Animal Welfare and Tourism in Thailand (& most of Asia)

This post is very dear to my heart, and it something that I wish I had read about more before my trip to Thailand. You have probably seen the pictures all over social media of people  with exotic animals ranging from elephants, tigers, snakes, and smaller animals such as pangolins and lorises, birds, etc...but at what cost to the animals did those pictures come?

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I am an animal lover, that is for sure. However, I am also a promoter of education and I believe that zoos and places like Sea World really do have the animals welfare at heart. The regulations within the United States ensure that animals are taken care of to a pretty high degree. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for other countries especially in places like Southeast Asia. Admittedly, I do not know the laws protecting animals in Thailand, but I do know that they are hard to enforce and that government corruption is an issue. 

Although these issues are not limited to Thailand, you can read about the Facts and Myths of Wildlife tourism here from the Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand (WFFT).

A ONCE IN A LIFETIME EXPERIENCE FOR YOU IS A LIFETIME OF PAIN FOR THEM.

DO NOT SUPPORT ANIMAL CRUELTY. WHAT CAN YOU DO TO HELP?

• DO NOT have photos with wild animals being used as photo props, go to animal shows or visit elephant camps or tiger temples/petting zoos.

• DO your research! Only visit rescue and rehab centers.

• DO NOT purchase animal souvenirs, including snake or tiger wine, bush meat, or ivory and other animal products. When the buying stops the killing stops too.

• DO tell family and friends. Write a story for your local newspaper back home, describing your experience in Thailand, ensuring our homepages www.wfft.org and www.wildlifevolunteer.org are mentioned.
— Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand

Of course I wanted to see elephants while I was in Thailand, and it was mentioned in the Chiang Mai area in the Lonely Planet guidebook.  One of the facilities mentioned in the book was the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC) that is located just outside of Chiang Mai. It is the place that I thought was the best to go in order to not contribute to animal cruelty. According to their website, the TECC was founded in 1993 under Royal Patronage, it is Thailand's only government owned elephant camp. They pride themselves on making the elephant experience accessible and affordable, and are often visited by Thai school children. They promote a few different conservation efforts to increase the wellbeing and care of Thailand's elephants, which you can read about here.

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Personally I felt that the center was exactly as they describe themselves on their website. Courtney and I were some of the only obvious tourists visiting, and the workers actually asked us how we had heard about them and why we chose to visit them. They told us that they don't usually get many tourists because it is kind of off the beaten path, we had to take a local bus and get off at a stop given to us by our tourist information lady, otherwise we would have been lost for sure. 

It costs 200 Baht for admission, which if I recall includes admission to the elephant show, otherwise it is an additional 200 Baht for that. It is also 500 Baht for two people to ride an elephant for 30 minutes. 

Courtney got to play basketball against an elephant and we watched them paint different things~ one elephant painted elephants!! It was awesome to see. 

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Here is where I am conflicted and feel guilty, but we did ride an elephant for 30 minutes. Since coming home from Thailand I have been informed that ALL elephants that are ridden and trained to paint, etc. undergo horrible torture to essentially break their spirits. 

There are many sites that go into detail about the process and this is what the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has to say about it : 

 

Elephant’s mistreatment
The majority of Thai elephants work in the tourism and entertainment industry. Unfortunately, very few companies treat their elephants ethically, or with the respect they deserve, instead viewing them simply as a profitable business asset. Work includes tourist rides, logging and circus activities.

At riding camps, elephants are made to carry people for as much as 6 hours per day, every day. When elephants are not carrying tourists, they are tied up. This restricts them from eating and cooling down which wears them down due to the strong heat of Thailand. The mahouts force the elephants to carry people by hitting them with bull hooks causing bleeding, wounds and aggression. There have been cases in Thailand where elephants have cracked and killed their mahouts.
This type of strenuous lifestyle shortens the elephants’ lives. This increases the rate at which the species is dying out.
WHY TO NOT RIDE AN ELEPHANT
Elephants’ spines are not like horses (3). Their spines are designed to carry weight below, not from above. Instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine. These bony protrusions and the tissue protecting them are vulnerable to weight and pressure coming from above.
THIS IS WHY RIDING CAUSES SERIOUS LONG TERM HARM.
In order for an elephant to be ridden, it needs to be put through a ritual called Phajaan.

PHAJAAN
This ritual that is practiced in Thailand by tribes and has been around for hundreds of years.it can best be described as “Crushing” an elephants spirit. This is the process in which a baby elephant is separated from its mother and is tied down in such a way that it cannot sit, lay down, move or turn around. Over the course of a few days the baby elephant is not given water or food, constantly being beaten, burned or even stabbed. They torture the elephants continually, doing damage to the ears and doing terrible unimaginable things to their trunks. Half of the elephants that go through this process don’t survive, the others get mean and aggressive during. During this process the elephant screams, yells and once the tribe people feel the baby elephant has had its spirit broken, it will have nothing left to do but submit, listen and learn what the masters are trying to teach it.

Here is a video of the Ritual -https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L0xSuUXRHnE


IT IS PEOPLES DEMAND FOR ELEPHANT RIDES THAT LEADS TO MORE BABY ELEPHANT GETTING CAPTURED FROM THEIR MOTHERS, TORTURED AND SOLD OFF TO ENTERTAIN PEOPLE.

At elephant jungle sanctuary we are giving them a place to live free from danger or harm. We keep our elephants together as a family. We don’t torture our elephants in order to train them because to us elephants are part of the family, so we do not allow any tourist to ride them. Elephants born in our sanctuary will never have to go thru the ritual. The elephants that are with us will stay with us for the rest of their lives.
There are an increasing number of companies where you can experience something other than riding. We want people to realize that these lovely creatures should be treated with love and care instead of abusing them.

Only humans can ensure the elephants future

We need your HELP
Please spread the message about the issues with Elephants in Thailand.
this is to educate tourists to not ride elephants and rather support sanctuaries
this is so that the Culture in Thailand can change and the elephants are protected in the long run.


Thank you for them!









Links

1 - Elephant Numbers - World Elephant Day - http://worldelephantday.org/about/elephants

2 - Tragic Price of Ivory - http://theweek.com/articles/449437/tragic-price-ivory

3 - Their spines are not like horses - http://landlopers.com/2014/08/18/elephant-rides

For more information on Phajaan - http://phajaan.webs.com/

Why you shouldn’t ride elephants (video)
http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/01/15/this-is-why-you-should-not-ride-elephants-in-thailand/

Elephants can recognize themselves in the mirror
http://www.buzzfeed.com/danieldalton/elephant-facts#.cjkA3R4V5d

Elephants grieve
http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2270977/Elephants-really-grieve-like-They-shed-tears-try-bury-dead—leading-wildlife-film-maker-reveals-animals-like-us.html


Habitat loss
Wild Asian elephants suffer severe habitat loss in some of the most densely human-populated regions on the planet. Their traditional territories and migration routes have been fragmented by development, highways and industrial mono-crops such as palm oil and rubber tree plantations, which has destroyed millions of hectares of forest ecosystems. With no access to their natural habitat, elephants are forced into deadly confrontations with humans where neither species wins.

Poaching
Illegal ivory trade is still very profitable business and many merciless poachers hunt and kill elephants, remove the tusks and leave the bodies to rot just to make profits by selling precious ivory.
Ivory is the main reason why hundred years ago there were close to 10 millions elephants, and today there are less than half a million elephants.
— Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Thailand

However, the TECC published the Elephant Care Manual for Mahouts and Camp Managers, written in the native language of the mahouts, and it details the proper way to train and care for elephants. One of the major problems with animal care in Thailand is lack of education combined with cruel old traditions but they have made great strides towards correcting that. 

I would also like to state that torture is not the only way you can train an elephant to be ridden or to paint. Although the bull hook has been demonized as a cruel instrument for inflicting pain to elephants, that is actually not the intended purpose of it. I would compare it more to that of a leash for a dog, a tool used to train an animal and to also keep the handler safe. The American Veterinary Medical Foundation (AVMF) has a  great article describing the benefits of training for elephants in captivity, as well as the proper methods for it. Essentially they describe that the tools are not inherently cruel, but the old traditions that many still practice for elephant training are bad. You can read the article here. Again, education is key to solving this complex problem.

I personally refused to go to a Tiger Temple, but from what I read, most places drug the animals so that they will interact with tourists, and although they may preach conservation most places breed animals that are later killed for their fur and can never be released to the wild.

So if you are heading to Thailand and want to see some exotic animals in captivity, I would suggest you do your research too. Hopefully someone finds this post useful because I wish I had something like this to read before my trip. The WFFT seems like a great resource and I recommend you take a look there.

Stay curious friends,

Namaste