World Animal Protection study

A recent study by World Animal Protection found that the number of elephants used as entertainment in Thailand has grown dramatically – increasing by a third in only five years.

Fortunately, many large travel companies are banning selling tourist tickets to elephant rides, including Trip Advisor.

Still, there is a massive problem of naive tourists who are excited to meet an elephant and desperately hope for a picture of themselves riding it so they can share their experience with friends and family back home. The report suggests that 40% of tourists in Thailand expect to ride an elephant.

What these tourists do not see is that many of these tourist elephants have to endure hours of being chained up each day.  Most have experienced harsh training methods such as hooks to keep them submissive.  Many were taken by force from their mothers as babies so they could grow accustomed to human control.

It is scary to read that only 200 of the 3000 elephants studied had humane living conditions.

If you plan on viewing wildlife on your vacation, please do a lot of research beforehand.  Elephant rides, dolphin swims, and holding tiger cubs are fun experiences for humans, but it rarely is good for the animal.

In Thailand, I can recommend the Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai is a wonderful way to meet elephants.  You are able to pat them, feed them, and wash them.  Yet, all the elephants are rescued and being well taken care of on acres of land.  The elephants are able to form herds, and are never forced into human contact.

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Northern Rangelands Trust: saving wildlife, improving communities

The Northern Rangelands Trust believes that conservation is not only good from an environmental standpoint, but an economic one as well.  That is why they have worked in Northern Kenya with help from USAID to invest in saving elephants and increasing eco-tourism.  NRT was founded in 2004, and has done amazing work.  There has been a significant decline in poaching in areas where they operate.  CITES estimated in 2014 that 60% of killed African elephants were killed illegally – but that number was 46% in Northern Kenya and was continuing to trend downwards.

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From Forbes Magazine:

In 2015, tourism revenues to NRT conservancies from entry and bed-night fees totaled over US$ 410,000 – a really significant income for these remote and marginalized communities, derived from their wildlife. Two safari lodges – Sarara and Il Ngwesi – are actually owned by the community, who contract operators to manage them. Wildlife tourism revenues are split 40/60 – with 40% going toward annual conservancy operating costs (like ranger salaries and vehicle fuel) and 60% going toward development projects deemed a priority by the constituent community at their Annual General Meetings. Most commonly the communities decide to spend these funds on educational bursaries for the poorest family, health care support, and water supplies to reduce the burden on women from collecting water from afar.

Tourism Revenue Lost

The University of Vermont, Cambridge University, and the World Wildlife Fund researched the lost revenue of the tourism industry due to the poaching of elephants.  Elephants are one of the main tourist attractions in Africa.  With less elephants, the tourism industry likely misses out on $25 million in revenue each year.IMG_3672

From Deutsche Welle:

“In a hypothetical scenario, the researchers compared the amount lost to tourism through poaching with the money it would take to implement anti-poaching methods to protect elephants across most African savannah areas.
The cost of protecting the elephants would be far lower than the losses caused by poaching. In most parts of the continent, the recovered losses would exceed the investment necessary to end illegal hunting.”

photo: I took this in Thailand

PETA and banning elephant rides

Vantage Travel will no longer offer elephant rides on their travel itineraries.  From the Boston Herald:

“Vantage is joining the 5 million members of PETA in the noble cause of stopping the abuse and exploitation of elephants by eliminating elephant rides and elephant shows from our itineraries,” spokeswoman Kristen Caldon said.

In the past few years, PETA has been educating travel companies on the abusive practices behind elephant tourist rides.  Most of elephants are chained when not being used.  They are often trained by harsh measures, including chain whips.

Other companies agreeing to stop elephant rides include Collette Vacations, Costco Travel, Tauck, and Trip Advisor.

I don’t always agree with PETA’s methods, but I am pleased they have raised awareness on this issue and have gotten positive results.

photo: taken in Thailand at the Elephant Nature Park

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Predator Hunts approved

Back on February 19, I had a post about a Congressional bill to remove protections for Alaska’s wildlife on National Refuges.  I am very sorry to say that the bill passed the Senate this week, a vote on party lines.

Predator hunts (such as on wolves and bears) will be permitted.  Cruel methods like gassing dens is even permissible.

From the Alaska Dispatch News:

“At the heart of the disagreement between state and federal wildlife managers is what each group thinks should guide its purpose. The federal government has argued that the goal on refuges and in parks should be biodiversity. The state Board of Game has an interest in ensuring maximum sustained populations for hunting.”

In my opinion, the Alaska Board of Game is mistaken.  By killing predators, thus increasing populations of prey like elk, they are throwing nature out of balance.  For the long term health of their land, that is a bad recipe.

Unfortunately, short term profit is too often valued over long term benefit.  Hunting is a major tourist economy in Alaska.  Yet, the beauty of biodiversity and vast natural spaces would make Alaska a special place for generations to come.

Excessive oil drilling and lopsided hunting policies are clearly unwise for the long term health of Alaska and our planet.

IMG_1640Photo: taken at my zoo

Elephants and Tourism

It is embarrassing to admit that I was in my mid-20s when I was in Pompeii with a friend and we decided to go “Hollywood” and act as if the volcano was erupting, taking funny photos of each other.  An Italian tour guide ran up to us, yelling angrily in English, “Girls, this isn’t Disneyland!  This really happened and people died tragically here.”  Oops, Ugly American moment, indeed.  But, it taught me something I always carry with me: the concept of being a responsible and respectful traveller.img_1503While in Thailand, it was common to see elephants being used to carry tourists, and the tourists always seemed to be having the time of their lives.

But, with very little research required, you would discover that many tourist elephants are trained through brutal methods (such as sharp hooks and nails) and are chained for many hours when they are not working.  Those showcased in cities are even worse off, as they are not even able to enjoy natural water or grass beneath their feet.

If you have the opportunity to travel abroad, make sure you take a few minutes to do research on which elephant park you wish to visit.  Those promoting elephant rides or painting/dancing elephants should be an instant red flag.  It may sound fun, but the reality is that these elephants are often mistreated.  I promise you will still have a very memorable and fun experience visiting parks that allow elephants to have human contact but never force them into the exploitive entertainment industry.

Please don’t make the same mistake I did back in Italy: be a responsible tourist!

(Photo: I took this from a boat ride in Thailand)