Tour operators are always keen to seek out and support good causes in the destinations they visit: offering their customers a new excursion; bringing income to a local initiative; and encouraging the good work to develop and grow but, how can the operator guarantee that the practices are indeed ethical, responsible and sustainable? Is the name of the facility, or the claims they make enough to convince the operator that its practices are responsible?
One such example, in relation to animals, is the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage, situated outside Colombo in Sri Lanka. The facility, which is linked to Colombo Zoo, claims to be an orphanage for elephants: a place for rescued and abandoned elephants; a place of sanctuary and refuge that offers the best conditions possible. Championed by the Sri Lankan Tourist Board, it is not surprising the Orphanage features on the itineraries of the majority of tour operators that visit the country. Investigations however have revealed that all is not what it seems.
Investigations by the Born Free Foundation, influenced by hundreds of reports from distraught tourists that have visited the facility, have revealed that the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage appears not to offer the refuge and good conditions expected of an animal sanctuary. On the contrary, breeding is actively encouraged, young animals are shipped abroad to zoos in the developing countries, male elephants are chained for long periods and sometimes suffer from severe leg wounds as a result, and tourists are encouraged to have direct contact with potentially dangerous animals. A true sanctuary should rescue, rehabilitate and release, or provide animals with quality lifetime care. Breeding for captivity should not happen in a sanctuary.
In order to ensure animal sanctuaries, or indeed any other animal-based facilities that the tour operator is considering including in their itinerary, are responsible, the operator should seek advice from experts. Changing itineraries and seeking alternative attractions once an itinerary is operational is an unnecessary drain on resources. Born Free can offer information on all captive animal attractions and wildlife viewing excursions. With our database cataloguing public reports, this is the best resource available to help operators make informed decisions about which excursions and practices are available to their customers.
For information as to how Born Free can help maintain your responsible tourism policy, please contact Daniel at email@example.com
As a result of investigations into the Pinnewala Elephant Orphanage and their findings, many tour operators no longer visit the facility and instead support the Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe in the south of Sri Lanka. There is however also a move by many larger tour operators, supported Born Free, to seek to influence Pinnewala and encourage better practice.
For the latest update and Born Free's position on Pinnewala, please read the file below.