One year ago today I volunteered a week of my time at Elephant Nature Park, Chiang Mai, Thailand. Today on my YouTube Channel I have a video showcasing formerly abused elephants enjoying their freedom. Here on the blog, I have a few points I’ve learnt regarding the sinister side of tourism. Involving both animals and people.
Elephants have always been my number one favourite animal. As a little girl I was so jealous of my cousins elephant painting (as in a painting painted by an elephant) I wanted one badly. I also wanted to ride as elephant and feel like Princess Jasmine.
As an adult I’ve learnt a few things. I was taught in Thailand:
Elephant have very thin skin. Did you know it is very unnaturally for elephants to paint pictures? Did you know their “owners” stick nails into the thin, sensitive skin of their ear flaps? This is to keep the paint brush in their trunks and keep them painting. You’ll find most Elephant Paintings look identical. The paint strokes of distress.
Did you that like humans and other animals, if you put something heavy on an elephant’s neck it will cause damage? Elephants are not transport. s babies, elephants are caged, whipped and beaten until they bleed to “train” them to take rides. To be more accurate, when they are bleeding, the mahouts will keep going. I have seen the footage.
They have the same “training” to be in the circus. One major side affect of circuses for elephants is going blind. They have sensitive eyes and the lights are too bright for them to take in.
When an elephant shakes its head, it is in distress. If you are lucky enough to give an elephant a bath (I have!) make sure it is not in a place that makes the elephant lie down. Elephants are very heavy and lying down makes their organs squash. It is very painful for them and they have difficulty breathing.
You know the little sucker fish that eat the dead skin from your feet. Did you know they don’t naturally eat dead skin and they eat it because they are starved. These fish and the water carry fungus, bacteria and skin infections. People still decide to put their feet in the water. So gross!
It is unfathomable how anyone can think it is possible to sit with a tiger, and the tiger is safe. The tiger is chained to the floor and poke with sticks to keep it down. Tourists get their happy snap, hugging a wild cat. The tiger’s health is poor, underfed, drugged.
Many abused water buffalos live at Elephant Nature Park. Water buffalos are used to give tourists rides as an alternative to elephant rides. Water buffalos are constantly moving for 8 hours. They pull carts full of families. Their hooves break down, bleed, and become deformed.
Lek told us that when she was a little girl, she grew up in a small village, in a tiny house with her parents and siblings. They were poor and could afford one bowl of rice to feed the entire family. A tourist group walked through their house when they were sat down for dinner. Their guide told them to walk through the house “to see how the locals live” (uninvited). The guide also took their bowl of rice and told the group to “eat like locals”. The locals did not eat.
Some Things to Think About
All I ask is that you do your research when travelling. After visiting Elephant Nature Park, I really want to travel to places that make a difference. I’d love to participate in Habitat for Humanity and go to an Ashram in India.
Recently I visited Bali. I visited GitGit waterfalls where we paid for a local guide. The money went towards education for children in the village. Little 4 or 5 year old girls were still trying to sell us products. It was heart breaking.
Part of our tour included a “Monkey Temple” (besides the fact I’m not a fan of monkeys) I was afraid to go. I didn’t know what kept the monkeys there. Did they get fed besides the tourists paying to feed them? Was their health taken care of?
Always ask questions when travelling, especially in under developed areas. There are groups that work to educate people about their local area. You work hard for your money, don’t let it fund corruption or abuse.