How do you gauge if an animal activity meets EF’s standards?

We rely on World Animal Protection’s philosophy of the Five Freedoms:

1. Freedom from hunger and thirst
2. Freedom from discomfort
3. Freedom from pain, injury, or disease
4. Freedom from fear and distress

5. Freedom to express normal behavior

With these five core tenets in mind, we work with World Animal Protection to carefully assess whether activities fall within an animal’s normal behavioral patterns and if the facilities where the animals live offer appropriate food, clean water, adequate shelter and weather protection, veterinary care, and positive relationships with animal handlers.

Why don’t you offer elephant rides on any EF tour?

On some of our tours, we offer experiences that bring you to elephant parks that are dedicated to conservation efforts and ending mistreatment; you won’t find elephant rides or elephant performances of any kind on any EF travel program. During our visits, you can watch elephants feed, bathe, and interact with each other in their normal social patterns, and learn about these majestic creatures.

Why no rides? The elephant tourism industry is one of the biggest offenders of animal cruelty. Thousands of elephants are used in tourist venues across Asia that offer elephant rides and other forms of entertainment, and the vast majority of these elephants are exploited, abused, and kept in unacceptable conditions. While most people visit these venues (which are sometimes called orphanages or parks) out of a love for the animals, they don’t realize the inhumane conditions that the elephants face. Venues that offer rides and performances separate the young from their mothers unnaturally early and employ inappropriate physical interventions to “break their spirit” so the animals will obey the handlers. When the animals are not partaking in these tourist entertainment activities, they’re often shackled indoors without comfort measures or proper veterinary care.

While elephant rides are a popular tourist activity, EF has taken an elephant-friendly travel pledge. We will never offer elephant rides to our travellers or work with suppliers that offer them in any capacity.

What other animal-related activities does EF prohibit on tours?

We do not offer activities that include imposing and unnatural interactions with wild animals of any kind—this includes riding, feeding, and swimming with animals, among other things. Our travel experiences celebrate wildlife.

We also always prohibit activities that are blatantly exploitative or abusive, such as hunting and fishing for sport, animal fighting, and making animals pose for photos. 

What about activities that are in the gray area, like zoo and aquarium visits?

Venues such as zoos and aquariums run the gamut on animal care and facility standards. Therefore, we assess them on a case-by-case basis to determine whether they meet World Animal Protection’s Five Freedoms.

How do you decide if a venue/supplier is a good partner for EF?

We use the following filters when looking at possible partners: Is this experience truly eye-opening for our travellers? Is the welfare of the animals the top priority of the host or attraction? Does the experience give our travellers unique insights into an important part of the local culture and community?

For example, we support bringing travellers to a koala sanctuary in Australia that focuses on rehabilitation, teaches about how human society results in koalas requiring rehabilitation, and limits human interaction with the koalas before their release back into the wild. We believe this type of experience is valuable and gives meaningful insight into the local destination and culture, all while keeping animal welfare paramount.

Why did you choose World Animal Protection to work with? 

World Animal Protection is a non-profit organization and we admire their dedication, research, and reach. We’re excited to collaborate with them and learn from their expertise. In fact, EF and World Animal Protection have a lot in common! We’re both mission-driven organizations with over 50 years of experience, we both take pride in having a local presence on a global scale, and we’re both passionate about educating others in order to make a better world.

The education piece is fundamental to who we are, and we’re excited about the prospect of helping to create more informed global citizens. For example, instead of simply removing activities that don’t meet our animal welfare standards for our travel programs, we’re taking it a step further. By using it as an opportunity to educate people about the issues at hand, we hope to spread knowledge and empathy and make an even larger impact on the world around us.

What steps are you taking to implement these animal welfare guidelines?

EF is committed to training staff about the importance of animal welfare so that we can all do our part to educate travellers and partners about these issues as well. 

Why don't all tour companies do this?

As more and more travellers seek out immersive wildlife experiences, it’s easy to find travel partners willing to get them up-close to animals—but at very harmful costs to those animals. Without knowledge of the ins and outs of the industry, travellers don’t understand the mistreatment these entertainment activities frequently entail. Long story short: Other tour companies provide these types of activities because there is a demand for them and they are profitable. At EF, we champion animal welfare on any tour, in any destination.