Elephants have long been victims of human exploitation, whether hunted for ivory or corralled for spectacle, performing in shows or offered for joyrides through jungles. In regions of Africa and Asia, elephants constitute a significant part of the tourism industry; in Thailand, for example, it’s difficult to travel far without being offered the chance to see an elephant kick a soccer ball.
Business drives some elephant handlers to maltreatment, and they will beat and withhold food from animals who do not behave. As the group over at Ethical Traveler reports, some elephant sanctuaries’ practice of “breaking” an elephant at a young age includes tormenting baby elephants until they learn that only by submitting entirely to their handlers will they be given food and rest.
For those travelers who want an ethical elephant experience, research is key. There are mindful sanctuaries that consider first the needs of the elephants, putting rough hide before thin skin. One elephant sanctuary in Thailand practices pairing, one elephant with one human, to create a strong bond between animal and trainer and encourages visitors to spend the day developing a relationship with their larger, greyer counterparts.
The ethics of using animals for amusement are questionable, and become more complex when it is clear that many countries benefit from the revenue that animals generate. Check out Ethical Traveler’s article for more on the topic.