Elephant tourism? We need to change. We need to take responsibility and make smart decisions when it comes to using animals in the tourist industry. World Animal Protection just released a report on Elephants used in tourism in Asia. It’s time for us to open our eyes and take action!
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Elephants in tourism
I’m writing this in all honesty. I will not put blame on others and lie about my own history. Mini and I have both taken part in this industry. The thing is that we didn’t know better. And sometimes I think that we tried to tell ourselves that we were doing something good for the people in the country. “If we pay for this elephant ride, the locals get money”. Since then we know better and try to do the right thing. But that does not always mean that we succeed. Before I get into the World Animal Protection’s result of the report, I want to share something with you – all the times we have been part of elephant tourism.
Because it has happened and it might still happen if we don’t all take our responsibility!
Elephant sanctuary does not always mean no rides!
We have visited several sanctuaries. Some of them have been great – like the one in South Africa where we got to learn a lot about the elephants and they did not offer any rides while we were there. We got to walk with the elephants when they were going out to the forest. This was at “Knysna Elephant Park” and we got to visit the elephants on their own turf.
In Sri Lanka, we visited two different sanctuaries. Both of them were sanctuaries and orphanages but they felt more like tourist attractions. At another place, they offered elephant rides. It was supposed to be in the jungle – in their own environment. The elephant was walking on asphalt along a fairly big road! It was horrible and awful!!!!
Elephants in Thailand
Thailand is famous for offering rides on elephants and taking pictures with baby elephants. We felt that we couldn’t pretend to see the wrongfulness done to this elephant. I pointed out that it was wrong. The guide tried to convince me that the elephant was happy and that was why he was doing tricks for us. At one place they had elephant rides in the jungle. The thing is that it wasn’t a jungle. It was a place where elephants were walking in terrible terrain and had laughing tourists on their back.
We thought that we had made it. That our trip to Thailand had survived without us engaging in this kind of tourism. On our last day… we wanted to see a show and we had heard about the “Fantasea” show in Phuket. On the poster, I could see elephants and I asked the women at the tourist office if they had elephants in the show. She said No. – The elephants are just for the poster. The show is different! So, we bought the tickets. Turned out that they have elephants in the show. If we had done our research we wouldn’t have missed that. But it’s always easy to be clever after the fact! Right!
Change our ways!
We have been a part of this horrible industry. But we are wiser now and I do hope that we will not end up at places like that again. It’s embarrassing to admit that we have placed ourselves in situations like that before. But most of us make mistakes we just have to own up to them. The best tip we can give you is to see elephants in the wild. Do your research before you visit sanctuaries or orphanages. Many of them are tourist traps and not a good place for the animals. Thank God for The World Animal Protection and for the information they provide us with. They do teach us so much and open our eyes to how animals are treated for our amusement.
Elephant tourism report from the World Animal Protection
Reading the report is just as important as it is scary and sad. In total, the research documents almost 3 000 elephants that are used in the tourism industry in Asia. In total, they have looked at 220 different places in Thailand, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India. The study was made by the end of 2014 until the middle of 2016. The study was called Taken for a ride and shows that three out of four elephants are living under unacceptable conditions. All of the elephants are in places that offer elephant rides for tourists.
Of the countries that were looked at, Thailand has about 3/4 of all the elephants in captivity for tourism in Asia. Since 2010 the number of elephants in tourism in Thailand has gone up by 30 percent. There are a lot of people traveling to Thailand and taking part in the elephant tourism.
A lot of tourists exploit the elephants
The study also shows that there are a lot of places that have more than 1 000 visitors per day. The elephants are forced to carry the tourists around and interact with them. These places are also some of the worst for the wellbeing of the animals but also for the caretakers of the elephants (mahouts).
Over 2 000 of the elephants that were included in the study are used for daily rides or shows. Often the suffering is very big for these animals. And it doesn’t stop there. When the elephants are not working they are often chained. Those chains are often shorter than 3 meters and that is not enough! They are also not given the proper food or care and are often kept on concrete or on places that cause them stress – like places close to loud music or on the side of the roads.
Elephants are smart animals
Being taken at a young age from their mother causes these elephants a lot of trauma. They are forced to perform and carry tourists around and they are often put through a rough training process. The training breaks them down and is horrible.
In some cases, the elephants were kept under better circumstances. 487 elephants in Asia had it better than the rest of the elephants in the study. However, it was still not good enough. The elephants had shorter workdays and did not have to have sadels while having tourists on their backs. Only 194 elephants in 13 different places have a good life. There are no rides offered and no performances. The elephants walk freely during the day and tourist can see them in their own environment.
This needs to stop!
Even if 173 elephants have it somewhat better compared to 2010 in Thailand it’s not enough. We need to open our eyes and put an end to it. Only when we stop to put our money into this industry there will be a change. This change has not started yet. Many tourists are unfortunately still taking part in this horrible industry.
We must act to this facts and take the study done by World Animal Protection seriously. They are working to end the suffering for the elephants and want it all to stop! They also want to find better options for the elephants while this industry is being phased out.
The result of the study – guidelines:
The report came up with several guidelines that can be used to ensure a positive development for the elephants used in the industry. These guidelines are:
- Encourage elephant friendly entertainment.
- Take the tourism away from the worst activities like elephant shows and elephant rides and direct them to more humane alternatives.
- Develop a set of elephant-friendly tourist standards.
- Improve the conditions for elephants that are kept in captivity.
- Stop the poachers and prevent the elephants from being taken from the wild and into captivity.
- Ensure a registration process for all the elephants in captivity.
- Restrict breeding in captivity to establishments with true environmental protection.
- Respect the local culture and address the needs of mahouts and other people who work with elephants by offering them alternative ways of living.
Read more on World Animal Protections Website.