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Elephant rides and circus shows: New UK law clamps down on ‘cruel’ animal tourism abroad

The sale and advertising of some animal tourism abroad will be banned under the new law.
The sale and advertising of some animal tourism abroad will be banned under the new law. Copyright Canva
Copyright Canva
By Rosie Frost
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Campaigners have welcomed the change saying it is a "massive step forward" for the protection of animals used in tourism.


The UK government has passed a new law which aims to protect animals used in tourism.

The legislation, which applies in England and Northern Ireland - will allow the government to bring forward a ban on selling or advertising specific types of wildlife tourism.

It is likely to include unethical activities abroad where animals are forced to take selfies with tourists, are subject to brutal training methods and ridden, drugged or kept in captivity.

The government says independent evidence has shown that animals are often subject to “harsh treatment” as part of these experiences. This includes ‘breaking in’ Asian elephants using “brutal” methods to make them safe around tourists or play football and be ridden.

“We know that some foreign tourist attractions often subject majestic animals like elephants to cruel and brutal training methods,” said UK Animal Welfare Minister Lord Benyon.

“The Animals (Low-Welfare Activities Abroad) Act is an important step in our commitment to ensure high animal welfare standards both here in this country and abroad, and I encourage holidaymakers to do their research so they can make informed choices that do not encourage poor animal welfare practices.”

A ‘massive step forward’ for animal welfare

Up to 550,000 animals worldwide suffer for the sake of tourism, according to a 2015 study from Oxford University’s Wildlife Conservation Research Unit.

Animal charity Born Free welcomed the law as a “massive step forward” saying that the British public has consistently supported measures to improve welfare and protect wildlife.

“It is now imperative that Ministers act quickly to ensure key activities, such as elephant rides and cruel circus-type shows involving primates, bears, dolphins and others, become offences under the new law,” said Dr Mark Jones, the charity’s head of policy.

Duncan McNair, CEO of Save the Asian Elephants, added that it was a “momentous day for animals everywhere”.

“The measures, resolutely implemented and enforced, will help protect endangered and vulnerable species across the world from extreme exploitation, harm and death in tourism.”

McNair said it could also save many human lives, preventing maddened elephants and other animals “provoked by torture” from turning on them.

When will the new law on animal tourism come into effect?

The Act is due to be implemented in December and will initially apply to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The government will need to identify which activities the sale and promotion of will become an offence.

“This legislation is a world first and will work towards greater protection of vulnerable animals in low welfare settings from being exploited as tourist experiences,” Angela Richardson, the MP that

A list of guidelines for which activities are classed as unacceptable has already been published by the Association of British Travel Agents (ABTA). The trade body has previously said that direct contact between tourists and elephants is “unacceptable”.

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