Nothabo Nyathi, Victoria Falls Reporter
TOUR operators in Victoria Falls are slowly giving in to pressure from international tourism agents to stop elephant ride activities on claim of abuse to wildlife.
International animal activists and agents who bring clients to local tour operators have reportedly set conditions to halt elephant rides or risk losing market benefits for their products and services. Animal activities such as elephant ride and lion walk were given up to end of this month to close, a development whose effects will be felt in the tourism sector judging by the amount of business they contribute to the industry.
Wildlife activists and conservationists say the move is aimed at promoting green tourism. Speaking during an educational elephant interaction for pupils from Townsend High School in Bulawayo and Sacred Heart Primary School in Esigodini at Wild Horizons on Friday, Green Line Africa director, Mrs Veronica Chapman, said the tour operator (Wild Horizons) was the first to stop the activity.
Green Line is an international organisation, which draws membership from tour operators worldwide.
“Wild Horizons is now a member of Green Tourism and has been accredited for its initiative of ending elephant rides.
“International animal activists view elephant ride as cruelty hence they have advocated for what is called “elephant experience” where people get to have a close interaction with elephants without having to ride on them,” she said.
Elephant interaction involves feeding the jumbos and patting them without riding on them. The pupils won a quiz competition organised by Sanganai/Hlanganani Tourism Expo this year and were rewarded with a trip to interact with elephants among other activities in Victoria Falls. Wild Horizons runs a schools programme where they host pupils every Friday to teach them about various environmental issues.
Employers’ Association for Tourism and Safari Operations Association president, Mr Clement Mukwasi, who is also spokesperson for Shearwater Adventures, said operators were slowly transitioning.
He, however, decried the move saying it will lead to loss of jobs for dozens of people.
“Companies are not abruptly ending the elephant rides but instead they are inducting on programmes that will eventually see the retirement of those animals.
“The animals are creating employment to the people who manage them. What’s needed is to ensure that their retirement is done systematically without causing loss of jobs and pain to handlers who will all now be rendered jobless,” said Mr Mukwasi
He said some operators were still doing the activity but at a low scale as they are now working on phasing it out. More than 90 percent of tourists who enjoy elephant rides come from international agents.
The activities have stopped in Botswana and South Africa and pressure is now on Zambia and Zimbabwe.
Zambian tour operators who offer elephant rides have advertised to their clients that they would stop on December 31.
Adventure Zone, Elephant Express, Shearwater are some of the companies that offer elephant rides in Victoria Falls while Lion Encounter does lion walks.