Yok Don national park stops elephant rides
Elephants will not be used for tourism purposes anymore in the Yok Don National Park in Dak Lak Province. Instead, they can roam free in their natural habitat.
The Yok Don National Park also is the first locality in Vietnam to decide to stop using elephants for tourism since 2018, when the park’s management signed an agreement to halt elephant rides with the Animals Asia Organization.
Spanning around 115,500 hectares in the Central Highlands from Dak Lak to Dak Nong, the Yok Don for many years allows elephant rides service as a way to attract tourists, which has led to criticism of animal cruelty from activists and international organizations.
In 2014, the park launched a service where visitors could experience being a mahout, gradually replacing elephant rides. In 2018, the park officially stopped the rides and other services, releasing all the captive elephants into the wild.
Tourists now can join a small group tour to trek through the center of the forest to see elephants in their natural life activities inside Yok Don National Park. Visitors also are introduced to an old traditional job of ethnic minorities in the Central Highlands which is training and taking care of elephants.
During trekking trips, tourists would have an opportunity not only to explore Yok Don but learn about medicinal plants which commonly used by locals for a very long time.
Vu Duc Gioi, deputy director of the Center for Environmental Education and Services of the Yok Don National Park, his change of heart about elephant rides happened after several tourists refused them, saying they love animals and don’t want the elephants to be abused.
After many years, now elephants can live their nature live in Yok Don and are free to move everywhere inside the park without human constraints.
“In the past, the elephants used to be chained and some of them living in tourist areas carried passengers all day, and they were not allowed to eat much,” Gioi said.
Study shows that elephants that are free and living in a natural environment are healthier and have a longer lifespan. There are eight free elephants living inside Yok Don right now, and they can lead the sociable lives that they usually do.
The Vietnamese government has been called by many conservationists and international organizations to stop elephant rides and any other tourism activities that use animals.
However, Gioi said the elephant rides are still offered in Dak Lak because it has been the main source of income for families and mahouts for generations.
Last December, provincial authorities signed an agreement with Animals Asia to phase out the elephant rides as well as other activities that adversely affect the welfare of domestic elephants.
Even these actions might not be enough, experts have suggested that long-term policies and financial support from the government are necessary to remove elephant activities from the tourism industry.
30 years ago, there were more than 500 elephants in Central Highlands province. Today only 140 are left and mostly they live in Buon Do and Lak districts.
Dak Lak has had exploited elephants for tourism for years, offering rides, and other activities like elephant swimming, elephant football and elephant parades, typically held during traditional festivals.
In 2015, five elephants died of exhaustion after being overworked, shocking the nation. Animal rights activists then demanded that the exploitation of these animals for commercial purposes be stopped.