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Elephants in crisis – tourism dependency is threatening the well-being

Tourist industry is deeply embedded in the use of captive elephants. Despite the ethical concerns surrounding elephant tourism, it can be extremely profitable and, in normal times, pays for their upkeep. What if all tourists stop coming together?

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Tourism and Coronavirus

The COVID-19 pandemic has slowed human movement around the globe, which is affecting the travel industry. Over 50% of international flights are being canceled, hotels and the service industry are in trouble, and no tourists are visiting holiday destinations.

Many tourist attractions in Thailand have been closed. Thailand is one of the hardest hit countries. The tourism camps that house elephants have been closed down and laid off thousands of workers, leaving them unable to care for the more than 2,000 animals. It is urgent that we help, but many people are still wondering how this happened.

The origins and development of captive-elephant tourism

The elephant tourism industry was established over 30 years ago as an alternative to logging elephants. We have shown that today, we see more captive goliaths because of rampant breeding for tourism.

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The tourism industry is not a suitable career for elephants. Because of their intelligence, size and strength, elephants are not well-suited for tourism. They have to be trained and punished harshly in order to entertain the thousands of tourists who come to see them.

Tourists are at risk

Visitors are also at risk. Visitors can also be exposed to elephants that can contract tuberculosis. They can transmit the disease to others by close contact. Two years ago, 10 tourism elephants in India’s Amer Fort were diagnosed with tuberculosis. It is difficult to know the exact health consequences of tuberculosis screenings.

Other diseases may exist. There may be other diseases. The COVID-19 pandemic proved one thing: wild animals should not be handled.

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The elephant caretakers’ dilemma

It is inhumane to place complex, intelligent, and endangered animals like elephants under the control of a commercial sector that is susceptible to economic fluctuations. Mahouts, who are responsible for elephant care, are often left behind by low-paying and high-risk jobs. Our research shows that more than a third of mahouts do not have sufficient financial savings and earn minimum wage. They also face significant risks from serious, sometimes fatal injuries to elephants.

This cruel industry must be stopped

Our organization and others have advocated for the phasing out or elephant tourism for many years. This generation of elephants should not be kept in captivity by reducing demand for tourism, prohibiting captive breeding and preventing poaching.

Their gradual elimination will allow their owners and others to find other incomes, keep traditions alive without resorting to cruelty, and focus all efforts on protecting these wonderful creatures in the wild.

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Support is urgently needed

An industry that prioritizes financial gain over animal welfare should not be allowed to cause suffering for elephants. World Animal Protection will assist as in the past. However, we must see robust policies developed to reduce the number elephants in captivity, which would allow for better care and protection of wild elephants.

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