I would love to take all the elephants out of domestic use in Asia and put them in a beautiful home where they can run free and live as elephants should, however I have come to realise its far more complicated than you think!
1. Elephants are really expensive to buy
The owner of the park that I am now helping in in Laos has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars to buy elephants because he loves them so much. He has rescued them from the logging industry which is now illegal and is giving them an easier life at the park. This easier life doesn’t however mean total freedom, but it does mean their strength isn’t tested everyday doing hard labour. However it does mean that tourist are riding on their backs.
Now having tourist ride on their backs is a much better alternative than being in the logging industry, they walk, they stop to eat, they bathe and they get fed. And after spending so much money on buying the elephants, the owner wants a return for his investment. This I guess is fair enough, and I am sure any business person would agree, and until the demand is reduced, or we can make enough money to pay back that investment in some other way, people are still going to want to ride an elephant.
2. Tourists love elephants and they love the fact that the can ride them and get really close to these gentle giants.
I have seen the excitement and laughter as tourists get close to them and get to ride on their backs or feed them. I have seen the photos of the moments that they fell in love with these incredible pachyderms.
3. Domestic elephants unfortunately cannot roam completely free. After 5000 years of domestication, deforestation and growing communities, unfortunately without community education, surveillance and tracking programs, and large fences we would have major problems with releasing elephants, and we would possibly see the death of elephants or people increase. An elephant charging through a village, or eating crops would probably ensure its death, and as we know any animal threatened will defend itself and its family no matter what.
So what’s the answer?
I think its respect, love and education.
Without respect and love abuse will continue, greed will control and egos will always need to be pampered. And without education no one will understand.
The illegal trade of wildlife is the fourth most lucrative illegal trade in the world because people are greedy, they want to pamper their egos, and they have a need to control the innocent. There are so many species now in zoos as insurance species because they are becoming extinct in the wild. What a sad world we live in!
So in relation to elephants, and other species, we need to stop the use of abusive control techniques and respect them for the amazing creatures they are. And educate on a global level because as Nelson Mandela said it ‘Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world’!
I am happy to say the elephants in the park I am helping in are free to roam, under the watchful eyes of their mahouts, during the day. They eat as much as they want, and in addition their mahouts are finding and delivering their favourite foods constantly. They are also guided through gentle foot taps and words, and they live in the jungle at night.
The owner also has to consider the safety of the elephants and community when the mahouts are not around, so at night the elephants are chained. Elephants could run miles and miles in one night if allowed and destroy everything in its path, so until we can look at alternatives in the future through additional income we can’t change these circumstances yet.
We are however, through your help and the help of grants, are looking at rescuing more elephants from abusive situations, and building a conservation centre dedicated to finding alternatives to many of the environmental and wildlife problems our world faces. An education centre is also part of the equation. So one step at a time we aim to move forward with love, respect and education, and hopefully soon positive results will follow!!!
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