114 travel companies have recently signed a pledge to stop promoting travel associated with elephant tourism entertainment, including major players in the industry such as Intrepid, The Travel Corporation, Thomas Cook and Contiki. All have signed a pledge to stop promoting venues where elephants are used for activities such as trekking, rides, and performances.
‘Breaking’ or ‘crushing’ is a training process where elephants learn to submit to humans and to perform unnatural behaviours and includes applying physical restraints such as heavy chains and shackles, punishment with sharp bullhooks, and deprivation of food and water. Thereafter, these tools become a part of their everyday life. While many carers in the tourism entertainment industry do genuinely care for elephants, the breaking process in itself is severely torturous and breaks the elephant’s physical and psychological wellbeing for life.
I have witnessed a calf in a steel cage no more than 2 x 3m in size, concreted floor, with no carer around. The calf wrapped his small trunk tightly around my arm through the cage bars and would not let go- a sign, no doubt, about his dire need for care and company. The owner told me the carer was ‘away on sick leave’. Every carer knows young elephants are not to be left alone.
It is well documented that these highly social animals have the intellectual capacity to process many complex constructs, thoughts, and emotions; and that calves need to constantly be around their mothers, and are known to die easily from stress. The private sector and travel multinational corporations have the power to change the way the market behaves. May these recent pledges be a sign of more to come and draw us closer to a day where no elephant shall ever have to be beaten, or fall victim to a bullhook, ever again.