Report found that 16 out of 25 attractions, including dolphin tours, assessed did not meet standards set by UK travel industry trade body.

FOR many tourists, riding on an elephant or swimming with dolphins is the high point of a once-in-a-lifetime holiday.

But the excursions are under threat after one of the country’s biggest tour operators stopped selling tickets for some attractions amid concerns of shocking welfare standards.

Thomas Cook commissioned a report which found 16 out of 25 attractions it assessed did not meet standards set by UK travel industry trade body Abta.

Elephants were revealed to have been held captive by heavy chains and performing tricks, while dolphins had terrible skin damage. The crackdown could widen as the audit, by assessment company Global Spirit, is due to continue – assessing all 90 captive animal attractions Thomas Cook sells tickets to. The move will be costly, as the firm receives commission for ticket sales.

But chief executive Peter Fankhauser told the Sunday Times: ‘By taking these attractions off sale, we are sending a message that we won’t accept anything less than full compliance with the welfare standards our customers would expect.’

Whale and Dolphin Conservation said: ‘We are delighted Thomas Cook appears to be taking this seriously. Many other travel companies are not.’ The attractions named by Thomas Cook, including Ocean World in the Dominican Republic and elephant rides by Baan Chang tours on Koh Samui, Thailand, did not respond to requests for a comment.