Sunday, 9 March 2014

The Dark Side of Tourism: Animal Abuse

Animal abuse is a by product of Tourism.  But would you clap and cheer at an elephant who can paint, play football, do tricks or take a one hour ride at their back, if  you knew the horrifying cruelty the elephants are being subjected to?  I only mentioned elephants but how about "swim with the dolphins" programme and other animal circus shows? They are also animal cruelty in the name of entertainment.

The saddest part is that, as tourists, we are fueling these abuses. The animals may appear "cute" but what's the real story and history behind their training? After doing my research my first elephant encounter in Bali, Indonesia made me want to puke (my fist  and  last elephant ride).. I feel so sorry for contributing to the cruelty, and through my blog I want to partake in my small little way in supporting responsible tourism.

Here's an excerpt from the website of Elephant Rescue and Asia Survival Foundation regarding the phenomenon behind elephant painting:

It’s a myth that elephants are clever because they can paint. Please don’t think they are gifted or that it’s cute to watch this form of tourist ‘entertainment’. Here’s a few facts you need to know:
Elephants endure months of physical abuse to learn how to hold a paint brush, draw a straight line and paint flowers and leaves on trees
For years they then paint the same repetitive painting over and over again, every single day, sometimes twice or three times a day
When training an elephant to paint, a sharp metal bull hook or nail is used to guide the paintbrush
When the elephant paints incorrectly they are beaten as punishment, often the hook is rammed into the elephants ear or they are hit on their head or trunk
Look for scars or beatings on the top of an elephants head or trunk from metal bull hooks used to train elephants for human ‘entertainment’

Elephant paintings are a learned trick, a result of vigorous training by their handlers. As what I have read, the handlers will tap, hold the elephants ear or trunk to create a "correct" picture. Can you see the handlers holding their sticks? Now we know for what those are. Some websites have even more disgusting pictures of hooks being used to control these elephants. 

Below are the end product of their painting work, being sold for 2,000baht:

All of these photos are taken during my recent trip to Chiang Mai. I'd rather not name the camp for based on my readings,  the practice in the whole of Thailand is the same. 
Finally, at the end of the show is a realization that what we only want is just be "near' these beautiful creatures.  To watch them in their natural habitat, playing in the mud, running in the wild,  bathing in the river, to have their photo taken.  The reason why these animals are being mistreated is for our entertainment  but the truth is that it's the intimate experience that we want and seek. 

So as tourists, how can we help?  DON'T BUY Elephant paintings! And choose destinations that supports responsible Tourism. I do believe that we have the power to influence change, we are the reason for these cruelty anyway, so be a part of the change we want to see. Support CRUELTY-FREE encounter with the animals.

“Wild animals belong in the wild.”

Pin It


  1. This is so sad to hear about tourism animal abuse. I hope everything will be fair. I hope I can visit Thailand! I want to see animals like elephants too! :)

  2. Sad to hear about this tourism animal abuse. I hope everything will be fair soon. Anyway I hope I can visit Thailand. I love to see elephants and other animals too! :)

  3. I agree wild animals should belong to the wild. I once also rode an elephant in Angkor Wat. They should be placed in an environment that would be natural for them and not exploited for tourism.

  4. As much as possible I don't bring my kids to Zoo's or attractions that make animals perform. Animals belong in the wild or if its not safe a protected sanctuary at the very least

  5. I hate this side-effect of tourism, people should seriously wake up and realize what goes on behind the scenes. All animals should be loved and cared for as they properly deserve. I much prefer to see them in the wild as well