One of the things that most people do when they visit Thailand is to interact with an elephant. Perhaps they may go for an elephant ride or have another type of experience but, considering the fact that it’s the national animal, the Thai people tend to have a high level of pride when it comes to the large animals.
There are also some other elements to tourism that sometimes bring the attention of animal welfare groups worldwide. A video was posted online that showed an elephant in a Thai nursery coloring a self-portrait and it attracted some of that attention.
When you first see it, you are likely amazed that the large animal can hold a paintbrush and can even draw an outline of itself. As you continue to watch the video more closely, however, the massive chain around the neck of the elephant becomes evident. Suddenly, it’s not so cute anymore.
It was on National Elephant Day in 1998 that the video was filmed. People from around the world go to Thailand and some wanted to get that picture, either posing by the elephant or perhaps even on top of it.
Research is beginning to show, however, that being that close to the elephant is actually ‘fueling cruelty’. Of course, the nursery may not necessarily treat the elephant cruelly but the industry could use some attention.
When a survey of 3,000 elephants took place across Asia by World Animal Protection, it was found that three out of four were living in ‘severely cruel conditions’.
Maria Mossman, founder of non-profit group Action for Elephants UK told the Guardian: “Many parks advertise themselves as sanctuaries but they are not.
“Never go to a park that advertises shows, unnatural behaviour, tricks or painting – and please, never ride an elephant.”
She also said that many tourists go to parks to film themselves with elephants near the water.
“In some places, this means a lot of people every hour with the elephants in the water – it’s not natural for an elephant to be in the water all day with lots of people climbing all over them,” she said.
Trip advisor made an announcement in 2016 that they would no longer include any services that allow direct contact with elephants. It was only a drop in the bucket because millions of tourists are still offered elephant experiences by locals when they arrive.
Global Wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection, Dr Jan Schmidt-Burbach, told the BBC: “The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing – we want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life.”
The Thai government is doing its part by creating a database of all captive elephants in these parks. By being able to track the health of the animal, they can keep a closer eye on them and make sure they are not suffering.