The death of a captive elephant in Sri Lanka this week, who collapsed after giving back-to-back rides to tourists, has once again focused the spotlight on the exploitation of animals for tourism. In the same month, AirBnB has taken a strong stand against the riding of elephants, interactions with wild cats, as well as any entertainment involving a wild animal or marine mammal.

elephant riding hazyview south africa
Elephants in Hazyview, South Africa. Photo: Twitter.

AirBnB said in a statement this month that it would also not promote any experiences that had anything to do with the illegal wildlife trade, sporting events such as canned and trophy hunting, animals performing for entertainment, and any activity where wild animals were used “as selfie props.”

A recent study by the South African tourism body SATSA stated that the following tourism activities were unacceptable: performing animals; tactile interactions with infant wild animals, such as cub-petting; tactile interactions with predators or cetaceans; walking with predators or elephants; and riding of  animals.

A recent animated video by the Born Free Foundation about the tragic consequences of cub-petting has been viewed 5 million times:

The male elephant that died in Sri Lanka this week, Kanakota, spent the last four years giving rides along the busy streets of Sigirya. Pictures posted on social media showed him shackled and in poor condition. Wildlife campaigners told the British media that the elephant had died from exhaustion. Asian elephants in the wild are expected to live until the age of 60; Kanakota was 18.

“No direct interactions with big cats (such as) big cat walking, cub petting, and selfies with big cats”

Paul Healey of the group Moving Animals was quoted saying after the death of Kanakota, “Until tourists refuse to ride elephants, more of these gentle giants will continue to suffer and collapse from exhaustion. Sri Lankan activists and animal lovers have been campaigning tirelessly to enact this animal welfare bill that will finally change the laws and offer animals the protection they so desperately need.”

Earlier this month, when AirBnB announced the launch of an animal experience platform on its site that it had drawn up in coordination with the nonprofit World Animal Protection International, it set very clear parameters for what it would allow.

It said there would be no promotion of activities that caused animals harm, and it forbade experiences “where guests ride, bathe, or feed elephants” or “involv(ed) direct interactions with big cats (such as) big cat walking, cub petting, and selfies with big cats.”

“Hosts and guests need to think carefully about their role and responsibility in ensuring animal welfare”

Numerous campaigners in South Africa have long been warning about the link between cub-petting and canned lion hunting. Many young foreigners are often unwittingly drawn into so-called “volunteer scams,” raising lion cubs at South African facilities, unaware that human interaction sentences the cats to a life in a cage or to be used for canned hunting.

AirBnb, which said in a statement that it was the first major booking platform to offer a dedicated category of animals experiences, also prohibited experiences that involved “wild animals performing for entertainment purposes (including) dolphin shows, bears riding bicycles, charming cobra shows, tigers in captivity at restaurants, alligator and crocodile parks, circuses, animal amusement parks, traveling petting zoos, and exotic pet cafes.”

“We encourage hosts and guests to think carefully about their role and responsibility in ensuring animal welfare,” AirBnb said.

Some of the experiences publicised by AirBnb include accompanying a conservationist to see the African penguins in Simonstown, Cape Town, or going with a trained mahout in Thailand to visit elephants in the jungle.

AirBnb also encouraged travelers to stay away from buying any products that could support the trade in wildlife. “This includes the purchase of souvenirs and products like tortoiseshell, skins, horns, scales, and ivory, and food products like shark fin soup, turtle soup, whale meat, bear bile, civet coffee, bush meat, snake blood, and tiger wine.”