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A new report from the NGO World Animal Protection exposes the alarming trends in elephant tourism around Asia, which are expected to worsen when the operators of these places try to recover the income lost from the impact caused by COVID-19.
Today, August 12, marks the World Elephant Day, the world's largest land mammal threatened by the tourism industry, mainly in Asia, along with other acts of cruelty.
Despite the growing demand for 'ethical tourism' and awareness of the anguish caused by elephant rides, the vast majority of these captive animals in Asia continue to suffer permanent cruelty, while living in extremely inappropriate conditions . And unfortunately, this situation is very likely to get worse due to both the number of captive elephants that continue to be raised for the tourism industry, as well as the economic meltdown caused by COVID-19.
Before said disease, It is estimated that the entire captive elephant tourism industry generated between USD 581.3 million to USD 770.6 million in sales per year at the expense of the suffering of these animals. Today, with very few tourists, both the owners and the facilities are going to great lengths to feed their elephants and pay their workers.
Currently, there are more than 3,800 captive elephants in 357 camps throughout the Asian continent. Thailand has three-quarters of these elephants and has seen a shocking 70% increase in these numbers in just 10 years, according to the third edition of the report. Elephants are not merchandise. This, the most recent study, compares research done over the past 10 years on elephant tourism, evaluating locations in Thailand, India, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
India, for example, is home to the second highest number of elephants used for tourism (after Thailand) and to 21 camps housing 509 elephants.. The report found that 45% (225) of these are kept in inadequate conditions. In Sri Lanka, 13 sites housing 188 elephants were assessed, showing an increase of 13% or 22 elephants in captivity since 2015. More elephants are living in unsuitable conditions –24% (46) compared to 22% (36) in 2015.
Tourists must know the truth of what happens when interacting with elephants
Throughout its investigation, the NGO has consistently found extreme cruelty towards captive elephants in all countries. Have witnessed the separation of mothers and their young, harsh training methods, movement restriction, poor nutrition, little or no veterinary care, social deprivation and punishment.
In most tourist facilities, elephants are chained for long periods when not engaged in activities with touristsoften in inappropriate rooms, with concrete floors, and in unsanitary conditions. They generally have little or no social interaction with other elephants and are destined to engage in stressful and exhausting activities that have nothing to do with their natural behavior.
And tourists have unconsciously promoted these cruel practices by being part of small interactions with elephants, such as bathing them and taking photos with them. Research shows that there is a growing awareness of the suffering caused by circus-style shows and elephant rides. However, places that offer bathing spaces for elephants have become very popular in the last five years. and even in Thailand, these sites have tripled. Places that offer these kinds of experiences are also often disguised as sanctuaries and rescue centers, misleading tourists.
The statistics found are terrifying, because reveal that within the countries analyzed, 2,390 (63%) of elephants are suffering and living in deplorable conditions in 208 institutions, and of these, only 279 (7%) live in places with high standards of well-being.
As detailed at the beginning of this note, elephants represent a large percentage of the business for tour operators due to the fact that they offer interactions in shows, walks, baths or exhibition for photographs that seek to be shared on social networks.
Audrey Mealia, Global Director of Wildlife at World Animal Protection states:
“For many tourists, traveling to Asia and not having an encounter with an elephant is inconceivable, be it at a show, on a walk or in a bath. Sadly, these elephant-loving tourists who want to have a once-in-a-lifetime experience are supporting the demand for a huge problem that causes unimaginable suffering that few see, but that occurs behind the scenes. "
“These intelligent and sociable animals are the victims of a trade that exploits them in large numbers. Tourists need to know the truth: any elephant that you can get close enough to touch is an elephant that has been subjected to terrifying abuse. It is not only about the rides or shows in the style of the circuses, but also those opportunities offered by some so-called sanctuaries, orphanages and rescue centers to bathe or take pictures with the elephants. These places are not innocent, they are cruel ”.
The consequences of the pandemic on the lives of elephants
COVID-19 has also shown the close relationship between diseases that can be transmitted from animals to people. Tuberculosis has been documented in both elephants and manhouts (their caregivers), although this risk to human health is rarely publicized.
The change must begin now to protect the elephants of Asia and for a period that gradually:
Due to the stoppage of the industry as a result of the pandemic, many of the camps where the elephants live, were forced to close and lay off their work team, so there were few left to care for these living beings. World Animal Protection has provided funding to 13 camps that have ethical and elephant-friendly practices around Asia to help them get through these difficult times and keep them afloat.
We are all responsible for saving the world's largest land mammal
As a long-term and sustainable solution, the organization advocates a ban on the captive breeding of elephants used for commercial tourism, in order to prevent future generations of these animals from suffering this trauma. Tourists also have some power over this and can move away from unethical practices and choose places where they can see elephants in their natural habitat or support camps with high standards of welfare.
For most elephants, it is not possible to return to freedom, so a royal sanctuary is the best option. These places work only with a model of observation, which also creates jobs and income for locals who want to join as caregivers (manhouts).
World Animal Protection calls on the world, from tourists and governments, to operators in this industry, to take responsibility and end the exploitation of wild animals, forever. If there is less demand, there will be fewer elephants suffering.
The charity also does a call to the G20 leaders to impose a global ban on the wildlife trade and thus eliminate the threats of future pandemics that can affect our health and the economy.
Source: World Animal Protection