A quick scroll through Instagram will take you down your friends’ memory lane with throwback after throwback of exotic holiday snaps, as they reminisce over days when they were free.
From pictures of delicious cocktails on Spanish beaches to photos of travellers with itchy feet posing with elephants in Asia, everyone is dreaming of how they will spend their time once the current health crisis is over.
And yet, while we practise social distancing from the safety and the comfort of our own homes, on the other side of the world, animals who have been bred purely for the entertainment of tourists like us, are gravely suffering.
It’s no secret the tourism industry has come to a grinding halt, while the world attempts to curb the pandemic. But so many elephant venues rely on tourist numbers to be able to provide the animals with the food and medicine they need. Without that revenue coming in, the elephants are at an imminent risk of malnutrition and starvation, which could prove fatal.
Around 85 elephant camps in northern Thailand have already been forced to close their doors over lack of funding, leaving approximately 2,500 struggling without proper food.
Katheryn Wise, from World Animal Protection, told UNILAD:
This is unseen cruelty, but the desire of tourists to ride elephants, feed them, wash them, bathe with them, means that more elephants are bred in captivity or captured in the wild to fulfil this need.
These elephants shouldn’t be in this situation in the first place, but they find themselves in captivity and are now reliant us to provide them with the food and the medicines that they need.
This is so important right now, the elephants need our help more than ever – they’re at a very real risk of malnutrition, starvation and even death. It’s in our remit to help them.
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“More than half of the forest where they (elephants) used to live, these giants have no where to go, as they look for food they end up destroying crops and plantations, homes of many villagers. It’s a tough situation, now there’s less than 800 of the Sumatran elephant in the wild. “~ repost @alana.camposs @mallysheff #masonelephantpark #elephantsbali #ubud
Thousands of elephants live in captivity to provide entertainment for tourists, who often travel to places like Thailand and Bali for the opportunity to get up, close and personal with the beautiful animals. However, a side effect of this means that these creatures are now entirely reliant on the care they receive at these enclosures, and without money coming in, they’re being forced to go without food and proper care.
To make matters worse, Thailand is currently entering into its driest and hottest period of the year, leaving the elephants with less access to natural foliage they would otherwise be able to forage as a source of food.
‘An elephant can eat 10% of its body weight each day – that’s 400kg of grass, leaves, fruit and vegetables, and a lot of this has to be bought and transported into the venues,’ Katheryn continued. ‘It costs almost $120 to feed an elephant for a week, and that’s before you take into account supplements, medicine, vet fees and venue running costs.’
World Animal Protection has launched an urgent appeal to raise funds to allow existing elephant venues to give emergency care to the animals, who are in desperate need of food.
The organisation is working with several elephant venues, which offer observation-only attractions to tourists, to provide food, medicine, veterinary fees, and running costs in a bid to keep them going through these turbulent times.
These elephants have already been through so much, and now they’re in a situation where they’re wholly reliant on humans, they can’t be released back into the wild because they’ve been in captivity for too long and many have been bred there. We need to take responsibility for these captive elephants, which is why we urgently need your help.
The situation we’re in at the moment is that need to be able to offer short term emergency care for the elephants that are already in captivity. Longer term, we need to really look at the way we use animals in the tourism industry. If you wouldn’t do something to an animal in the wild, you shouldn’t be doing it to an animal in captivity either.
World Animal Protection has spent years working with elephant venues to transform into observation-only attractions, where the elephants are free to express their natural behaviours and socialise with one another.
It’s hoped that they can show an appetite for these observation-only venues, then others will follow suit, putting an end to the unseen cruelty endured by many of animals at close up encounter parks.
‘At venues that offer elephant rides, quite often the elephants will be chained when they’re not giving rides, so they’re not able to move very much and not able to interact with each other,’ Katheryn explained.
‘There are no rules about how you name an elephant venue, so an elephant venue can be called a sanctuary or even a retirement home, to make it sound like it is more ethical and better for the elephants. A rule of thumb is basically if you can ride it or hug it and have a close selfie with it, wash it, bathe it, then all of these things shouldn’t be happening with wild animals and will perpetuate an industry that just keeps feeding off cruelty to animals.’
In the meantime, it’s vital that the organisation is able to raise funds, to offer the emergency care needed to keep the elephants alive during what can only be described as testing times for everyone.
Perhaps the effects of this terrible virus and the suffering it has caused will prompt us to look differently towards the things we do and the places we choose to visit.
We can learn lessons from this current crisis, and make this the last generation of captive elephants to suffer for the entertainment industry. We need to make sure that the needs of the elephants are put before the wants of the tourists.
If you’d like to donate to World Animal Protection’s appeal, click here.
It’s okay to not panic about everything going on in the world right now. LADbible and UNILAD’s aim with our campaign, Cutting Through, is to provide our community with facts and stories from the people who are either qualified to comment or have experienced first-hand the situation we’re facing. For more information from the World Health Organization, click here.