Adventure travel company Intrepid Travel has stopped offering elephant rides and visits to animal entertainment venues on all of its trips.

The move follows three years of research to assess the welfare of captive elephants at entertainment venues in Asia.

The study was conducted by the World Society for the Protection of Animals with the support of the Melbourne-based operator which has worked with the animal charity since 2000.

Asian elephants are highly endangered and tourism demand has led to venues where elephants are forced to do unnatural performances.

The research concludes that this causes pain and suffering to the elephants, and that the tourism industry has added to the number of elephants being poached from the wild.

Intrepid Travel is now encouraging travellers to seek animal-friendly travel options in order to drive industry change.

Company co-founder Geoff Manchester said: “We applaud recent moves in the tourism industry to end elephant rides.

“Responsible travel has been central to how we’ve run Intrepid for 25 years and as an industry we can do more to help protect wild animals from cruelty.

“The issues are complex around animals in captivity, which is why Intrepid has been partnered with WSPA for many years, and has been able to tap into their expertise on animal protection.

“Our focus is on educating people and teaching local communities about animal welfare and environmental conservation.

“While we once included elephant rides or entertainment venue visits, we’re now working with rehabilitation and sanctuary facilities. We hope that the increased patronage to commendable venues like this will help encourage others to lift their standards.”

He added: “Intrepid travellers want to know that their travel choices are not causing harm, and appreciate learning how elephants are cared for without seeing them do unnatural performances,” said Manchester.

WSPA’s Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach said: “Wild animals belong in the wild – not in entertainment. We welcome all progress within the tourism industry towards recognising this fact and taking action to prevent cruelty.

“Helping people to understand the choices they can make whilst travelling can create positive experiences for them and for the animals that they encounter along the way.

“WSPA urges all tour operators to support animal friendly tourism and to help every customer make animal friendly choices when travelling.”