Asian elephants’ cruel condition shows the dark side of wildlife tourism

 Friday, July 7, 2017

wildlife tourismThousands of elephants are tamed and used for tourism and entertainment across Asia.  With a huge demand in the popularity of elephant tourism, this is helping to fuel a rise in elephants captured from the wild and kept for entertainment as shown by World Animal Protection (WAP). Three out of four elephants surveyed in southeast Asia’s popular tourist destinations are kept in cruel, abusive condition and are then used for rides for tourists.



The scale of suffering experienced by elephants is “severe”, according to the animal rights NGO which assessed almost 3,000 elephants living in 220 venues in Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal and Sri Lanka, and India between mid 2014 and late 2016. Three out of four elephants surveyed in southeast Asia’s popular tourist destinations are living in harsh conditions where they are being used for rides, with mostly steel or wooden saddles, and tied in chains less than three metres long.



About 77% of the captive elephants surveyed in the report shows that the elephants are chained day and night when not being used for entertainment purposes. Also, they are not allowed to have any social contact with the other elephants. The elephants live on poor diet; neither have any proper veterinary care. They are often exposed to loud music and a large number of tourists which are stressful for the animals.


Elephants are intelligent, socially developed animals, which form complex hierarchies within herds. But in captivity elephants are forced to unnaturally submit to humans; they have been found to live shorter lives, experience behavioural problems, are more likely to develop chronic diseases and are less likely to reproduce.


More than 160 travel companies committed to stop selling tickets to or promoting venues offering elephant rides and shows. TripAdvisor, in 2016 announced that it would end the sale of tickets for wildlife experiences where tourists come in to direct contact with wild animals, including elephant riding.


Despite the conservation efforts, Thailand saw a rise of about 30% increase in the elephant entertainment venues. They are used everywhere from circus performances to riding or bathing with elephants.  This coincides with the growing number of foreign visitors to Thailand which reached 32.6 million last year – a rise of 9% from 2015.


Chiara Vitali, a wildlife expert at World Animal Protection said that elephant tourism remains popular because it can be “a hidden form of cruelty”.

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