World Animal Protection Tackles Elephant Exploitation In Asian Tourism Economy

(3BL Media/Justmeans) – Animal welfare global NGO has published a new report highlighting the grueling conditions in which elephants exploited in tourist settings in Asia are kept. The problem concentrates in areas where elephants are used for rides and performances offered as tourist attractions.

The report reveals that more than 75 percent of a total of 3,000 Asian elephants, an endangered species, are living in degrading conditions. Apart from a heavy work routine, the pachyderms are typically chained day and night with chains that often do not reach ten feet in length. Their diets are poor, they get limited vet care and have to live on concrete floors in stressful locations near loud music, roads or visitor groups.

To compile the report, World Animal Protection looked into the conditions endured by these animals in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Nepal, India, Laos and Cambodia. Thailand concentrates most elephants in this business, with twice as many elephants in tourism as all other Asian countries combined. The intensification of tourism in that country, which receives 32.6 million visitors every year (up from 15.9 million in 2010), has led to an increase in the number of animals used, from 1,688 to 2,198 in the same period.

Elephants are highly intelligent animals and the conditions do not take into account their needs, besides the trauma of being separated from their mothers at an early age, well before the age of 17 or 18 when they enter adulthood. Following the traumatic separation, they receive harsh training regimes aimed at breaking their spirits so they are submissive enough to give rides and perform.

“Some venues in that country receive thousands of visitors every days, with profits running into thousands of dollars per month. There is an urgent need for tourist education and regulation of wildlife tourist attractions worldwide. Venues that offer tourists a chance to watch elephants in genuine sanctuaries are beacons of hope that can encourage the urgently needed shift in the captive elephant tourism industry,” Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, Global Wildlife and Veterinary Advisor at World Animal Protection, said in a statement.

In fact, a handful of venues across Asia strive to provide excellent welfare for their elephants and meet elephant-friendly conditions, Dr. Schmidt-Burbach tells Justmeans. “One key aspect of these venues is that they have moved away from frequent direct interaction between visitors and elephants,” he adds.

The NGO suggests that humane and sustainable alternative livelihoods would benefit both humans and elephants. “We recognize how crucial this is and are talking to government departments, organizations, communities and individuals to offer advice about how to develop local solutions.”

A case in point: the dancing bears in India. The organization worked with local communities and directed them towards alternative livelihoods. Its alternative livelihood work with the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI) was 100 percent successful with more than 50 Kalandars (traditional bear dancing owners) surrendering their bears and changing the way they earn their living, to other activities such as running bakeries, shops and taxi businesses, among others. The organization is also working to secure alternative livelihoods for bear owners through its work aimed at ending bear baiting and dancing in Pakistan.

The elephant campaign goes back to 2005. Public perception is shifting, according to a 2017 study, which shows a nine percent drop in the number of tourists who find it acceptable compared to three years ago, down from 53 percent to 44 percent.

The reality is that most tourists actually love wild animals and are not aware of the abuse behind the scenes. For those who truly love animals, the NGO has one piece of advice: “The best place to see an elephant is in the wild, or in the next best place, a genuine elephant sanctuary.

To read the full report, please follow this link.

Image credit: World Animal Protection