Elephants

2 Feb

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Reading today about the man killed whilst riding an elephant in Thailand brought back our recent visit. Reports of what happened vary in the papers but it seems he was thrown from the elephant’s back after it was either teased or beaten.
Most people we spoke to while we were in Thailand had taken the opportunity to ride these wonderful animals while they were there and who can blame them? The chance to get up close and personal with such beautiful and extraordinary creatures is something they will probably remember for the rest of their lives. But I just wanted to add my voice to those urging tourists to choose not to ride them.

Appalling abuse is routine to get the elephants to co-operate but most tourists don’t know about this. As the spokesman from World Animal Protection said in the Guardian “If you can ride it, hug it or have a selfie with a wild animal, then the chances are it is cruel and the animal is suffering.”
The other side of the story is that without the elephants providing an income for the many handlers they would not be able to make a living. And what do you do with all these damaged animals who wouldn’t survive if released into the wild? The answer seems to be the concept of a sanctuary similar to the one we visited near Chiang Mai.

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One of many with irreparable damage to her leg.

While far from perfect, at least here they were free to roam about as they chose, to interact with people only when encouraged with snacks. They were able to form family groups and herds, breed naturally, physical wounds were cared for and the contact with and assistance of other elephants helped to mitigate their psychological trauma. The story of one of these ladies, rescued after being deliberately blinded to make her easier to handle and work, was particularly heartbreaking. She had been befriended by another lone female who had encouraged and helped her into her new, kinder life.

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The sanctuary has to make money to support its animals, though, and it seems only fair to use the tourists. Visitors are shown around in small groups, told the life stories of the different elephants they come into contact with, allowed to get close to carefully selected individuals and bathe those that want to be bathed. Those that don’t or have just had enough simply wander off, cross the river and get out of the way. Other groups are viewed from platforms and it is clear to see the natural relationships that have built up.

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The whole experience is truly unforgettable and riding is not only unnecessary but abhorrent once you know a few facts.
So if you’re thinking of going to Thailand, I urge you to do a bit of research beforehand. It doesn’t take much – a quick look at a popular review site will give you a good guide – and vote with your wallet. Choose not to perpetuate the abuse.

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3 Responses to “Elephants”

  1. Liz February 2, 2016 at 8:27 am #

    Couldn’t agree with you more Cathy,well done,

  2. peteandlu February 4, 2016 at 9:10 am #

    Valuable information, thank you.

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