Thousands of elephants being used in Southeast Asia’s tourist industries are being kept in “cruel” conditions when out of the public eye, according to a World Animal Protection report released on Thursday.
The report revealed that more than three quarters of almost 3,000 surveyed elephants across 220 popular Southeast Asian tourist destinations were being kept in severely inadequate settings and fed poor diets when not being used for entertainment purposes.
According to the animal rights NGO, 2,000 elephants throughout Laos, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, India and Cambodia between mid-2014 and late 2016 were subject to “severe” suffering, while 1,839 of them were kept on chains less than 3 metres long.
Thailand fared particularly poorly in the report, which said the country used 2,198 elephants in its tourism industry, roughly twice as many elephants as the other countries combined.
Despite the efforts of conservationists to deter the practice, the number of elephants offering rides or circus performances in Thailand has shot up by 30% since 2010, a byproduct of the country’s ever-expanding tourism industry.
Since 2011, the number of annual visitors to the country has more than doubled, topping just over 30 million in 2016, of which 40% said they had been on or were planning to take an elephant ride, according to the report. Such activities are unnatural for elephants, which are more likely to suffer from behavioural issues and die at a younger age when living in captivity, the report said.
Most of the captive elephants are taken from the wild, where just 50,000 remain in Asia, and forced into a vigorous training process commonly known as ‘the crush’, which involves seclusion and beatings in order to make the elephants submit to humans.
“The cruel trend of elephants used for rides and shows is growing,” Jan Schmidt-Burbach, global wildlife and veterinary adviser at World Animal Protection told the BBC.
“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.”