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Elephant Parks. Are they really sanctuaries or hotbeds of animal cruelty

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Elephant parks are popular tourist attractions in many countries in this region. Visitors to these parks get to watch the animals bathing or perform various tricks.

However, some animal activists feel that, far from being sanctuaries, some of these parks are exploiting the elephants and practising animal cruelty.

Getting tourists to ride on the elephants is one example. Many elephant sanctuaries promote this activity as a tourist attraction.

According to Elephant Aid International, “The weight of carrying tourists and a trainer on an elephant's back is gruelling - and can cause severe damage to an elephant's spine. Instead of smooth, round spinal disks, elephants have sharp bony protrusions that extend upwards from their spine."

When it comes to tourists bathing elephants, the animals end up being in the water all day which is unnatural for them, Maria Mossman, founder of non-profit group Action for Elephants UK was reported as saying in The Guardian.

Moreover, this increases the demand for captive elephants to be used as tourist attractions, said Vicki Brown, editor at Responsible Travel in the same article.

It then leads to baby elephants being captured from the wild or being bred for a life in captivity. Instead of being allowed to live as naturally as possible, they are also made to perform unnatural acts such as painting, dancing or playing football to entertain tourists.

In addition, these elephants are often subject to cruel behaviour to ensure they follow their keepers’ instructions and are safe around humans. They may be sequestered in a cramped pen that restricts movement, and their legs tied together tightly.

Worse still, they may be deprived of food and water for days or weeks, shouted at and beaten. The poor elephants then do as they are told to avoid further assault.

This was confirmed following a two-year study by World Animal Protection in 2017, investigating 3,000 elephants in tourist venues in Thailand, Sri Lanka, Laos, Cambodia, Nepal and India. The study uncovered that many of these elephants were kept in unacceptable living conditions, with a poor diet, no interaction with other elephants and amidst extremely loud noise levels.

Tourists can help make a difference to the way elephant parks are operated by not frequenting those which ill-treat the elephants and only visiting the ones that practise the following rules:

*No riding of elephants

Beware the tour companies that say they don't ride. According to one tourist on Trip Advisor: “Many told us ‘no problem, you don't have to ride,’ but they were a riding camp, so it was all a scam. The elephants were still used for tourist riding and they just wanted to send us out there anyway.” 

*No touching or interaction with elephants allowed

*Elephants are not asked to perform demeaning tricks or display unnatural behaviour

*The elephants preferably live in natural, big open spaces with other elephants and are given proper food and veterinary care

*Elephants are not chained

This will help promote better standards of treatment of the elephants.

Before planning a visit to an elephant sanctuary, tourists can log onto websites like www.responsibletravel.com to find out more about the place and check if it meets standards of ethical tourism.

Ethical elephant sanctuaries that have been recommended on TripAdvisor include:
Phuket Elephant Sanctuary
Elephant Jungle SanctuaryChiang Mai
Elephant Green Park - Chiang Mai

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