There are 126 captive elephants in 26 facilities, all used for human entertainment. Fourteen of the facilities offer elephant-back riding and only a handful show signs of stopping.

With yet another death caused by a captive elephant, this time in Zimbabwe at Adventure Zone, pressure is mounting against these sorts of facilities as conservationists, animal welfare organisations, the tourism industry and members of the general public show their distaste for using elephants for entertainment. Three Chinese travel giants, including one of the largest companies in the country, have even stood alongside international organisations like Lonely Planet to publicly state that they do not condone elephant rides, as public pressure mounts. However, only a few facilities in South Africa show any sign of stopping these practices.

Some operators, however, have decided to phase out elephant-back riding. Buffelsdrift Game Lodge in Oudtshoorn, is one. In keeping with the World Animal Protection Association’s requirements for animal establishments, they decided to end the practice from November 1, 2015.

The three elephants there are still used for interactive feeding, brushing and walking experiences.

Another Garden Route reserve, Botlierskop, also recently decided to stop its elephant-back rides. These elephants can now only be viewed on a guided game drive on the 3 500-hectare property, with no other interactions allowed.

Kapama Private Game Reserve near Hoedspruit has also joined the group of establishments that have ended elephant-back rides. Camp Jabulani in the reserve stopped the practice on April 1 this year but  still offers an interactive elephant experience that includes touching and feeding. These elephants will continue to spend their days participating in interactions.

However other establishments, such as Adventures with Elephants, which is adjacent to Zebula Golf Estate, still pride themselves on offering elephant-back safaris. Knysna Elephant Park, another famous elephant interaction destination that has also supplied other captive facilities, welcomes volunteers with no qualifications, offers elephant wedding experiences, markets ‘touched by an elephant’ tours that leave every half hour every day and allow visitors to ride the elephants without the need for a saddle.

The Elephant Sanctuary brand, which has branches in Hartbeespoort, Plettenberg Bay and Hazyview, also, allows bare-back rides and touching and feeding interactions. Kwa Madwala Private Game Reserve in Mpumalanga still offers saddled rides on its two elephants, despite saying, “We could have been chosen by South African Tourism to go on a marketing trip, but because we offer elephant back safaris and interactions we were not chosen.”

Other South African facilities that currently offer the activity include Addo Elephant Lodge and Safaris, Kwantu Elephant Sanctuary, Inkwenkwezi Private Game Reserve and Elephant Whispers. And ever more facilities, such as Glen Afric Country Lodge near Pretoria and Indalu on the Garden Route, don’t offer riding but do offer walks and interactive experiences with elephants, along with a vast array of other captive animals.

Despite claims that these elephants are well looked after and lovingly cared for, there have been 17 attacks by elephants on humans since 2001 that have resulted in either injuries or fatalities, and evidence is appearing that this is due to elephants being trained in an abusive and inhumane manner.

Although public pressure is increasing to close these facilities, these captive elephant facilities are failing
to ride the wave of change.