NEXT time you take a “selfie” with an animal, such as an elephant, World Animal Protection wants you to stop and think.
That animal may have been poached from the wild specifically for these photo opportunities, according to Lindsay Hartley-Backhouse, who has been working in animal rescue and welfare within South East Asia for eight years.
Ms Hartley-Backhouse recently spoke to members of the Australian Society of Travel Writers in Bangkok, urging them to promote animal-friendly travel and encourage their readers to boycott places where animals are kept in inhumane conditions.
She said poachers would often shoot the mothers of baby elephants who were then subject to unspeakable cruelties to make them submissive and behave in a certain way with tourists. “If you look into these elephant’s eyes, they are like zombies, their eyes are empty,” she said.
Ms Hartley-Backhouse said the ideal animal venue was one where tourists “worked around the animal’s natural routine, not the other way around”. She said under no circumstances should tourists ride elephants and there should be little or no direct interaction with the elephants, which should be able to walk around freely in a natural setting.
Ms Hartley-Backhouse said a number of elephant tourism sites in Asia were making the transition to high welfare venues. Yet in Thailand, which has three-quarters of Asia’s tourist elephants, only 7 per cent of venues offer what World Animal Protection rates as high welfare conditions.
However, most are now moving in the right direction.
We visited ElephantsWorld in Kanchanaburi, which describes itself as a sanctuary for rescued elephants. It allows tourists to feed, bathe and scrub the elephants but there is no riding.
Even this is too much human interaction for World Animal Protection, which would like to see all elephant venues as “look, don’t touch” operations. Basically, if you can ride, hug or have a selfie with a wild animal it’s likely to have suffered, so don’t do it.
This is their advice:
DON’T be misled by the word “sanctuary”. Do your research. Look on TripAdvisor to see how other visitors have rated the venue.
BE happy with observing elephants in their natural state. Choose a venue where they let elephants be elephants.
BABY elephants on the premises can ring alarm bells. They may be breeding them on the property for a lifetime in captivity.
CHECK the animals are being treated with kindness and respect.