Asia’s Elephant Tourism Perpetuates Animal Cruelty

Businesses in Asia have often justified so-called elephant tourism by arguing that the industryábenefits elephants and helps safeguard this endangered animal. But new researcháshows that elephant tourism is actually rife with cruelty.

The survey, conducted by internationally recognized animal welfare groupáWorld Animal Protection, found that three out of every four elephants recorded at elephant tourism sites across Asia lived in what the group describes asá”harsh” conditions.

In total, 80 percent of theá3,000 elephants examined atáentertainment sites in Cambodia, India, Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Thailand endured sometimes squalid living conditions. Many were also used to provide rides for tourists, forcedáto wear poorly-fitting steel or wooden saddles andátied to very short chains when not ináuse.

Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection,áexplained:

The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing – we want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life.

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.

A major issue for elephant tourism is that host countries often bill the industry as a force for conservation. The Asian elephant isáunder threat, with as fewáas 50,000 wild elephants remaining across the entirety of Asia — due in large part to habitat loss and poaching.

But, in reality, the elephant entertainment industry oftenátakes baby elephants from the wild and puts them through stressful training — known to outsiders as “the crush.”áIn order to ensure that the massive animals can be controlled when they are older, the processáusually entailsádeveloping the elephants’áfear responses and keeping them heavily tied up.

In fact, 77 percent of the captive elephants recorded in this research spend their days and nightsáchained up whenever they weren’t being used for shows or tourist rides. They were also forced to endureáhighly solitary conditions which, for social beings like elephants, goes against their most basic needs.

The research revealed that, despite what many elephant tourism businesses claim, few elephants hadáaccess to the varied dietáthey need to remaináhealthy in captivity. And few had access to proper veterinary care.

While animal tourism businesses may insistáthat it is in their best interest to ensure that their elephants are well cared for, the reality is that this simply isn’t the case.

And ináelephant tourism in Thailand, where the industryáhas grown over the past ten years, remainsáincredibly concerning.

To give you an idea of what “elephant tourism” actually entails, UK singer and entertainer Alesha Dixon traveled to Thailand for World Animal Protection to experience an elephant show for herself. The footage she and the WAP team captured includes elephants performing balancing tricks that are not part of their natural behavior.

These scenes may be distressing, but the video also highlights the good work that WAP-associated sanctuaries are doing to help elephants in the region:

What can we do to stop elephant tourism?

In the West, we can pressure tourism agencies to stop carrying advertisements for any packages that either directly endorse elephant tourism excursions or facilitate them as part of broader holiday experiences. These efforts are especially crucial, given the direct link between Thailand’s tourism growtháover the past decadeáand a rise in elephant tourism sites.

In terms of elephant conservation, we must urgeálegislatorsáto ban this form of tourism andáensure that those who are employed by the industry canátransition to work atáelephant sanctuaries. After all, similaráinitiatives have proven to be successful in Africa.áWith proper funding and oversight, theseáefforts could help repurpose cruel tourist operations into conservation projectsáthat actually help Asia’s enigmatic elephants.

Photo credit: Thinkstock.

78 comments

heather g
heather g4 months ago

I wonder why tourists don't ever question elephant treatment. You can watch parents taking their kids to a pet store selling animals or to a zoo and witness this lack of mindfulness and unquestioning behaviour.

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Margie FOURIE
Margie FOURIE4 months ago

Very sad.

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Carl R
Carl R4 months ago

Thanks!!!

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Chris C
Chris C4 months ago

Thank you for sharing

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cynthia l
cynthia l4 months ago

Stop this insanity

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Ruth G
Ruth G4 months ago

DISGUSTING !I AM SICK OF SEEING THESE MAGNIFICENT INTELLIGENT ANIMALS ABUSED & ILL TREATED IN THESE IGNORANT ASIAN COUNTRIES!THEIR HOLIDAY INDUSTRY NEEDS BOYCOTTING BY MILLIONS UNTIL THIS CRUELTY STOPS!

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Jaime J
Jaime J4 months ago

Thank you

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Ruth C
Ruth C4 months ago

Animal abuse should not be tolerate!

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maria r
maria reis4 months ago

The ignorance is terrible. When will we learn????

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Terri S
Terri S4 months ago

Human ignorance never fails to amaze me and sadly, it's not always ignorance. Most of the time, it's lack of compassion.

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