An animal protection group wants tourists to know — that elephant you are thinking about riding during your vacation in Thailand is probably a miserable victim of abuse.
London-based World Animal Protection looked at almost 3,000 elephants working at entertainment venues in six Asian nations and found three out of four of the animals are living in poor and unacceptable conditions. It cited being chained day and night when not working, receiving inadequate diets and unsatisfactory veterinary care, as well as undergoing harsh initial training, "that breaks their spirits and makes them submissive enough to give rides and perform."
The group wants tourists to be aware and counsels tour agencies to shun abusive venues, among other measures. It says it has already convinced more than 160 travel companies to stop sales and promotion of venues offering elephant rides and shows.
The report the group released Thursday is part of a broader campaign by World Animal Protection, which has also sought to expose the living conditions of other animals used to entertain, including tigers, macaques and bears.
"If you can ride, hug or interact with wild animals, chances are there's cruelty involved," said Dr. Jan Schmidt-Burbach, WAP's global wildlife and veterinary adviser and author of the elephant report.
Wildlife tourist attractions, including wildlife entertainment, have become increasing popular and hence profitable, meaning the industry is likely to expand, the report warned.
"The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing," said Schmidt-Burbach. "We want tourists to know that many of these elephants are taken from their mothers as babies, forced to endure harsh training and suffer poor living conditions throughout their life."
The group identified venues by looking at travel guidebooks and similar resources and by visiting tourist areas most likely to offer elephant attractions. It then sent researchers to each venue at least once to document the animals' situations. It found only 194 elephants at 13 venues to be living in acceptable conditions, the major criteria being that the animals do not perform and are not ridden by people.
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