Each year, millions of tourists come to Thailand seeking a chance to get up close and personal with Asian elephants in hope of getting as close as possible to these mesmerizing mammals; close enough to touch, take photos or enjoy the entertainment of a show. Their appeal is understandable – they are impressive to look at, have a majestic and calm appearance. This ‘experience’ is unnatural to the elephants though travellers often believe these excursions are a normal and acceptable tourist activity.
This façade covers up the cruelties within the Thailand elephant trade. As World Animal Protection reports in their, “checking out of cruelty” report, it is necessary to break the will of an elephant first, in a very brutal way before they will ‘perform’ for the benefit of their handlers and tourists. Elephant handlers have realized that this method is especially effective in young elephants, forcing separation with their mother. This separation is highly traumatizing – for both mother and baby. Elephants raised in such abusive environments face permanent stress, brought about by a fear of physical pain and a life outside their natural environment. A lack of space to freely run around in and an insufficient supply of food and medical care increase the risk of illness. Elephants are incredible social so an imprisoned life, chained to a concrete floor, leads to ongoing pain, solitude and fear.
Today, animal protection laws regulating elephant handling are insufficient and it’s a tragic fact that elephant trainers join this entertainment industry due to a lack of education and job alternatives. But there are care alternatives and these require your support:
Elephant sanctuaries provide fantastic care for elephants who have suffered abuse or become ill. Developing and maintaining an animal sanctuary requires extensive knowledge about the life of elephants. Animals living here may be suffering from illnesses or have been held illegally. They may have been bound by physical restraints or forced to work in the entertainment industry.
Sanctuaries exist in a number of countries, including the sanctuary volunteers attend in Gapforce’s Thailand Adventure and Southeast Asia programs. During the day, sanctuary elephants can usually be seen wandering around freely, by night they are brought back to the surrounding forests. In these sanctuaries, elephants get the kind of support they need, and in natural surroundings. Volunteers may help with preparing and helping with feedings, monitoring behaviour and identifying abnormalities and maintaining the sanctuary to provide a healthy surrounding. Sanctuaries also act as education centres for locals and tourists, raising awareness and sowing seeds of behaviour change.
There are other animals that can similarly be abused in the name of tourism, so if you are planning a trip and offered some sort of experience with wild animals think first about whether they are cruelty free and look out for bona fide sanctuaries where you can truly help these animals to enjoy the rest of their lives.
The World Animal Protection has a great guideline: “If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with the wild animal, the chances are it’s a cruel venue. Don’t go.”
p.s. You can help further by only sharing photos of you with animals that genuinely show the work you are doing with them. For example, you may be helping to tag them for research, or feeding them as part of your animal care duties. This will help others to understand the context of your contact with them so that you don’t come across as tourist who is paying for a selfie with animals who may be drugged or have suffered cruelty.
Article edited from an original Gapforce Blog