Following the killing of a British tourist by an elephant in Thailand, our Director has spoken out about the wider issues surrounding the use of elephants in tourism. CH5 News has a short clip of this interview, with details of the tragedy; and whilst our thoughts are with the family, the context in which the tragedy happened needs to be highlighted too.
Elephant rides are a popular tourist activity, especially in Thailand, Cambodia, Nepal and other parts of Asia. They are also becoming popular in some regions of Africa. The appeal of elephant treks is clear – the elephant is the largest land mammal, it’s intelligent, social and emotional. In many ways a ride is the equivalent experience to swimming with dolphins. However, like dolphins elephants need to be treated with dignity and respect. Trekking elephants are instead often mistreated and harshly trained, and many people now believe that tourist elephant trekking should be avoided.
Like humans, elephants in the wild socialise, have families and friends, feel pain, happiness and grief. It’s exactly for these reasons that their care is so important. When they are at trekking camps they are often not with other elephants and some end up living solitary lives. Elephants need stimulation, enrichment and the freedom to behave naturally, which they cannot get if they are forced to carry people around all day with a heavy load. They need a gentle, minimal amount of exercise per day for their physical and mental health.
In many places the local people don’t even get much of what the tourists pay, as the money goes to businesses that make the arrangements such as the hotels, travel agents and guides, rather than to the person who owns and cares for the elephant.
While the process of training elephants (Phajaan) is demonstrably cruel and barbaric and must be stopped, there are a couple of issues which complicate any call for an outright ban: firstly we need to make sure that the alternatives to trekking are not even more harmful to the elephants, and secondly we must not threaten initiatives where elephant trekking is helping conserve animals that are even more endangered, such as tigers and rhinos. For more information read Should I ride and elephant.
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