A young elephant at a venue in Thailand. They are used as a backdrop for selfies, ridden and forced to entertain tourists by playing football, painting, riding tricycles, throwing darts and dancing–
BANGKOK – An animal protection group wants tourists to know – that elephant you are thinking about riding during your vacation in Thailand is probably a miserable victim of abuse.
London-based World Animal Protection says its survey of almost 3,000 elephants working in entertainment venues in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and India found that three out of four are living in poor and unacceptable conditions.
These include being chained on a short leash day and night when not working, inadequate diets and unsatisfactory veterinary care, as well as a harsh initial training regimen to make them docile enough to ride and perform.
The group encourages tourist awareness of the problem and counsels tour agencies to shun abusive animal entertainment venues, among other measures.
Daniel Turner, Associate Director for Tourism at Born Free told the BBC: “Riding an elephant still features on many people’s bucket list when visiting Asia and, more recently, Africa. While some may consider riding on top of the largest land mammal to be a cultural experience that holds an air of romance, few recognise that this practice actually significantly compromises the welfare of these magnificent animals and potentially places people at risk.
“Riding or interacting with captive elephants, swimming with dolphins, walking with lions, or cuddling a tiger cub for a photo – these are just some of the many worrying tourism excursions and activities involving animals. All can impact on the welfare of the animals involved, and risk people’s safety.”
The World Animal Protection (WAP) report says that there are a small but growing number of venues where elephants are kept in more humane conditions. They call themselves “rescue centres” or “sanctuaries”. In Thailand they are mostly in the north, near Chiang Mai. The report concludes that the way forward is to support and replicate these places – where people are kept far enough away just to observe.
Thailand is also making moves to help improve the conditions of captive elephants. In 2016, it set up an elephant database, and has strengthened the policing of its border with Myanmar.