The Sri Lankan elephant population shows a marked reduction during last five decades, mainly due to destruction of elephant habitats by development projects and illegal encroachments. With the limitations of the lands available for elephants and escalating human-elephant conflicts, domestication of the elephants appear to one of the viable way of conserving elephants. However, with the low demand for draft, domestication of elephants should be targeted on more economically attractive options such as tourism.

With this background, the economic potential of utilization of elephants in tourism industry is investigated in this study. The degree of interest on elephant related activities by the tourists, and the status of involvement of tourist hotels and guest houses in those activities are also evaluated. The potential of generating revenue via the integration of the elephants to the sector was also considered.

The necessary information for the study was collected through two surveys carried out simultaneously during the period of January to February 2005. One survey was carried out targeting the tourists that come to see the elephants, based on a structured questionnaire prepared in English, French and Japanese. The random intercept sampling method was used. Meantime, a mailed survey was executed focusing the tourist hotels and guest houses. Tourist hotels, guest houses within 40-km boundary of parks, protected areas and orphanage were selected to the sample.

The descriptive statistical analysis revealed that, about 8% of the sampled tourists have selected the Sri Lanka as their tours destination mainly to see the elephants while around 20% tourists arrive to Sri Lanka with an intention of watching elephants. The study revealed that more than 80% tourists like to experience the elephant rides whereas more than 60% tourists prefer experience on the elephant safaris. The average willingness to pay for these activities are 20 US$ and 28 US$ respectively.

The survey carried out with the managers shows that more than 70 % of hotels and accommodations that are located vicinity of the parks have involved in any kind of elephant related activities as keeping elephants for tourism, promotion of elephant related activities and facilitating elephant watching.

Study found that there is a substantial potential in exploit elephants in tourism industry, which will generate more income to the elephant owners thus domestication can be used as one of the means of conservation of endangered elephants in Sri Lanka.

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