During my recent ventures around Southern Vietnam I saw one of the most heart-breaking sights I’ve ever seen in my life…
We had taken a picnic to a remote little forest outside of Da Lat. We were just about to tuck into our lunch by the resevoir when we noticed a ginormous, graceful Elephant walking towards us! We were totally baffled, but then it dawned on us that a western couple and a Vietnamese driver were riding the poor thing on a short circuit. As a huge Elephant fan I was both delighted and saddened to see the elephant, as knowing Asia’s bad reputation of caring for animals in captivity I could only presume the poor conditions it was being kept in. The Elephant (and passengers) gracefully stomped past us, narrowly avoiding our lunch, and after a short ride through the forest they returned to a nearby restaurant where the creature was being detained.
After our picnic we headed over to the Elepahnt. It was lunch time, in the background we could hear large groups of Vietnamese people delving into feasts, so our new friend was having a break from her duties as entertainment. We were happily touching her from a raised platform and stroking her tough old trunk when we noticed she was crying. Yes, crying. We couldn’t actually believe it, but real tears were dropping from her eyes. We were heartbroken and even more so when she wiped her tears with her trunk.
Elephants are a huge tourist trap in South East Asia, drawing large crowds of travellers eager to meet the beutiful beasts in their jungle habitat. Sadly, many of the Elephant rides, treks and even some sanctuaries abuse, sedate and enslave Elephants purely so tourists can take a slefie and ride on it’s back.
To be fair, I believe most tourists naively assume the animals are being kept in good and healthy condition and are disappointed to discover otherwise. More often than not the Elephants are trained using hooked sticks (the scars of which were still visible on our friend today), and live a much shorter life expectancy than in the wild – it’s been clear to me on the various occasions I’ve encountered Elephants in Thailand and Vietnam that the beasts are miserable.
Please, please, please think twice about supporting establishments that offer Elephant rides or use Elephants for amusement. There are some genuine Elephant sanctuaries and charities which are well worth supporting and absolutely deserve your money. Watching the Elephant chained by one ankle in solitary, with huge tears rolling down her cheeks was a deeply saddening experience – I don’t think I’ve never felt more moved by or connected to an animal before. It reminds me that we have the power to boycott such places to avoid the continued mistreatment of Elephants, and indeed all other specieis in similar situations.
This is a really interesting article about the Elephant Do’s and Don’t’s in Chiang Mai: www.traveldudes.org/ chiang-mai-elephant-dos-and-donts