We have become a hashtag generation! We all want to be cool and ‘in’. Today many are finding a life of constant work and pay absurd and we want a more exciting life with thrills and adventures to be able to share and get ‘likes’. We travel and create life changing experiences and we post selfies!!!
While those selfies and hashtags may seem harmless at a first glance, sometimes they are – and without us knowing – sometimes stained with the blood of innocents.
Being an active social media user I see so many of my friends posting pictures of themselves in breathtaking places or with amazing animals, including wildlife. While many are only cumulating ‘likes’ on their pictures, there are also many well-intentioned friends who are contributing to the destruction of the planet and to cruel practices against animals without even knowing it. I really hope that this piece of writing will act as an eye opener to many and that we will all stop doing harm to our planet… knowingly and unknowingly.
I have always been an advocate of endangered giants… The Elephants and the amazing Orangutans were on my top-list-to-see-before-I-die and now this went off my bucket list.
I was recently in Thailand to live such thrilling adventures we all looked upon to. I wanted to see with my own eyes the dangers driving the amazing Orang-Utans to extinction and how threatened the Asian elephants were. I wanted to feel that I was right to stop consuming Palm oil and that however negligible it was, I was making a difference to the planet. I always felt from my very core that using animals in any way was wrong, if you see animals as sentient beings who are not different from you, using them in any way will naturally feel incorrect.
The elephants… No! The glorious beautiful elephants.
THAILAND! Google Thailand and automatically among pictures of the beaches and forests, you will see humongous elephants too. Thailand is known for its elephants, every single souvenir shops bear the pictures of elephants on their product, restaurants, hotels, bars and pubs, businesses, fashion, clothes, temples, historical sites… We see elephants everywhere and they are closely associated with the history, culture and religious beliefs of Thailand (and the whole Asian continent too). Tourist magazines and travel catalogues depict Thailand as the land of elephants and any sensation-seeking traveller will be ecstatic to encounter those animals closely.
Seeing elephants was the first on my things-to-do-list in Thailand and while planning our trip (with my wonderful better half), we had in mind sustainable and cruelty free animal encounters only. So zoos were ruled out! It was quite impressive that 99% of all attractions proposed to tourists were NOT pro-animal welfare. Planning out this trip was not easy because some ‘parks’ and ‘sanctuaries’ hide their malpractices so well that it was tough to figure out if they were ethical or not.
Elephant riding is one is THE pinnacle of a visit to Thailand. But do not be lured by it!
This apparently harmless practice hides years of exploitation, deforestation, abusing practices and unethical profit making! Elephant riding was THE main activity in most places where you could find those animals and by refusing to take part in this made my dream of seeing them seemed bleak at first. It was better NOT to see them at all than to satisfy my desires at their misery.
But why all this fuss about just seeing them?
Let’s learn a new word today : PHAJAAN.
Phajaan means The CRUSH or to DIVORCE the baby elephant from its spirit” or to SPLIT THE WILL of a baby elephant. Phajaan means breaking the spirit of an elephant to make him submissive to man. Phajaan is a practice that starts from tender age of the baby elephant that is poached from the mother. In many cases, the mothers are shot dead because they would charge at the persons to protect their babies.
Baby elephants are tethered and dragged to a clearing where the crush cage is located. These fragile elephants will be kept in small crates, their front and back legs bound with ropes in order for their limbs to be stretched.
Repeatedly beaten with sharp metal and other tools, the helpless baby elephants will be constantly yelled and screamed at. They are stabbed, burned and beaten, as well as starved of food and deprived of water.
Bull hooks (a tool used in most forms of elephant control) will be used to stab the animal’s head, slash the skin and tug the ears. Asian elephants used in trekking (elephant rides), circuses or any other form of entertainment, often have shredded or torn ears from their tissue being ripped and pulled away during the training process. They also often have scars on their foreheads from deep lacerations caused by beatings.
The Phajaan may last from several days to weeks, most elephants go through it when they are 3-6 years, but they can be younger depending on the age at which they were taken from their mothers. They have no rest from physical torture and mental domination. Gradually, their spirits are broken, as their handlers achieve control.
In the final stage of the Phajaan, the elephant’s mahout will bring the animal its first meal with water, and will be the one to ”release” the elephant and lead it away from the crate. After weeks of torture, mental and emotional abuse, loneliness, confusion and separation, the elephant sees this human figure as its saviour – the one it trusts. This is just another stage of mental and emotional manipulation, of course, but it is how a particular mahout gains such immense control over its animal.
Beatings can continue regularly throughout the elephant’s’ life to remind them of their place. Some of these abused animals eventually snap from the strain of relentless torture, with 5% of captive elephants killing people!
It has been scientifically proven that an elephant will never forget this torment.
So when you ride elephants; what is seemingly harmless is actually the opposite. You are actually fuelling an industry of torture.
Just think about it for a minute. If animals are sentient like it has been proven, do you really think that they enjoy being ridden whole day long? That they enjoy being chained and carry a heavy wooden chair and 2 heavy adults on their back? Hear happy shouts and laughters of humans beings while being hit dragged and forcefully driven long distances?
Look into their eyes and you will see empty souls, they have the eyes of the black slaves being sold to the white masters, the eyes of jews queuing up to the Nazis gas rooms, the eyes of the kidnapped child going to the brothel! The comparison is not exaggerated because we really act like the white slave masters, the oppressed Jews and child kidnappers. We believe that we are superior enough to use animals as vehicles and as entertainers. We believe that animals have no will, desire and needs of their own. We believe that we can decide for them but it’s wrong. So wrong.
Even riding an elephant without the wooden chair is wrong because the elephant did went through Phajaan, is still ‘owned’ like an object and performs tricks to entertain humans. These elephants are still used. Wrong again.
As long as there will be a need to use of animals for entertainment, there will be a need for more elephants. When the demand stops, the business too will stop!
Elephants are too majestic to ride on them or to watch them paint flowers using brush and watercolor. This is wrong.
Again they were abused to be able to learn how to draw but keep a close watch, elephants never draw without their Mahouts (their carer or the one responsible for them) by their side. They draw through pinching and hooking. The Mahouts will punish them if they do it wrong.
If a website or a marketing advert says that a park is a ‘sanctuary’ and they rescue or treat elephants kindly but you see that they allow elephant riding there ; you would know that they do not do things in favour of the animals but more in favour of their pockets.
You do not need to ride on elephants to appreciate their splendor, there is more (and better)…
Does that mean that you should never go see elephants in Thailand? NO 🙂 The world out there is not that dark. There are specks of light that bring hope to the world and one of these rays of light is named Sangdeaun Lek Chailert, founder of Elephant Nature park
The elephant Nature Park – A haven of freedom and peace amidst a world a cruelty
Lek is to the Elephants what Jane Goodall is to the chimps, Sylvia Earle to the oceans, Martin L King to the racial discrimination cause or Mother Theresa to the poorest of the poor. This should be enough for you to realise the grandeur of this small in size lady and YAAAAY I met her… 🙂
She’s such an inspiration to me and I am sure to everyone who are putting all their love, hope and strength in saving threatened wildlife, abused companions animals, the forests, the water and the planet through activism, education and through national, international or personal projects. Lek has had many international recognitions and has become the voice of the Asian Elephants raising awareness by advocating for positive and sustainable changes.
So this lady founded the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) to save the abused elephants and give them somewhere they could be the magnificent beings that they really are, to give them a peaceful haven where they wouldn’t be abused and mistreated.
The elephants of ENP come from all parts of Thailand, from circus like animal shows, street begging, logging business and all sort of zoos and entertainments. When they are finally rescued, these elephants are broken ones, only the meak shadows of themselves and have to be reintroduced to be an elephant again.
My journey to this haven
I was over the moon and all excited to go there. When we boarded the van to head to the park, we were greeted by lovely guides who introduced us to the park and its mission. We were made to watch a beautiful and heart breaking video of Asian elephants and their sad fate in Thailand. Being an animal lover, I knew about the miseries of elephants but the video sent out such a powerful message that by the time we reached the sanctuary, we have all become advocates of the elephants… without even seeing them. Such is the power of education.
As I watched the other persons in the van watching the video I could see the deep sadness on their faces. Their feelings could not be hidden while they learn about the process of Phajaan and see the disturbing images of elephants being abused in the entertainment industry. Even the kids maintained a dead silence while watching the video. The 3 kids present have all become elephant ambassadors… without knowing it.
Half way through the Video, we meet Lek and her family. We then see the love they are giving to the elephants and the smiles came back on our faces… We were seeing how good people were doing good stuffs… and we had hope. We saw people rescuing the abused elephants and we saw the elephants being free and happy again far from the tyranny of man.
This is what Lek and her amazing team of ENP does. They give the elephants a second chance and needless to say it… None of the elephants are used for riding. At ENP they can embrace the life of freedom that was once snatched away from them. No elephants there are forced to entertain humans , they are simply elephants and trust me this is amazing. Seeing an elephant paint and riding an elephant might be impressive but seeing a wild elephant simply being what he/she was meant to do is sensational. You go back to the source and you witness the beauty of nature. This my friend cannot be compared to any man-made attraction.
Having only the welfare of the elephants in mind, Lek founded these sanctuaries to help the world see that animals are not meant to be used in any way. Through her beautiful initiative she teaches people that all animals deserve respect and that in no way should we use and abuse them.
This is the very first time that I came across this enormous animal that close. Their sizes were impressive but their gentleness even more striking. Here was one of the biggest mammal, huge, docile and abused. I looked into their eyes and I saw only love.I touched them and I felt love… I fed them.. Hell do they eat!!!
So how are we able to help? While tourism isn’t an inherently bad thing, making the right choices while on our adventures is increasingly vital to the survival of elephants and other animals, ensuring that these already endangered species are able to survive for generations to come. It is still possible to help the elephants through sustainable tourism, with many wonderful sanctuaries and conservation programs where people can visit. People should be able to see them in their natural habitats as they are meant to be, and there are plenty of tours, volunteer projects and destinations which enable you to responsibly experience these animals, as well as the opportunity to take plenty of photographs and to create memories that not even an elephant could forget.
NEVER ride an elephant
NEVER go to circuses using elephants to perform tricks
NEVER attend elephant painting demonstrations
With the new services of Air Asia offering cheap flights over Thailand and Malaysia, Mauritians will be travelling to these destinations more often now. You can help the Asian elephants by choosing cruelty-free attractions and spreading the word to your family, friends and travel agencies. Visit the Elephant nature park and your money will be so well spent.
Jane Goodall once said during a TED talk : Every one of us impacts the world around us every day, even if you stay in bed all day, you’re breathing oxygen and giving out CO2, and probably going to the loo, and things like that – you’re making a difference in the world.
I love this woman by the way! (Sigh)
Each one of us does a difference to the world by just existing and every action of ours impacts on the world. Whether we impact positively or negatively depends on our choices.
Choose with compassion!