Time to end cruel use of elephants as tourist drawcard

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 December, 2017, 9:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 December, 2017, 10:33pm

The recent killing of a Thai elephant owner, crushed by the animal in its trunk, is tragic but also highlights why elephants should not be used in tourism.

Elephant rides are appealing to tourists and visitors but there is a dark side to elephant tourism that people are not aware of. Taming a wild elephant involves ripping baby elephants away from their mothers and squeezing them into a small space, where movement is severely restricted.

These intelligent animals are then repeatedly tortured to break their mind, body and spirit. This involves repeated beatings and stabbings with bull hooks, to starving and deprivation of sleep for days. Scars and injuries from bull hooks and chains are often visible.

These abuses suffered by the elephants have prompted international animal groups and celebrities to voice their opposition to elephant tourism. The renowned French animal activist Brigitte Bardot has even written to the Malaysian environment minister to release Lasah, a 37-year-old elephant used for rides in Langkawi, to an elephant sanctuary.

Elephants are not designed for carrying people on their backs all day which can lead to permanent spinal injuries.

The chair, or howdah, on the elephant’s back can cause injury due to the constant rubbing by the contraption causing blisters that can get infected. Constant walking causes wear and tear on the elephants’ feet, infections and chronic joint problems.

Many elephants suffer from distress and boredom from lack of stimulation, enrichment and the inability to express natural behaviour, as often seen in their repetitive swaying from side to side, and pacing. They are often chained up and living solitary lives in inadequate conditions.

The hunt for calves to feed the booming elephant tourism industry can result in the death of up to five adult elephants as the herd tries to protect its young. Calves may die as a result of separation from their mother, or the cruel training procedures. Scientists estimate that between 50 and 100 young elephants are captured each year in Myanmar alone and then smuggled to Thailand where there is money to be made.

The demand for elephants has also resulted in the organised illegal trade of wild animals in countries in Asia.

It is high time a ban was imposed on Asian countries engaged in the cruel elephant tourism industry.

S M Mohd Idris, president,

Sahabat Alam Malaysia/Friends of the Earth Malaysia