A new report released on the occasion of World Elephant Day, August 12, suggested that over 200 elephants in India are kept in “severely inadequate conditions”. The third edition of the report ‘Elephants. Not commodities’ compares research spanning a decade into elephant tourism, assessing venues across Thailand, India, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Malaysia.
According to the report, India is home to the second highest number of elephants used in tourism in Asia; and of the 21 venues housing 509 elephants, the report found that 45 per cent (225) of the elephants were kept in severely inadequate conditions. It elaborated on how tourists choosing elephant bathing over elephant riding are “unaware of cruelty involved”.
The findings reveal that 2,390 (63 per cent) elephants are suffering in severely dire conditions at 208 venues across the countries studied, and of those just 279 (seven per cent) elephants are kept in high-welfare venues. This is in contrast to 2015, when 2,242 (77 per cent) of elephants lived in severely inadequate conditions, and 194 (seven per cent) lived in high-welfare venues.
“The findings of this report are truly shocking. In India, elephants are revered and are considered a heritage animal. And yet we are witnessing that there are 21 venues housing over 500 elephants for the entertainment of people. This is completely unacceptable. Elephants are wild animals and they belong in the wild. I urge the Indian government to effectively enforce existing wildlife protection laws to stop trade of wild animals and wild animal products,” said Gajender K Sharma, country director, World Animal Protection India. The organisation has been working to phase out elephant rides at the Amer Fort in Rajasthan’s Jaipur, where over 100 elephants are providing daily rides to thousands of tourists.
The report also highlighted that across Asia, there are over 3,800 captive elephants in 357 elephant tourism venues. Thailand is home to three quarters of the elephants and has seen a “shocking 70 per cent increase” in their number in just 10 years.
According to the report, whether taken from the wild or bred in captivity, ‘all elephants used for close tourist contact such as bathing have undergone a traumatic training method known as the crush’. ‘This involves separating young elephant calves from their mother, keeping them in isolation, depriving them of food and water, and in many cases beating them repeatedly until they are broken and can be controlled by fear.’
“Tourists need to know the truth – any elephant that you can get close enough to touch, is an elephant that’s been subjected to horrific abuse for this use. It’s not just riding and circus-style shows that involve suffering – it’s the bathing and selfie opportunities that you might find at so-called ‘sanctuaries’, ‘orphanages’ or ‘rescue centers’. This isn’t innocent fun. This is cruelty,” said Audrey Mealia, global head of wildlife at World Animal Protection.
The organisation further stated that everyone, from holiday makers, to tourist operators, should take responsibility and put an end to the exploitation of wild animals forever – “less demand will mean less elephant suffering”.
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