Captive Elephants in Asia Need You
How You Can Help.
Elephants in captivity are an ethical concern in the tourism industry. The rapid growth in tourism’s demand for interaction with elephants across Asia coupled with inadequate government regulations has resulted of poor treatment of these animals in many of the elephant facilities. Other facilities however are working in compliance with the best achievable practices in close partnership with Elephant experts and universities. Until recently no international accepted standard and related assessment system was existing. The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare Standard and Assessment initiative aims to recognise the better camps and to motivate those not yet complying towards better animal welfare.
Despite calls for action from various animal rights groups, the overall approach is often not based on scientific facts, does not engage mahouts and elephant (family) business, does not present achievable solutions nor looks at long term sustainability and the survival of the species as such.
We believe responsible tourism encouraging elephant experiences of the highest standard is the most immediate, viable solution. We believe by engaging stakeholders to seek holistic improvements and setting standards across the industry, more can be done to protect elephants than by staging boycotts or signing pledges. Hard work and hard choices based on scientific facts, balancing the interest of individual Elephants, the mahouts, and the conservation of the Asian Elephant, are required by all involved.
Leading Asian tour operators with support of Travelife for Tour operators, the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) and PATA have therefore initiated a process to establish a widely supported set of standards and criteria as a guideline and reference for elephant camps. The Elephant Camp Animal Welfare initiative will provide tour operators as well as their clients the ability to make an informed, ethical choice
We know you love elephants. We love elephants too. That's why we do what we do and we do it well. We don't own elephants. We don't go anywhere near any companies that allow access to elephant trekking or elephants performing ‘tricks' for misinformed tourists. We don't claim to be anything that we're not. We're simply a group of elephant loving travelers who want to do the right thing for these majestic beasts the world over, and for you, our esteemed guests.
Many of those behind the scenes at trunk have worked to support the welfare of Thailand's struggling elephant population for over a decade. We've all witnessed the horrors that are so openly reported by the worlds media, as it should be. Without the media bringing this to the attention of the world those horrors would continue and they'd quickly increase while the worlds elephant population would quickly decrease further. Elephants don't have a voice, but we, as a collective absolutely do. And we want to use it. It's not all doom and gloom though. We have witnessed, worked with and been a very big part of a lot of excellent work being carried out by amazing people and this should never be overlooked.
Trunk's involvement with elephants in Asia stretches across several locations. These consist of parks, sanctuaries and farming communities. Our aim is to ensure that whatever type of elephant location we support the elephants come first. Every single one of us is dedicated to ensuring that these projects conform to standards of excellence and best practice philosophies. This is not as easy as it sounds and despite what others may lead you to believe, changing generation-old mindsets is extremely difficult. However, through patience, understanding of local culture and customs and working with people rather than forcing opinion upon them, we've already achieved so much, with so much more to come.
"Do the Mahouts use bull hooks?" Simple answer is that at the time of writing many do. The reasons for this are plentiful and fairly obvious. It's impossible to control a three tonne elephant with a wink and a smile! Trunk completely understands that bull hooks look like nothing more than torture implements but used correctly they are important tools and can benefit the elephant as much as injure if used incorrectly. It's genuinely not the use of a bull hook that is the problem, it's the misuse of a bull hook that is the problem. Experts the world over agree that for a Mahout to be able to work with an elephant, they need a level of control and the correct use of a bull hook is perfectly acceptable. Generation-old mahouts see their elephants the same way that others see their pet dog or cat, or even as a child. The love between an elephant and a mahout worthy of that title, is a heartwarming sight to behold. This being written, we would love to see all mahouts using verbal commands and positive enforcement and that's a genuine hope for everybody connected to trunk.
"Are the elephants chained?" Many are, some aren't. One of Bamboo's primary focuses is to find the perfect solution for this. We don't advocate elephants being chained, however, we understand the reasons why they are. Why stable a horse? Shouldn't that be allowed to run free at all times? Simple answer is that it's not a feasible solution, particularly for those elephants living within communities. A three tonne elephant just roaming around is a disaster waiting to happen. Imagine that elephant accidentally knocking in to the side of your new car, or foraging through your garden, or coming in to close contact with your toddler. Really doesn't bear thinking about.
Chains aren't always a bad thing as long as they're used in the appropriate manner and are the correct length and used for the correct amount of time. It's not always possible to keep an elephant in an enclosure completely free of a chain. Elephants often damage themselves and the enclosure, mostly accidentally, just by turning around, or reaching for food, and a chain of the correct length will eliminate this. Of course, if an elephant is chained, it's also imperative that an elephant receives regular exercise such as a simple walk to a river or water hole to wash, play and relax.
Contrary to what you may believe, and what you may have seen through international and social media, almost all elephant camps and projects chain their elephants for periods throughout the day and night. This is to keep that element of control from the mahout, and safety for the elephant. Certain elephant camps in northern areas of Thailand would have you believe, through clever marketing, that they do not chain their elephants. This simply isn't true. But again, the chain, used in the correct manner and of the correct length, is not cruel, does not harm the elephant and ultimately keeps them safe.
"Yes, but all elephants should be free." And we couldn't agree more. However, what needs to be considered is that poaching and hunting are still very genuine threats. Elephants living in parks, sanctuaries and communities are living safer lives now than they would be living in the ‘wild'. It must also be remembered that almost all elephants in captivity in Thailand were born and raised there. This unfortunate breeding system has gone on for generations. Gone are the times of poaching and catching elephants from the wild and ‘crushing' their spirit. That simply no longer exists in Thailand. Wild elephants are very well protected now, however there are still approximately 4,000 elephants in captivity in Thailand that need this kind of professional support.
Another point to bear in mind is that there simply isn't enough suitable land in Thailand in which to release the captive elephants. Moreover, elephants born and raised in captivity, who rely on human support, would perish through their inability to forage and their lack of socializing skills.
Trunk is totally focused on ensuring that the elephant projects we choose to support meet strict guidelines. Currently, however, there is no national or global elephant welfare guideline in place. Thanks to the hard work, dedication and reputation of our team, however, we were invited to be on a board that is working to create one. Through a committee known as the Asian Captive Elephant Working Group (ACEWG) we are hopeful that this is step one on a very long road to ensuring nothing but the very best for Thailand's elephants, and then the world's captive elephant population. You can find out more about this fantastic initiative here - ACEWG. In addition, being a founding member of the ACEWG, trunk is a part of a dedicated team who regularly travel the length and breadth of Thailand to attend seminars and conferences hosted by Asian elephant experts. These conferences often discuss and teach new ideas and new best-practice policies that are then implemented in to the approach we take with the elephant projects that we support.
Trunk is currently working on a five-point plan to introduce across our supported projects which will begin implementation very soon. This plan is being set out to guarantee that the mahout understands that trunk will only offer support to him and his elephant if he agrees to what we, through working with, and guidance from, Asian elephant experts, outline. This will include such things as regular exercise, enrichment techniques, the correct use of chains (or the complete removal of chains if the elephant is the appropriate enclosure), the correct diet and more. This plan, we feel, has the potential to be picked up by every elephant project in Asia and with the support of the ACEWG we genuinely have great hope for the future for all captive elephants in Asia.
Thank you for your interest in the work that we're doing. Everyone at trunk sincerely hopes that you can come to join us in our efforts to transform elephant welfare in Thailand. Without the support of our amazing travelers the elephant population will continue to struggle in its fight for survival.