If you knew that your holiday was contributing to animal cruelty, would you still choose to do the same activities?
Mae Perm was the first elephant that Lek rescued from the logging industry – where she was required to drag heavy loads every day, despite her increasing age – and brought to the park. Jokia was rescued many years later, blind in both eyes after being abused by humans. The two elephants bonded, and because Jokia cannot see she relies upon Mae Perm to be her guide and help.
This anecdote alone should give some indication of the intelligence and emotion these gentle giants are capable of.
But just as elephants can show compassion and love, they can also feel deep suffering. Distress when separated from other members of their herd. Psychological problems when confined in unnatural habitats. Post-traumatic stress disorder when abused or hurt.
Sadly, the suffering of elephants is not uncommon. At least, it is not uncommon for these wild animals kept in captivity.
Asian elephants are highly endangered. There are about 30,000 in the wild, and 15,000 in captivity. In recent decades much of their natural habitat has been destroyed, which places the species in an even more precarious position.
In Thailand, captive elephants were used in logging until 1989 when the degradation of the environment forced the government to shut down the industry. After that, many elephants were ‘unemployed’ and ‘homeless’; they could not return to the wild, and their owners needed them to earn their keep.
Elephants ‘begging’ on busy streets in major cities – holding out their trunks to collect money for their owners – became a common sight for many years. The bright lights and the vibrations from cars driving on the road were distressing for these creatures; and the cruel methods used to train the elephants were just as physically damaging as over-working in the logging industry had been.
These days, elephants in Thailand are used to entertain tourists, and this has led to a situation where elephants in captivity are forced to do performances that are unnatural to them. Moreover, the methods used to train elephants to entertain tourists are tortuous. Mahouts – elephant trainers – still use bull-hooks, and separate elephants from others of their species to break their spirit.