I’ve been researching elephant tourism for a client for the past few months. What an eye opening experience! I never knew how brutally elephants are treated in Southeast Asia. Mothers and babies are routinely separated so their owners can sell the babies to purveyors of elephant-back tourism, i.e., individuals who profit from forcing their elephants to spend long, hot days on the streets giving rides (which severely injure an elephant’s spine) or performing tricks for money, or those who turn their farms into so-called sanctuaries that promote elephant-back safaris, elephant painting, and elephant performances. The methods that elephant owners employ to train their animals are harsh and inhumane. I won’t go into detail.
Thankfully, though, some ethical elephant lovers have stepped up to draw attention to these practices by opening sanctuaries that do exactly what unethical elephant owners do not. They offer human/elephant contact in a wild environment in which the elephants are allowed plenty of space to roam free and interact with each other naturally.
One such place, Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, was established in Thailand by Katherine Conner in memory of Boon Lott, a baby elephant that Katherine nursed back to health from calcium deficiency and other weaknesses attributed to his premature birth. She went so far as to launch a successful international campaign to keep mother and baby together when Boon Lott’s owner decided to sell him to an elephant tourism company. The little guy had touched her heart that deeply. Katherine’s sanctuary promotes survival and growth of the elephant species through application of her three goals: protection, expansion, and education. She also provides financial support to local elephant owners to prevent them from selling their animals to the tourist industry.
The world needs more people willing to fight for ethical elephant tourism free from back-breaking trekking and performance activities that only serve to demean these gentle giants.