In exciting news for animal lovers, a national park in Vietnam has done away with traditional, exploitative elephant experiences and introduced ethical elephant tours.

Visitors to Yok Don National Park can now observe from a distance the four elephants relaxing and exploring the sanctuary grounds in their natural social groupings. This is the first park in the country to change to an elephant-friendly tourism model.

This move towards humane ecotourism is thanks in part to the work of Animals Asia, who have worked with the national park to transition away from riding and human interaction. Previously, the elephants here were restrained by chains and often spent entire days carrying tourists around on their backs. This meant limited time for essential natural behaviors like bathing, socializing and foraging.

“In the wild, elephants spend up to 18 hours a day foraging and this is exactly how Yok Don’s elephants now spend the majority of their time,” said Dionne Slagter from Animals Asia. “They all look so much healthier and are increasingly confident in how far they roam.”

The move towards more compassionate management practices has been supported by UK based charity Olsen Animal Trust, who have supplied funds to make sure the transition is financially viable for the legal owners of the elephants.

According to PETA, more than 3000 elephants are held in parks and centers throughout Asia and used as entertainment for tourists. The practice of forcing these gentle giants into submission when they are still young is nothing short of horrific; taken from their mothers, they are tied up and beaten to teach them to obey their “trainers.”

Elephants used for riding are often chained up when not being walked on the same paths day after day; they are denied the opportunity to perform natural behaviors such as roaming, foraging, bathing and socializing as a herd. Along with this, they suffer from foot problems and back injuries due to the constant weight of tourists on their backs.

Now that tourists have a choice to witness the incredible Asian elephants living naturally and roaming free at Yok Don National Park, we hope other facilities in Vietnam will follow suit and move away from cruel activities like riding.