Good news for elephants: the travel agency ResponsibleTravel.com has become the latest company to distance itself from the unethical exploitation of elephants for tourism and to pull all promos of trips that include elephant treks or elephant performances.
In Asia, the elephant tourism industry snatches babies from their parents in the wild and breaks their spirits using violent “training” methods – all so that unwitting tourists can ride on their backs or watch them carry out absurd feats, such as playing football or performing in orchestras at elephant camps.
Writing in The Independent last week, Responsible Travel’s co-founder explains:
[U]ntil the tourist demand for elephant-related tourism activities dwindles, the demand for illegally caught, wild elephants will continue. Wild adults are often gunned down so that the baby elephants can be captured and sold into tourist camps. Beforehand they are often “broken in” using horrific techniques, tied up in a cage for several days; deprived of food, water and sleep; beaten, burned and stabbed to beat them into submission. A newly broken-in baby elephant can be worth US$30,000 (£18,000) or more. This is a serious threat to a species which is already greatly endangered.
Sadly, there are no laws or regulations regarding the welfare of captive elephants across Asia. They may be tied up in chains, left without shade and segregated from other elephants, which for a highly intelligent, sociable species is unbearable.
Those used for elephant back rides can suffer damage to their spines, sores on their skin from the equipment and wounds from the bull hooks used by their handlers. Elephant riding is very different to horse riding because the animals have not become domesticated through years of captive breeding. For elephants, all their wild instincts remain, even if they are born in captivity.
Of course, many tourists don’t realise that they’re supporting this horrific and abusive industry. That’s why it’s so important for travel companies to make a clear statement against the cruelty. And if you see other companies promoting elephant trekking, please ask them to change their policy.
To learn more about what happens to elephants in Thailand, check out this eye-opening documentary by Joe Koegh. Anyone who’s fascinated by these majestic animals should consider viewing them in the wild or visiting one of the many sanctuaries that are genuinely involved in conservation efforts to help protect them.