Trevor McDonald in elephant tourism cruelty row over use of ‘ethical’ sanctuary

Sir Trevor McDonald has been caught up in an elephant cruelty row after visiting an “ethical” sanctuary previously slammed for letting tourists climb on the animal’s backs.

The veteran broadcaster was filmed at the refuge in Jaipur, India, for his ITV show Trevor McDonald’s Indian Train Adventure, which aired on Sunday night.

He said the owner had insisted that tourists were banned from riding on the elephants. Sir Trevor, 79, added that staff there seemed “genuine in their care and affection” for the animals.

But the Mirror can reveal it is the same facility that came under fire after Michael Portillo visited on his BBC Great Indian Railway Journeys show last year.

And photos taken months ago, posted on the Facebook page of the Elefantastic sanctuary, show tourists on the backs of elephants as they are washed.

One blogger who visited earlier this year even daubed “I Love NY” on the side of one of the animals in gaudy paint.They said: “While painting the elephant was a ton of fun, taking them for walks, like it’s your own pet, was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Campaigners say there is no “ethical way” to climb on an elephant as they are not designed to carry weight on their backs.

ITV said the show made “very clear to the viewer the controversy surrounding the issue of elephants being kept in captivity” and that it “no way condones the riding of these majestic animals”.

Sir Trevor accepts in the documentary that letting tourists paint the elephants “has been criticized”. He says elephants have often been “exploited, held captive, abused and used for entertainment”, adding there “is still a long way to go” to protect them.


ITV added: “Programme-makers sought and were given clear assurances that elephant rides were not being conducted at the sanctuary shown, and acted in good faith on the basis of the information received.” A source added: “Whilst at the sanctuary, the team saw no evidence of such activity.”

But animal rights campaigners said ITV failed to adequately research the facility before giving it air time.

Audrey Gaffney, of the Ethical Bucket List, said: “Sir Trevor has made a genuine attempt to discuss issues concerning captive elephants. He does grasp that they suffer in many of the captive situations. But it is very disappointing to see him visit this facility though which is a very clear case of failure on behalf of the researchers.”

Dr Chris Draper of the Born Free Foundation said: “Elephants do not need to be washed, petted or painted by humans, nor to be managed as part of a tourist attraction. A genuine sanctuary would focus on providing space that permits elephants to be elephants, minimising their contact with people.”

BBC2’s Paradise Gardens, in which Monty Don rode an elephant, was taken off air last year amid cruelty claims.

The Mirror found footage of animals being beaten where Monty’s ride was filmed.

And Martin Clunes was
dropped as a patron of Born Free after being filmed on an elephant for another ITV show.

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