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Asian Elephants ©STAE
Asian Elephants ©STAE

Press release -

Stop the torture & abuse of Asian Elephants for UK tourists’ fun


4 pages

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Tel No: +44(0)7852-416696

Story for World Elephant Day - Thursday 12th August 2021
Issued Tuesday 10thAugust 2021 – for immediate use

Stop the torture & abuse of Asian Elephants for UK tourists’ fun
STAE urges all to join their call for a new UK law to stop the advertising and promotion of tourist destinations that rely on the pain and suffering of this abused and endangered species

Duncan McNair, founder of the not-for-profit STAE, says: “Baby and calf Asian elephants are taken from the wild, tortured and abused to ‘break their spirits’ in a process called ‘pajan’ for easy use in tourist attractions and for close-up encounters. Brutalised to perform tricks, games and allow rides, these elephants are reminded of their torture and fear by daily stabbings of sensitive parts of their body to ensure their continued submission.”

Malnourished, fiercely tethered in isolation in filthy conditions, Asian elephants often snap when provoked resulting in injuries and deaths of tourists. Hundreds of such injuries and deaths have been recorded. Many more are inevitable as the travel industry’s marketing campaign to SE Asian destinations resumes as international travel restrictions are lifted.

Helen Costigan, whose sister Andrea died after an elephant attack at Nong Nooch elephant park, Thailand in 2000, says: “I also nearly lost my life. My Dad was badly injured too and never recovered from the emotional heartache. Before visiting the park we were unaware of the dangers of being so close to elephants and had no idea of the pain and suffering that Asian elephants go through to ‘perform’ for tourists.”

Francine van den Berg, a visitor to Nong Nooch 14 years later who witnessed the same appalling conditions for the elephants and total disregard for visitor safety says: “I was looking to visit a botanical garden … the travel agent did not tell me I would visit an amusement park where tourists, families and children come to be entertained by elephants that have been systematically tortured for their fun. When I visited there were no proper barriers, no signs of danger, no staff of any use, nothing.”

In addition, broken down elephants held in close confinement are, when they exhale, cough and spray water, highly effective transmitters to humans of deadly airborne viruses such as TB and (it is now apparent) Covid-19, both global pandemics that kill millions.

UK tourists are currently able to book package holidays and experiences with elephants at venues that use these abhorrent practices to enable these dangerous and unhealthy close encounters, with tourists unaware of the backdrop of horror to those ‘memorable’ photographs.

Duncan McNair continues: “STAE has collected evidence over 6 years showing the huge role the UK tourist industry plays in promoting these brutal venues. To date STAE has revealed 238 brutal venues advertised in the UK by 1,159 companies through 2,796 adverts. Numerous broken promises of change by companies have also been recorded which resume advertising these venues after promising to stop.
This is why STAE has been working closely with government and legislators to introduce a new law – the ‘Animals Abroad’ Bill - to put a stop once and for all to the advertising of such holidays and experiences, with penalties significant enough to deter first-time and especially repeat offenders.”

The draft Animals Abroad Bill, due to be introduced into Parliament in Autumn 2021 is part of the Government’s Action Plan for Animal Welfare which also covers improved protection for pets and livestock and due consideration of the sentience of all animal species.

“In the meantime,” Duncan concludes, “as world-wide travel begins to open up UK tourists must take care at the time of booking their package holiday across Asia, and when choosing attractions at their destinations, that they are not visiting or continuing to support venues that abuse and torture elephants.”

Everyone can take action now and show the strength of public support for this new law by signing STAE’s petition on which already has in excess of 1 million signatures


Notes to Editors:

  1. Duncan McNair of STAE is available for interview. Call +44(0)7852-416696 or email to schedule a date and time.

  2. Photos freely available for media use below: please credit all photographs ©STAE

For larger sizes of these photos, or requests for further photos with precise requirements, email

3. Further information from the STAE website - please be aware that the website contains graphic material that some people may find upsetting.

4. The ‘Animals Abroad’ Bill: In May 2021 the Government, citing the tragic plight of Asian elephants in tourism, announced the introduction this autumn of the Animals Abroad Bill to ”ban the advertising and offering for sale here of specific, unacceptable practices abroad. Our intention is that this will steer tourists towards visiting attractions that involve animals being cared for and treated properly.” The new law as promised would help protect all species abused in tourism across the world. It could also be adopted by all nations that have a market in advertising abusive animal tourism thus creating global impact on stamping out such abuse.

5. Asian elephant numbers have crashed from millions to barely 40,000 of which 40% are held in cruel, non-breeding captivity. They are designated now as highly endangered by IUCN

6. Quotes from key influencers are freely available to use as below. Further spokespeople quotes are available.

Stanley Johnson, conservationist and author, former MEP

“I totally support calls for a new UK law banning the advertisement and sale of tourist ‘trips’ to venues in India and elsewhere where Asian elephants are routinely abused to provide ‘entertainment’ in the form of rides, tricks and selfies enforced by constant, often fatal, beatings throughout their life.”

Bella Lack, youth campaigner and environmentalist

It’s imperative the UK government takes action to ban adverts and sales promoting the brutalisation of Asian elephants to tourists, who are often misinformed and unaware of the heart-breaking, and often fatal treatment that these intelligent and sensitive creatures are put through. The action our government decides to take also speaks volumes about their humanity and compassion (or lack thereof). Every day delayed is another day of torture for thousands of elephants, so it must be a top priority.”

Mary Rice, Executive Director, Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA) – UK & international agency investigating and campaigning against environmental crime and abuse

Whilst elephants are globally admired and loved, Asian elephants are often overshadowed by their African counterparts and face many different challenges. The Asian elephant is severely exploited and abused by human activity, whether for domestic labour or tourism. These elephants are often subjected to cruel behaviour and live a diminished life in captivity. EIA supports the efforts of STAE to raise awareness of this issue and to initiate legislation to stop the advertising and promotion of unethical ‘elephant holiday’ destinations.”




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