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Let’s talk about animal abuse in the tourism industry

Animal exploitation unfortunately is a big thing in loads of countries. We all know about shooting wildlife as a prize during a safari in Africa, riding a camel at the pyramids in Egypt or at the beach in Broome, or about bull fighting in Spain. Lots of us feel sorry for the animals and would never participate in activities like that. But there are so many other cruel things we do to animals that we don’t even know about.

Respect the people and the animals

While traveling we’d like to experience the culture of a country. We are respectful about all the habits that are new to us. We do our part of people watching, all the while trying not to annoy the locals. After all they’re not zoo animals, right? But why is it ok to partake in activities with animals that are clearly in discomfort while doing them? I wasn’t always aware of the feelings of the animals. I was just enjoying everything on offer. But the joy should be mutual, don’t you think?

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We went to Thailand 6 years ago and I read a lot about Thai culture and people and looked forward to everything we were going to experience. We were so excited that we were going to ride an elephant. If only I would’ve read about this activity before the trip.

Some of us (like me back then) have no idea. When you really think about it, it doesn’t make much sense that animals freely participate in letting us ride them or doing tricks for us, does it? I saw lots of sad elephants near floating market Damnoen Sadouak in Bangkok. Sometimes we need to be made aware of things before we understand what’s going on behind the scenes of these acts. And luckily the amount of organizations fighting against animal cruelty grows by the day. Because of that growth the awareness also grows significantly.

Let’s talk about riding elephants

We are led to believe that elephants are very fond of people and therefore they really enjoy doing all kinds of tricks for us and let us ride them, bathe them and touch them. Imagine all of these things being done to you. Have multiple people a day touch you and take a selfie with you. Have multiple people bathe you on a daily basis and have multiple people ride your back while being forced to walk the same round numerous times a day. Not really a picnic, right?

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After we came back from Thailand I started googling for info about tourist activities involving elephants. I was in total shock! And extremely angry at myself for not thinking straight. Mahouts working for these organizations are not always the friendly caretakers they seem to be. When an elephant is rescued from a circus or logging camp their life barely gets better. Sure, they don’t have to do tricks anymore or log wood, but all the other abuse just goes on. The first months the elephant will be broken to make sure he will obey the Mahout at all times. And they use multiple tools to hurt them with in the process. Like a goad that has a nasty iron hook on it. After a full day of entertaining tourists they aren’t free to roam around, but are all taken to a place not visible to tourists where they spend the night. They will be tied up and kept on a relatively small ground right next to each other. They are still very much prisoners of people.

Experience from a former volunteer

There are many articles you can read about this activity, this is an article I would highly recommend if you want to know more about how these so-called sanctuaries work. It’s written by someone who actually worked for one of these places in hopes of doing good for the elephants.

Since around 2010 lots of articles have been published about elephant riding. Most major tour operators stopped offering elephant rides on their tours to Asian countries (Thailand isn’t the only country offering elephant rides).

The truth about sanctuaries

Unfortunately that’s not the end of it. Organizations started calling their businesses elephant sanctuaries. They stopped the riding part, but most of them still offer bathing and touching them. If you can do anything else at these sanctuaries beside looking at elephants from a distance, know that it isn’t a sanctuary, but you fell into a trap. No real sanctuary will allow tourists to touch, feed or bathe them. Because animals don’t like that. They are wild animals. So please, if you are interested in checking out elephants do so on a safari where you will spot them from afar and are not allowed to come near them. Or search for a NGO approved sanctuary that will not allow you to come near them, but where you can help by donating money to really help the animals long term.

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This blog is mainly focused on elephants, but the same goes for other activities like holding a tiger cub or petting a full grown one. These animals are broken, caged and drugged.

Another thing I did myself while in Bangkok was to get my picture with a python around my neck. The poor thing was probably drugged and had to go from shoulder to shoulder for a straight day and after all that he goes back into a cage that is his prison. Day in and day out.

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Creating awareness

Animal abuse in the tourism industry is a great problem. I hope that by telling you all how foolish I was, I will create some awareness. Confucius said it best: Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you. Words to live by in my opinion. Not only while interacting with humans, but also with animals. While doing more research after the Thailand trip I realized how big of a problem animal abuse in the tourism industry actually is.

Have you ever done something while traveling that you regret? Or is there something I forgot that you want to create awareness about? Let me know in the comment section below.


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