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Dak Lak Will End Elephant Rides for Tourists, Official Says

Province officials cite safety concerns and animal welfare as reasons why the tourism activity should be stopped across all of Dak Lak.

VnExpress reports that at a recent tourism conference, Nguyễn Thụy Phương Hiếu, deputy director of the Dak Lak Department of Culture, Sports and Tourism, described elephant riding as a form "exploitation" that would be discontinued. "Instead Dak Lak, home to many of Vietnam's surviving elephants, will consider other services such as bathing and feeding the animals to offer tourists new experiences," she said. The department didn't provide a specific timeline, however, regarding when elephant rides will cease operation.

Influential rights group Animals Asia explains that elephant riding results in the pachyderms experiencing significant physical and emotional stress. Often the animals do not receive proper nutrition and are chained up when not forced to perform arduous labor for hours. The industry also hinders conservation efforts, as many times wild elephant calves are stolen from their mothers at a young age and can never fully return to the wild. "That is one of the highest levels of animal cruelty, especially because it is for entertainment," Dionne Slagter of Animals Asia noted.

Elephant riding has also proven dangerous for humans. Last year an elephant trainer was killed by an elephant that was kept for giving rides; two months later, a tourist was seriously injured when she fell off while riding. 

The province-wide ban would follow Yok Don National Park's decision in 2018 to outlaw elephant riding in Dak Lak's largest national park. The animals were released to roam the park freely and tourists are now only allowed to view them from a distance. International organizations had provided the park with financial assistance to enable the new policy. "This project has entirely changed the lives of the elephants at the park and it also provides a much better experience for the tourists. Exploitation has been replaced with respect, and if successful it’s a model we could see spread across the country," Slagter told the news source. 

While these developments are certainly positive, the plight of wild elephants in Dak Lak and Vietnam as a whole is concerning. There are estimated to be fewer than 100 wild individuals nationwide now, down from an estimated 2,000 in the 1980s.

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