Vacation time! Animal lovers the world over choose their travel destinations to include up-close and personal wildlife experiences. There are plenty of options. Today it is important more than ever to be educated and vigilant about what our tourism money is funding.
Thailand- Tourists come to Thailand for the opportunity of close encounters with the elephants. Cute baby elephants on the beach, riding elephants through the trees, getting photos taken with them for vacation memories to display on the mantel at home. Yet this image of the gentle giants is cruelly deceptive. Some places even hide behind the guise of being sanctuaries or conservancies leaving people with the impression they are in fact helping the animals.
The Thai tourism industry is actually fueling the illegal trade in baby elephants and is responsible for the death and diminishing numbers of their species. Taken from the wild in Burma, they are beaten, starved and tortured with the intention of breaking their spirits in order to remain docile for the tourists.
At least 50-100 babies are ripped away from their families every year. It is estimated that for every calf taken, there are 5 adult females and adolescent elephants from the baby’s immediate family who are slaughtered-gunned down in cold blood-so the baby can be easily taken.
They are “trained” to “play” with the tourists on the beach or in the water, provide rides, perform tricks, and are even dressed in ridiculous outfits to humanize them. This takes place in resorts. One resort “The Golden Triangle Elephant Camp and Resort” who claims to help with elephant conservation, advertises the opportunity to learn to “drive” an elephant or for a little extra you can learn how to be a mahout trainee and command them. Then there’s always elephant yoga.
It’s not just the resorts. Babies are also being used by individuals in the city. They are forced by their owners to live and work in an urban environment, roaming the streets begging tourists for money. They teach the babies tricks, give photo opportunities, and even sell over priced fruit to passers-by so they may feed the animals.
Elephants are not designed for concrete jungles. This is why in zoos and in the situation of city living, they suffer from foot problems, sunstroke, dehydration, gastric and respiratory problems. In addition, there is always the complication of traffic; at one point there were up to 20 elephants a month being involved in traffic accidents. There are many who simply collapse on the street, and one even fell into a manhole.
So how do you know if a resort is safe or animal friendly? Bottom line-if what the elephants are doing is not something they do in the wild, it’s wrong. They do not provide rides for anyone, or paint or do tricks or pose for photos. By giving these people your money, you might as well be holding the bullhook that beats the animals into submission. Please be aware of where you go and keep the elephants safe.