Elephant rides may sound like an idyllic travel experience, but behind the scenes is often animal abuse and a heartbreaking situation. Here’s what you need to know to make an informed decision…
The number of elephant attractions in Asia has increased significantly over the years to fuel the demand for entertainment and tourists’ desires to have a unique animal encounter.
However, the dark side of this industry is not always so obvious.
Some venues market themselves as having a strong conservation agenda, but this is not always the case. Since there are no official welfare standards that have to be adhered to, many of these ‘sanctuaries’ or ‘conservation camps’ are simply tourist attractions offering rides and performances with elephants that have been poached from the wild.
World Elephant Day (12 August; worldelephantday.org) highlights the facts about elephant tourism so you can make an informed decision.
For instance, did you know that…
- The Asian elephant is endangered with numbers rapidly declining in the wild; of all remaining Asian elephants, one in three are in captivity.
- If an elephant is performing tricks or trekking around with tourists strapped to its back it has been ‘broken in’ to accept human control.
There is much evidence that this process is exceptionally cruel, including deprivation of food, water, sleep, space and shelter, as well as brutal acts.
- The cultural practice of mahouting (driving an elephant) should not be an excuse for cruelty.
Bullhooks and prods can be used to train and control the elephants, causing awful wounds and instilling fear in the animal to perform.
- Elephants’ spines can’t support the weight of humans, let alone the bulky chair (or howdah) that the tourists sit in.
Long days of carting tourists around can damage the spine, stunt growth, cause pressure sores and affect organs.
There are, however, a number of reputable elephant sanctuaries helping to rescue and rehabilitate these majestic animals in a natural and safe environment.