Let’s chat about interactions with elephants. Elephants are one of the world’s most loved animals. You can see why – they are such majestic creatures! Seeing elephants, usually in Thailand, is on most people’s bucket lists. Most people are aware that elephant riding is not ethical, but there seems to be a grey area on bathing/handling and being in close proximity to these elephants. I know we all want that perfect Instagram shot and that amazing memory, but for these elephants this is their life day in and day out. Are interactions with elephants truly ethical?
ARE INTERACTIONS WITH ELEPHANTS TRULY ETHICAL?
A Little Discussion
Personally, I view any use of a wild animal as unethical. Any sanctuary that offers hands-on experiences with a wild animal, such as interactions with elephants, makes me question whether they have the animal’s best interest at heart. Wild animals are exactly that – wild! Most wild animals are not naturally comfortable with humans. You would not safely be able to get close enough to an elephant in the wild. What about these nature parks and “sanctuaries” make visitors able to safely approach these animals?
Let’s look at the bigger picture. We need to think about the reasons behind why these wild animals are so willing to do as they’re asked. Unfortunately, the majority have had their spirit broken. Proprietors literally have to beat the natural instinct out of elephants. So while you may think that you are doing no harm, think again. The truth is: by visiting these places, you’re contributing to the need of elephants in this industry. This keeps the cycle of mistreatment going.
How Can We Ethically See Elephants?
World Animal Protection (WAP) carried out a study across Asia regarding the treatment of captive elephants used for animal tourism (this includes elephants that aren’t ridden but have human interaction e.g. patting/washing). More than 3/4 of elephants assessed were in severely cruel conditions! Their conclusion? All wild animals should be only observed and not interacted with. WAP has a list of sanctuaries that they’ve given their seal of approval to. These sanctuaries feature a hands-off approach to interactions with elephants. Guests can safely observe them from a distance and the animals are free to exhibit their normal behavior.
The most rewarding experience is seeing these animals in their natural habitat where they belong. I had the most amazing experience while working on a game reserve in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I was sitting in the truck counting blesbok when a herd of elephants passed just steps from me! Seeing them in their natural habitat and just being animals was the most amazing experience. I got to watch their normal behavior and observe how they interacted with each other. It was truly magical.
Please keep this in mind when you are thinking about your next animal tourism excursion. One photo op or memory isn’t worth the cruelty these animals have to suffer for your enjoyment.