Canada Must Do More to Stop the Trophy Hunting of Elephants



By guest blogger Tessa Vanderkop, Elephanatics  

There was a strong world-wide reaction when President Trump threatened to reverse a 2014 ban on importing elephant trophies from Zimbabwe and Zambia. Few Canadians realized, however, that Canada never had such a ban in place to begin with.

Recently a reporter approached Elephanatics President Fran Duthie regarding an Elephanatics  petition to the Canadian government asking them to close the domestic trade of ivory and to close any remaining loopholes on the trade of elephants which are a highly endangered species.

Reporter Mia Rabson of the Canadian Press wrote the following story including quotes on Elephanatics position on this issue:

“In the last decade, Canadians have legally imported more than 2,600 trophy animals that are on an international list of endangered species.

The imports also include thousands of animal skins, skulls, feet, ears, tusks, horns and tails of everything from antelope to zebras from all corners of the earth.

Earlier this month, the United States made waves when the Fish and Wildlife Service suddenly reversed a 2014 ban on elephant imports from Zimbabwe and Zambia.

U.S. President Donald Trump stepped in to halt that reversal, tweeting earlier this month that he considers elephant hunting a “horror show” and that it was unlikely anyone could convince him hunting the animals was good for conservation.

Canada, on the other hand, never banned the imports in the first place.

The Convention on the International Trade in Endangered Species, or CITES, tracks animals on three lists based on the level of protection needed and requires permits to be issued before these animals or any parts of them can be traded across international borders.

That database shows that between 2007 and 2016, Canada allowed the legal importation of 2,647 mammals as hunting trophies, including 83 elephants, 256 lions, 134 zebras, 76 hippos and 19 rhinoceroses.

Another 280 mammals were imported intact after having been stuffed, including antelope, oryx, monkeys and lions. Canadians also imported 434 skulls and 260 feet from elephants, zebras, hippos and rhinos; 87 elephant ears; 1,156 elephant tusks; and 17 rhinoceros horns.

Those do not include animals brought back as trophies that are not considered endangered, which do not require any kind of special permit.

Elephants are among the most endangered species in the world, with a 2016 census finding populations down 30 per cent between 2007 and 2014. Elephants are on the most-endangered list of CITES in all countries except four: South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Populations in Zambia and South Africa are stable, but elephant populations in Botswana and Zimbabwe have dropped 15 and six per cent, respectively, since 2010.

Sixty-one of the elephant trophies imported into Canada between 2007 and 2014 came from those four countries. Fifteen elephants came from the most endangered list.

When it comes to allowing the importation of trophies, any decisions that are made have to be based on sound science, not on feelings, said Jason St. Michael, operations manager for Safari Club International in Canada.

“I think people need to really take the time to educate themselves about the values of big game hunting,” he said.

In some countries, elephant hunting should be banned, but in places like South Africa — where elephant populations are being well managed — it is both an economic driver and a conservation program to allow regulated hunting.

“The government should be using science and not emotions to make these decisions,” said St. Michael. “President Trump is probably not using science and listening to emotions.”

Elephanatics, a Vancouver-based elephant conservation group, is petitioning the Canadian government to support moving all elephants onto the so-called Appendix I list, including those from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Botswana and South Africa.

Canada was one of a number of countries that voted against such a move last year.

Environment Canada would not make an official available for an interview, but said in an emailed statement that Canada voted against moving all elephants to Appendix I because the four countries affected “did not meet the CITES criteria for listing on Appendix I.”

“Canada adheres to a strict set of principles in the CITES fora and believes decisions regarding trade controls should be founded on best available science, support sustainable use of well-managed populations, and the conservation needs of species,” it reads.

Fran Duthie, president of Elephanatics, said Canada also needs to ban the domestic trade in ivory. Canada is one of just four countries that refuses to do so, joining Japan, Namibia and South Africa. In Canada, the ivory trade includes Inuit hunters who trade in ivory from narwhals and walruses.

Elephanatics, however, says as long as any trading of ivory is allowed, illegally obtained ivory from poachers who slaughter elephants — even in highly endangered populations — can slip into the system without much trouble.

(See The Star article here:

Ethical Elephant Tourism in Thailand - A Behind the Scenes Look

By Janine Cavin

In 2016, after an amazing trip on the trail of the African elephants in Kenya , I thought the time had come for me to visit their cousins, the Asian elephants. After all, it was a lone Asian elephant travelling with a circus that triggered my passion for elephants, back when I was 11 or 12 years old. I have been following the work of Lek Chailert, the ‘Elephant Whisperer” at the Elephant Nature Park, near Chiang Mai, in northern Thailand, so it seems natural to start there. I booked a week as a volunteer at ENP but wanted to stay longer in this part of the world. It was going to be my first visit to Thailand and let’s face it, Thailand is not exactly next door to Canada. I was surfing the Net when an ad caught my attention. It was  targeting people of 45+, offering a 2-week voluntourism opportunity in 2 countries, Thailand and Cambodia. The first week was titled the “Elephant Project” in the Surin province of Thailand, which is also known as the province of elephants. The ad said:

Begin your adventure with these incredible animals- learn to care for, feed, wash and even swim with elephants. They are sure to become your new best friends.

I contacted the organization and asked a lot of questions as I didn’t want to end up in a tourist camp where the elephants are used for entertainment or for trekking, carrying an heavy platform and tourists on their backs. I learned that we would be living in a village where the residents had elephants but that we would be helping with community projects, that the community as a whole would benefit economically, and that as a result, villagers would not have to take their elephants to beg in the cities in order to support their families. I had dismissed the idea, but part of me wanted to know how the elephants were kept and taken care of.  After weighing the pros and the cons I decided to find out for myself and signed up.

Along with 14 women from Canada, the US, England and Australia, I spent five days in a village of approximately 300 people. As we were entering the village, we could see that many houses had an elephant in the backyard. The house we stayed at was no exception. In addition to half a dozen dogs rescued by the on site project coordinators, there were two elephants chained in the backyard: Bank, a 14-year old female and her 4-year old baby Wondee, and I wondered if I had made a mistake.

In Thailand, elephants were trained to work in the logging industry, a work for which they were very good. But it meant that generations of elephants could not be just elephants. They were forced to work long hours, sometimes to exhaustion, were often beaten, and sometimes deprived of food and water. When logging was prohibited in Thailand in 1989, thousands of “domestic” elephants lost their jobs. Therefore their mahouts (the people who cared for them) lost their income and, in addition to their families, they  still had to care for and feed their elephants. This created huge economic problems for the population. With no jobs, how could they find money to feed their elephants. Some mahouts took them to the nearest cities to beg or joined the numerous elephant parks that provide trekking or rides to visitors so they would be able to provide for their families.

The mahouts have strong bonds with their elephants. They consider them like a member of the family, just as we do with our cats and dogs. There is a deep cultural and religious history that reveres the elephants.  Statues of elephants are everywhere. In the villages, in the cities and in the temples. Being a Mahout also commands respect. The profession is passed on from generation to generation, and often an elephant would have the same mahout for his whole life. 


The financial contribution provided by the volunteers staying in the village helps all the villagers. Most families own an elephant and the financial assistance means they don’t need to take their elephants to the city to beg or to work in a riding camp for tourists.


Yes, it pained me to know that we had two elephants chained in the backyard. On the positive side, funds had been raised to build them a larger enclosure where both elephants would have more space to move around. In the meantime, Bank is rocking back and forth and Wondee is  already showing signs of stress.

Yes, it bothered me that the mahouts carry a bull hook.  But when we had a close call and one of the volunteers was nearly ran over by two rambunctious babies, the mahout was quick to pull her to safety and didn’t use his bull hook.

Yes, it bothered me that when we took 17 elephants for a walk, we were holding a chain. I was pleased however that mahouts are encouraged to walk beside their elephants rather than riding them. 


We learned that a “domesticated” elephant is still a wild elephant. We learned to respect their space, not to approach them from the front, and to never go close without the mahout being present. All the elephants I have seen up close in the village, seemed to be well treated, did not have any open wounds or sores and are seen by a vet once a month.

I mentioned Bank and her baby Wondee. Her owner/mahout wants to breed her again. He has two daughters and wants to give them an elephant each. This is something I could not understand. Why are we continuing to breed these elephants? Apparently, the daughters want their elephant. Why? What are they going to do? How are they going to feed them? Where are they going to keep them? This is a tradition in Thailand and maybe they feel they cannot refuse because of the respect young people have for and show their parents.

I came back with more questions than answers.

If our being there doing community projects, such as painting the school, helping at the Elephant Dung Paper Project (yes they make paper out of elephant poo), and cutting bamboo to feed them before and after their bath, prevents elephants to be used (and abused) in tourist camps, then maybe it is a step in the right direction. Or are we enabling the villagers to continue with their traditions. 

Twice that week, I walked with a 16-year old elephant named Kum Lai. She was beautiful. As we walked down the path to the river for her bath, I spoke to her, told her she was beautiful and apologized for what we, humans, have done to her species. She kept looking at me through her long eye lashes and I know she understood me.


If you are traveling to Thailand, please note that there are no regulations regarding elephant sanctuaries. Some tourist camps call themselves “sanctuaries” but they are not. Here is a list of some reputable sanctuaries:

CAMBODIA                   Elephant Sanctuary Cambodia

                                       Mondulkiri Project

                                       Elephant Valley Project  

                                       Phnom Tamao Wildlife Rescue Centre  

INDIA                             Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre

                                       Wildlife SOS – Elephant Conservation & Care Center  

                                       Chandaka Elephant Sanctuary

KENYA                           David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust

LAOS                              Elephant Conservation Centre

MYANMAR                     Save Elephant Foundation Myanmar

                                       Green Hill Valley Elephant Camp

NAMIBIA                       Elephant-Human Relations Aid

NEPAL                           Tiger Tops Elephant Camp

SOUTH AFRICA            Tembe Elephant Park

SRI LANKA                    Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society

                                       Elephant Transit Home

                                       Millennium Elephant Foundation

                                       Elephant Freedom Project

THAILAND                     Elephant Nature Park

                                       Phuket Elephant Sanctuary

                                       Burm & Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary

                                       Friends of the Asian Elephant Hospital

                                       Wildlife Friends Foundation – Thai Elephant Refuge

                                       Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

                                       GVI Reintroduction Project

                                       The Surin Project

                                       Elephant Haven

                                       Elephants World

                                       Elephant Hills

                                       Elephant Jungle Sanctuary

UNITED STATES            Performing Animal Welfare Society – Ark 2000

                                       The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee          

ZAMBIA                         Game Rangers International – Elephant Orphanage Project


Don’t ride elephants. Interact with them on an ethical elephant adventure!