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Tourism threatens animals in Thailand

Reporter: Martin Lowe 丨 CCTV.com

12-04-2016 12:37 BJT

Most of Thailand’s 3,000 captive elephants are privately owned. And these animals are often used for money-making. Elephant treks are popular among tourists. But this attraction can cause real harm. 

Riding an elephant is on many people’s wish-list when they come to Thailand. For most, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to get close to these "gentle giants’. But few realize the cruelty that can occur when the animals are trained to accept human commands.

This video shows a process called ‘phajaan’ when baby elephants are taken from their mothers isolated, beaten and starved. Only when their spirit is broken, are they fed. In this way, they learn to obey their handlers. The footage isn’t new, but animal charity PETA says the practice is still common today.

Despite their size, elephants have weak spines – and the weight of a chair and people is painful to them. Many elephants spend long hours in the sun, without water or mud to protect their skins.

"They are suffering from not having enough food, inadequate nutrients and natural diets also not enough veterinary care. Of course when we manage them it is cruel, a lot of cruelty behind the scenes to train them, to keep them," said Somsak Soonthornnawaphat, head of Campaigns, Thailand World Animal Protection.

Poaching for ivory remains a problem. The use of elephants as ‘animal tractors’ – moving heavy objects – has been banned, but still happens at illegal logging camps and elephants are still paraded in some cities, and at circus shows and festivals.

There’s still only limited awareness here of animal conservation. Thailand’s first-ever animal welfare law was passed in 2014, making cruelty to animals illegal – and a number of tour operators are now refusing to sell trips that include riding elephants. But concerned organizations say there’s still a long way to go.

"The elephant is Thailand’s national animal, I would say please don’t harm, it. Elephants feel emotions just like people. If you kill elephants for ivory, you will gain a little money – but eventually the elephants will be extinct," said Suram Puangsuk, an elephant keeper of Dusit Zoo.

A number of elephant camps have been opened by conservation groups. It means – after a lifetime of work – at least some animals can now end their days in freedom.

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