A new report released today from London-based World Animal Protection (WAP) revealed that most of India’s estimated 3500 captive elephants are living in cruel subpar conditions and being exploited for entertainment purposes.
Thailand is of particular concern as it allegedly uses twice as many elephants in tourism than all the other Asian countries combined. Tourism to Thailand has reportedly doubled from 2010 to 2016, sadly contributing to a 30% rise in elephants held in captivity for tourist activities.
While focused mainly on Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, India and Sri Lanka also participated in the inhumane treatment of elephants.
“If you can ride, hug or interact with wild animals, chances are there’s cruelty involved,” said Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WAP’s global wildlife and veterinary adviser and author of the report which further disclosed that when not working, the chained elephants undergo harsh initial training, “that breaks their spirits and makes them submissive enough to give rides and perform.”
The group stressed there is an urgent need for tourist education and regulation of wildlife tourist attractions worldwide. It works with tour agencies to promote shunning abusive venues and has already convinced more than 160 travel companies to stop sales and promotion of venues offering elephant rides and shows.
According to a Press Release, the partnership was formed to support the development of welfare-friendly example venues so that tourists can experience wildlife responsibly; hence eliminating attractions such riding elephants which are stressful for the animals and harm their well-being.
“Alternative travel options are available, and public demand for elephant rides is slowly changing, but there is still work to be done. Many tourists see elephants as the highlight of their holiday,” said Steve McIvor, CEO at World Animal Protection who attributed it to a lack of awareness of the abuse involved. “As soon as they become aware of the suffering caused by elephant rides and shows, their enthusiasm quickly wanes.”
Working hand in hand with animal experts and the best local venues, a sustainable “business model” will be developed to promote demand from the tourism industry for truly elephant-friendly venues. As part of the project, resources will be provided to help existing elephant venues to transition to high animal welfare standards.
In addition, TUI Care Foundation and World Animal Protection are working closely with the travel industry and policymakers to define minimum welfare requirements for elephant venues and give recognition to those genuinely offering higher welfare for elephants.
Currently, a new accreditation system is being trialed to enhance demand-based rewards of welfare improvements. Moreover, guidelines will be created for elephant venues to foster best practices, and eventually put a stop to the demand and supply of cruel elephant rides and entertainment.
TUI in the Netherlands was the first travel operator in the world to stop offering elephant rides and shows.
“Tourism can be a driving force for positive change, and we are proud to work with World Animal Protection to support an elephant friendly future in Asia,” stated Thomas Ellerbeck, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the TUI Care in the release.
Sadly, the Asian elephant population in the wild has experienced a rapid decline over recent decades. Asian elephants are therefore classified as endangered on the IUCN (The International Union for Conservation of Nature) list.
World Animal Protection in its ongoing critical efforts to raise public awareness about these oftentimes shadowed issues will continue to put pressure on the tourism industry to adapt to the humane treatment of wild animals held in captivity. Donations to WAP can be made Here!
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