Another landmark win for the beautiful giants- the famous Ringling Bros circus in the U.S., after 145 years, has put an end to elephant performances. Things are moving in the right direction. Change can and does happen.
I write today, frustrated and angry at the death of Sambo, an old Asian elephant in Cambodia, who recently dropped dead after ferrying 2 tourists on her back to Angkor Wat in extreme heat. Her sudden death has been attributed to accumulated stress and excessive heat which resulted in a heart attack. She was forced to work in the tourism industry for over 15 years.
She was photographed lying there, fallen over and dead, her eyes still open, her mouth open, in front of a handful of people who watch on with blank faces.
This is what happens when you put an elephant to work for life. This is what happens when you place an animal under undue stress and force them to work in a highly demanding environment that is unnatural, cruel, and not suited for any creature.
I am heartbroken and angry at this unnecessary, completely preventable death. This should not have happened. These animals deserve respect, dignity and a life of freedom.
While key companies in the travel industry have signed a pledge to ban this cruel practice, and while public support against the practice is growing, every time another human being pays money to ride an elephant, this elephant riding industry will go on.
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.