Yesterday I spent the day at an elephant sanctuary that rescues formerly mistreated elephants to provide them freedom and healthy happy lives.
Why are they rescued? Well, unfortunately there is a huge problem in SE Asia, especially in Thailand, with elephant attractions. So many shows and riding tours have been created to entertain the massive amount of tourist from all over the world. Sadly these elephants are captured and taken away from their homes and families. They are later tortured and forced into these activities that so many people consider to be entertaining!
After yesterday’s experience I felt inspired to write a short summary of what I have learned about the disturbing and heartbreaking reality of many of these elephants in Asia.
I truly understand that riding an elephant might be a lifelong dream of yours, it used to be one of mine, but hopefully after you read this you will change your mind.
This information has been gathered from several articles I have read over the years and the information we were given yesterday in the sanctuary.
Asian elephants are an endangered species. Experts presume there are now less than 2000 wild elephants living in Thailand and around 12,000 (or more) captive elephants in Asia – many of whom are doomed to a life of torture and suffering.
In 2010, World Animal Protection reported the conditions for captive elephants in Thailand in the report “Wildlife on a Tightrope.” The organization reviewed 1,688 captive elephants in 118 venues across the country, most of which offered elephant rides or shows.
According to the report, more than half of those elephants were in terrible conditions.
These majestic animals are violently kidnapped from their homes and in order to take part in these “touristic activities” they must be tamed. Wild elephants won’t naturally let humans ride on top of them so in order to tame a wild elephant, it is tortured as a baby to force it into obedience.
“Cruelly taken from the wild or bred in captivity,” the Wildlife on a Tightrope report reads, “these elephants are separated from their mothers and family groups at just a few months old. Elephants destined for the tourist industry experience great physical and mental trauma. Isolation, starving, hitting and beating are just some of the methods used to initially break their spirits and get them to behave and perform.” This method is called Phajaan or “crush process.”
There are other equally aggressive methods but I won’t go into detail, I just want you to understand it is absolutely abusive and spirit-breaking for any elephant.
Here is a video that shows the horrors done to these poor elephants
Illegal capture and trade of elephants for use in the tourism industry is a huge problem. Ruthless elephant training has been a traditional practice in Southeast Asia for hundreds of years. The biggest problem nowadays is that most captive elephants are used to entertain foreign visitors rather than for traditional purposes like logging or military use. This cruel industry thrives because countless tourists want to ride elephants or watch them do tricks, paying good money for it.
World Animal Protection conducted another survey in 2014 that found nearly 50 percent of travelers “pay for an animal experience because they love animals.” Most probably those tourists might be shocked to know that in several cases, the animals are being mistreated (to say the least.) This is why it is so important to educate the public on this matter, so I hope that if you read this you share with your friends and family!
** I want to point out that these methods of torture are not limited to elephants. All attractions that involve captive wild animals that are domesticated such as tigers and cobras are equally as horrible!
Fortunately there are wonderful people and groups that have dedicated so much time and energy into rescuing formerly abused elephants giving them a new home where they can be free and hopefully very happy. These intitutions not only rescue the elephants but also seek to educate people around the world about the reality many Asian elephants face with the hope that elephants won’t be ridden, poached, overworked, or abused. These sanctuaries allow visitors to interact with the elephants by feeding them, taking part in their daily bath, and playing with them in the mud. Activities which are fun for both the elephants and the tourists (watch the videos posted below)
The sanctuary I went to, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary, uses the money raised from visits, volunteers, merchandise, and donations to rescue more elephants and provide them with food, veterinary care, and the best infrastructure for them to live in the best conditions possible. Like this one, there are other organizations that do the same.
BUT it is important to thoroughly research which center you might choose. Not all places that claim ethical treatment of the animals really do so. So NO RIDING and NO SHOWS. There is no such thing as ethical riding or elephant shows. Although elephants are extremely smart animals they are not painters or soccer players by nature. Also, you might be surprised to know that despite their magnitude their spines are not made to support the weight of humans!
Being so close to this animals is absolutely magical but don’t ride them or go watch them paint!!! Find a legitimate sanctuary and go feed them, bathe with them and play with them like I did. Be compassionate for these beings and support the movement that sets them free not one that promotes a life of pain and suffering.
I am so grateful for yesterday and I hope more people choose to visit this sanctuary too. It’s so worth it for yourself and the elephants.
Here are some pictures to depict a bit of this unforgettable experience.