to acknowledge this is an often complex challenge. New camps can spring up with great regularity and, unfortunately, many will not have ethical or responsible people behind them. Our team of experts spend much of the year travelling – and that includes regular visits to the small, carefully selected number of wildlife camps and experiences we offer.
- If you hear a camp or wildlife experience isn’t up to the highest standards what do you do?
If we’re not one hundred per cent confident a wildlife experience adheres to the highest ethical standards we simply won’t include it in our programme. If appropriate, we would also report anything of concern that comes to our attention to the necessary authorities.
- Aren’t many of these camps and experiences crucial to the livelihoods of local communities and, therefore, open to exploitation?
We believe that’s an over-simplification. Of course there are people who have no interest in the health, well-being or happiness of an elephant or orang-utan and are purely out to line their pockets. However, there are communities all over Asia where the skills and knowledge gained over centuries are crucial to animal welfare, especially in areas where a species may face significant danger to its numbers or even its existence.
- What do you mean by that? It sounds rather vague?
In many parts of the world you simply can’t separate animals from people – often they are linked by thousands of years of expertise, knowledge and understanding. Take, for example, Laos. This country has always been known as the Land of a Million Elephants, but some research suggests there are now fewer than 2500 elephants across a combined wild and captive population. Allowing visitors to experience elephants within a semi-wild environment that adheres to international husbandry standards, where the operation is fully transparent, and the animals are always humanely treated and never used merely as a vehicle for the “entertainment” of yet another group of tourists can be an extremely powerful in tool in terms of promoting education, awareness and understanding.
- What about those animals who end up in these camps, lodges and sanctuaries? I want to know more about how they’ve got there?
That is also our primary concern when including a camp, lodge or sanctuary in our programme. The responsible sourcing of animals is absolutely crucial and we focus on the following: the emphasis must be on animals in danger; the life of the animal must be improved by it being moved to the facility in question; with elephants, a focus must be placed on animals that are being rescued from cruel and barbaric treatment in logging camps, those that are seriously unwell or being “used” by street beggars and, in addition, animals being saved from mass tourism camps in which they are overworked in the quest to get as many visitors through the attraction as quickly and as profitably as possible for the operator.
Our approach to responsible travel
Accountability & points of action
Since our inception in 2006, helping our clients to travel 'the right way' has always been one of Selective Asia's core values; introducing the responsible backpacker's mindset to a higher grade of travel. This hasn’t changed, however with the benefit of hindsight, older minds and a sharpened awareness we recognise that is plenty that we must do better.
How to travel responsibly
We believe in making travel a force for good, and do everything possible to make sure your holidays in Asia benefit the people and animals who call it home. We work closely with ethical community enterprises and NGOs in the region, that ensure the benefit from your travel goes to the right places, and our initiative One Bottle at a Time has helped reduce 90,000 in 2019 alone.