"When someone that influential is seen in the public eye engaging in that type of behavior it sends the wrong message," Christian Wolters, vice president of Intrepid Travel, told The Dodo in an email. "Ultimately the issue here is education. We are not saying Beyoncé knowingly engaged in behavior that is cruel to animals; however, her doing so was a step back in our fight for more awareness."
As it turns out, Intrepid Travel is pretty well-qualified to make this assessment - last May, the company announced that it would no longer offer elephant rides or tours to sites that use elephants for entertainment after it became aware of animal welfare problems associated with the industry. In a blog on its website titled "Why we no longer ride elephants," the company explained:
Elephant issues have been a strong area of concern. Having such an enormous wild animal restrained for many hours at a time and used for rides or to do human-like behaviours, such as kick a soccer ball or paint pictures with their trunks, has never felt right. So in 2010–2011 we lent support to extensive research by WSPA into captive elephant venues and learnt much along the way.
According to the organization World Animal Protection (formerly known as WSPA), elephant riding companies often source many of their elephants from the wild, where the animals are captured from their families at a young age and then "broken," so that they will obey their caretakers. This painful process involves tying down, beating and psychologically damaging the young animals with tactics that induce fear. And not only does the trade in captive elephants harm the already struggling wild population, but it has also been connected to funding government corruption in Thailand.
Beyoncé has yet to respond to Intrepid Travel's plea. But hopefully the singer - and other travelers like her - will consider what type of industry their money is supporting the next time they jump atop the back of an elephant. There are some incredible ways to see elephants on vacation without supporting their suffering.
See this page for a searchable database of responsible sites, preserves and wildlife rescues by country to see elephants thriving - without the guilt.