Should you visit elephants in South East Asia?
I’ve been to two as part of pre-arranged tours and both have left me feeling uneasy and uncomfortable. But I think part of this may be because I was spoiled in Africa.
When I went to Nairobi I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which rescues, raises and re-introduces back into the wild, African elephants orphaned by poaching and a loss of habitat. The centre is open only an hour a day when groups of animals walk down to be fed, watered and play, with people able to come and watch. The rest of the time the elephants go wandering around the park. It was a really great trip and I took some of my favourite animal photos there. I even had one trunk tickle my feet.
In comparison to that, my two day trip to Kanchanaburi, Thailand included an elephant ride. I was a little unsure about this as I have heard tales about how animals are treated and forced to work, but I went with an open mind. As the others in the group were on a one day trip, I stayed at the elephant centre waiting for them. I watched as elephants loaded with saddles, some wearing chains, were walked up to a platform by their ‘drivers’, knocked gently with sticks to get into place as sweaty tourists clambered on excitedly. Off they went for around 20 minutes, not much shade around the course, dropped off their human loads and were rewarded by bunches of bananas, bits of watermelon and sugar cane bought for them by the thankful and smiling tourists. I bought some fruit and fed some of the elephants before they were loaded with people and taken on another ‘trek’.