Pioneering The Ethical Elephant Safari In Nepal with Tiger Tops

Regenerative Travel had the opportunity to speak with hotelier Jack Edwards, and learn how, in a twist of fate, his father, the late Jim Edwards, pioneered Nepal’s first ethical elephant safari camp, Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, and how conservation efforts persevere there today. 

Along with managing everyday resort operations, Jack, the current Director of Tiger Tops, also oversees his father’s continued legacy of connecting their guests to ethical animal encounters through a unique elephant safari experience. Tiger Tops undertakes conservation initiatives, defends animal welfare, mitigates environmental effects, and engages the local community, successfully illustrating how tourism can provide the vehicle for funds and engagement that are needed to protect these wild spaces and endangered animals. The guest experience is further enhanced knowing every encounter is authentic with sustainability and conservation at front of mind. 

Elephant Safari

Your family has an interesting history as to how you moved to Nepal. Can you give us the backstory on how you and your family ended up there and owning the Regenerative Resort, Tiger Tops?

Dreaming of seeing more of the world, my father Jim drove overland from Stockholm with the aim of reaching Melbourne, Australia for a Saab marketing initiative. After traversing Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, he reached Delhi where he met Prince Basundhara, who was the brother of the King of Nepal. Prince Basundhara invited Jim to the kingdom in May of 1962. After numerous fishing and hunting trips with the prince, he fell in love with the country and decided to stay.

In 1964 Jim met Charles (Chuck) McDougal, an American anthropologist turned wildlife ecologist, and together they started the first wildlife tourism company, Nepal Wildlife Adventure which operated fishing and hunting expeditions. 

A few years later, Jim heard of Tiger Tops Jungle Lodge, a small hunting camp in the southern jungles that was failing. Jim and Chuck bought the company in 1971, ceasing all hunting activities, and turning it into the famous conservation tourism model that we see today. He raised four children here, of which I am the youngest, and he continued to live in Nepal until his death in 2009.

I was raised both in Kathmandu and the jungle, later being sent to boarding school in the UK to further my education. After 5 years in financial services in Singapore, I was asked by the family to return to Nepal to help run the business.

Elephant Safari

You were raised within the Chitwan National Park and surrounding areas. Elephants were (and still are) a part of your daily life. Did you always know you’d be working within the conservation sphere? Could you imagine yourself doing anything else?

I studied zoology at university so I have always had a very keen interest in the natural world. Though, having completed my tertiary education, I wanted to gain exposure in the corporate world to obtain greater business experience. I was given a great opportunity at Rothschild & Co in Singapore, where I stayed for 5 years. However, during this time, I always yearned to return to the jungle and, luckily, the opportunity arose in 2017 to come back to Nepal.

Elephant Safari

Tiger Tops allows guests to connect with the animals in a more personalized, profound, and unobtrusive way through its elephant safari experience. What exactly does this mean for the guest experience, and how does it compare to other local tours and excursions?

At Tiger Tops we offer two different animal encounters. The first is our immersive elephant safari experience which allows guests to interact with our domestic herd of elephants which live at our Tharu Lodge. The second is the traditional wildlife viewing at our lodges in both Chitwan and Bardia National Parks.

With regards to our elephant safari experiences, we are the only lodge in Nepal that offers these interactions, where guests can immerse themselves in the daily routines of our herd in their natural habitat. Most other elephant sanctuaries in Asia don’t have the ability to take their elephants into their natural environment. These experiences really stand us apart from our competition.

Regarding our elephant safari experiences, we are the oldest safari lodge in South Asia. With over 50 years of experience in the jungles of Nepal, we believe our naturalists are second to none in their knowledge of our jungles. This depth of experience and knowledge is very hard to replicate. It is this knowledge that is translated into exceptional safaris for our guests. 

Elephant Safari

What are conservation tourism efforts like in Nepal? Over the years, have you noticed collective steps towards more ethical and authentic approaches to animal tourism and conservation?

Over the years, since our company’s inception, there has been a proliferation in wildlife tourism operations in Nepal. The government, to date, has done a good job in protecting the wildlife that exists in our parks as well as promoting community-based conservation through the community run buffer zone system. With regards to tourism entrepreneurs, there is a very large disparity between organizations when it comes to sustainability and conservation. There needs to be greater regulation from the governmental and tourism bodies as well as the private sector to ensure our wild spaces are protected effectively in the long term.

Regarding Animal welfare, it is such a new and poorly understood issue here in Nepal. I hope other lodges and elephant owners invest more in the welfare of their animals.

Elephant Safari

Where do you see Tiger Tops and sustainable tourism within Nepal heading in the next decade? 

Nepal has incredible potential in the sustainability and conservation tourism space. There are some talented and ambitious individuals in the industry. I hope that together we can harness this potential and position Nepal as a leader in sustainability in the region. With regards to Tiger Tops, we want to continue to innovate and further develop this responsible tourism ethos that we have shaped over the last 50 years.

Following a year of closure due to COVID-19 Tharu lodge is now reopening to single groups of 6 or more adults at any one time with a 24hr deep clean between groups. Ideal for families and groups of friends who want a true, exclusive jungle experience with an emphasis on your safety and well-being. Please get in touch with us as [email protected].

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