Elephants and tourism
For many tourists travelling to Asia, an elephant ride/experience is on top of their ‘bucket list’. It is easy to get caught up in the vibrant, colourful religious festivals in India or the exotic tropical landscapes of the islands of Thailand and Vietnam. In this setting, seeing elephants dressed, painted and paraded through the streets or carrying excited groups of tourists on their backs, is considered their customary role. As this view of their role is steeped in religion and tradition, it is normally accepted by tourists as commonplace and harmless.
However this couldn’t be farther from the truth. These scenes hide a very dark reality of unimaginable pain and suffering for the animals involved – a reality that most tourists are unaware of, and in turn are unaware of their role in supporting and perpetuating this cruel industry.
Given the size and sentient nature of these animals, elephants are normally captured from their herds at a very young age. Capturing the young will usually involve the death of up to four adult elephants that protect the young. Also, as a result of crude capture methods, many of the captive young do not survive.
As wild animals, elephants don’t naturally parade around festivals or allow people to ride them. To get them to perform requires a cruel, painful process for the animal. The young elephant first needs to be conditioned into submission, in a process known as ‘crushing’ or phajaan, as it literally involves crushing the young elephant’s spirit. The process always involves extreme torture and violence. The elephant is kept in a box no bigger than itself or tied between two trees. It is then subjected to systematic beatings, starvation, and lack of water.
This will continue until the elephant’s spirit is broken or it dies. Given the intelligent sentient nature of elephants, this submission can take a long time. Once the creature is broken, its life does not improve, and starvation, beatings, and overwork become its normal existence.