Pandemic Could Offer Opportunity to Finally End Cruel Elephant Training for Tourism

Many people have called for a global tourism reset when travel begins again in earnest after the COVID-19 outbreak.

Suggestions include more sustainable practices and avoiding overtourism, reducing carbon footprints and more.

One area where the traveling public can really make a difference—and have—is the fair, safe and humane treatment of animals.

World Animal Protection has been working for years to protect elephants, especially in Northern Thailand, where the animals are tortured to break them and make them submissive.

The organization has now uncovered shocking new footage of the cruel training process.

Now, the World Animal Protection is asking for a complete overhaul of the way captive elephants are treated in Thailand and other vacation destinations when tourism resumes after the COVID-19 pandemic with the goal of ending the wildlife trade in all its forms.

“We are at a turning point when it comes to our relationship with wild animals,” said Audrey Mealia, global head of Wildlife at World Animal Protection. “For too long, these intelligent, sociable, creatures have been the victims of a cruel trade that rips baby elephants from their mothers and family groups. In the wild, mother, daughter and granddaughter elephants spend their entire lives together.”

The disturbing footage shows World Animal Protection that were captured between 2018 and 2020 and documents the forceable separation from their mothers which would not happen in the wild, the use of a bullhook that results in open wounds, chains to restrain them in an uncomfortable narrow standing area, frequent exposure to stressful situations such as walking along traffic-heavy roads.

“We want to expose the extent of the true suffering these animals endure – a lifetime of horror for that ‘once in a lifetime’ holiday experience,” added Mealia. “The tourism industry has come to a halt in the wake of COVID-19 but it will re-build–this is the ideal opportunity to build a better future.”

The organization is advocating for a sustainable, long-term solution that includes a breeding ban on captive elephants to ensure future generations are spared this trauma.

It is also asking that travelers turn their backs on unethical practices and opt instead to see elephants in their natural habitat or support elephant-friendly camps. Since these elephants can not be returned to the wild, observation-only camps, provide jobs and a valuable income to local people such as elephant keepers, known as “mahouts” and safe friendly homes for the elephants.

“We are calling on the tourism industry to revise their wildlife policies and stop offering exploitative experiences to their customers,” she said. “Right now, elephants are not being used for riding, bathing or shows. We’d like to keep it this way. Although we need to enable a more humane alternative for these elephants to be cared for better.”

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