Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Ethical Animal Tourism – SE Asia

Hey friends ~

 

How’s everyone feeling? If you feel good, I’m jealous of you. Everyone in the apartment is sick right now. Not to be excluded, even the cat threw up on the shag rug this morning. Now I have about 30 minutes of energy left in me, so let’s talk about elephants again.

 

The only tv I could handle today was Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown on very low volume. One of the first episodes was filmed in Myanmar, which is where The Elephant Project is looking to build a sanctuary. It reminded me that recently, a few friends have asked me about visiting elephants in Thailand and how to do it responsibly.

 

I have mixed feelings about visiting elephants. I wonder sometimes if all elephant tourism stopped, if eventually people would just leave them alone in the wild. This is obviously not true, as human-elephant conflict will never allow both parties to live in peace (I care about humans, too!). Maybe elephant tourism is a necessary evil. Some animal rights extremists say owning pets is a necessary evil, and that all domesticated pets should be neutered/spayed so that eventually they will die out. I don’t think that’s happening anytime soon, and neither is the end of elephant tourism. Plus, I’m thankful that at least people want to see elephants in their native countries, as opposed to some pathetic zoo over here. 

 

So,

Six rules for a responsible elephant sighting in southeast Asia.

 

 

 

#1  Take your chances

 

If you won’t be devastated by potentially not seeing an elephant, I would suggest visiting a national park or reserve, where the animals roam completely free. For example, according to this article it’s pretty easy to spot an elephant in Minneriya National Park in Sri Lanka during certain months of the year. I’m sure this is true in Thailand, where there are a bunch of national parks.

 

I know it’s tempting to visit somewhere that you know you’ll be able to interact with an elephant. Who wouldn’t? I would pee in my pants if I got to meet an elephant. But the point of seeing an elephant is seeing it happy, exhibiting behaviors like it would in the wild (waving its tail, flapping its ears, constantly on the move). Who wants to see an elephant that’s been beaten into submission? It’s not worth it. Please, if you can, take your chances. Your elephant karma will be high, maybe that increases your chances of seeing a family!

 

 

#2  No riding

 

 

Most people know this by now (hopefully), but under no circumstances should you ride an elephant. Who are you, Aladdin? Who needs to ride an elephant? Nobody. No matter what the reviews say, no nothing. Those elephants were most likely beaten as infants and are chained when they’re not working. Plus, even if trained elephants were treated humanely, spending money on this activity supports this form of tourism, which increases the demand, which increases the abuse endured by elephants in the industry. Spend your money other ways in the country if you want to help.  

 

#3  Do not. ride. any wild animals.

 

Just don’t. I can’t even post a photo of western tourists riding elephants because they look so. stupid.

 

snape

 

 

#4  Keep it on the elephants terms

 

Elephant Nature Park, right outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand, has the best reviews by “woke” tourists – most people picked up on the fact that every interaction at ENP was “on the elephants’ terms.”

 

You shouldn’t visit places that have trained the elephants to do anything for you. To be trained, an elephant usually has to be broken, first.

 

african-elephant-balancing-on-ball-260nw-718342978

 

NO…….

Here’s a documentary about domesticating an elephant if you really need to be convinced: Yes, it’s PETA, just watch it.

 

 

#5  Use common sense

 

Now that you know an elephant shouldn’t be performing tricks for you, pay attention to the interactions between the mahouts and elephants. Read all the reviews you can. Ask what happens to the elephants when the place is closed. Are they chained or allowed to roam? I’ve read a lot of reviews from people who said they decided not to stay at a place because it “seemed fishy.” If something doesn’t feel right, don’t stay.

Do the animals look healthy? Do they have visible wounds?

 

Do they look like this?

bad-elephant-drawing.gif

Definitely a bad sign.

 

Are the elephants separated or together, in groups that resemble their original family structures? If it feels bad, it probably is.

 

 

#6  Finally, apply this knowledge to other animals

 

Elephants aren’t the only animals exploited for tourism money. See what happened at the famous Tiger Temple a few years ago.  And now they want to open a zoo next door! Don’t visit a zoo, don’t visit a “menagerie.” You should only be viewing animals in an environment as close to their natural habitat as possible.

 

tiger
Mood

 

There are a ton of web articles about ethical elephant experiences, but the best advice is to use your common sense. If you feel that an elephant is being mistreated, don’t stay. If you feel an elephant is being mistreated at a place that claims to be ethical/rehabilitating/sanctuary, tell someone! Leave a review! Contact the owners. Blow up Trip Advisor. It’s important, now more than ever, for us to be responsible with our tourist dollars.

 

 

 

So, if you’re going to Thailand, or anywhere else in SE Asia, I’m jealous. I also hope you’ll spend your dollars wisely. It just takes a little bit of research but it’s totally worth it for the elephant babies – and for other animals too! Beware of any group that’s making an animal perform for you.

Is There Hope for Any of Us?

Is There Hope for Any of Us?

Guess what? Just OFFICIALLY signed on the dotted line to make this site ElephantAdvocate.com! Turns out I don’t know much about elephant law, and this way, this site can engage in advocacy for other issues, too.

champagne+pop

 

Like mental health.

 

Mental health is a topic that’s really important to me, and often misunderstood. Issues with mental health manifest so differently from person to person, too, making it that much tougher to understand if your brain works like it’s supposed to.

 

After news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide broke today, I got about.. oh I don’t know… another 45 minutes of work done before I paid to cancel my workout class and came home early to work on this site.

 

It’s not just him. Every time someone dies this way it hurts me, physically and emotionally. I think because, I understand what it’s like to be in a dark place, but even I have been able to somehow bounce back every time I go there. And it hurts a lot to imagine others being in that dark place, either for so long, or hurting so intensely, that they don’t see a way out. Quite honestly, it also scares me, because I don’t have any more control over my mind than they have over theirs.

 

Usually a dark side will breed some sort of creativity – you see it a lot with artists and writers and so on.

 

catscream
That’s me – tortured and brilliant.

 

So then, that means that a lot of people suffering from all sorts of mental problems have a lot to offer in terms of art or other thought-provoking mediums. And I think those creations are important, because they help us understand mental illness better than a psychology paper. For example, Sylvia Plath’s Bell Jar helped me understand how to put what I was feeling into words, and also encouraged me to start therapy, because I identified a little too much with the main character, if you know what I mean.

 

Another example is pretty much anything written by Andrew Solomon, who helped me understand my depression more than my own therapist. Had he not reached rock bottom, I wouldn’t have had his brilliant writing and speeches as a resource with which to understand myself. And that would be a shame.

 

 

Anthony Bourdain’s death is hard for me to comprehend, because I really identified with what type of human he was. I’ve worked in a lot of restaurants, and tended to appreciate the same sort of chaotic, fast-paced, late-night (I think he also mentioned free food and pilfered booze) life-style that he liked. I watched his shows not because of the culinary aspect, but because he seemed to not give a shit about anything. He seemed to be so open about everything. He wanted constant adventure – which I also get, because I tend to get bored with life really easily.

 

From my perspective (and probably everyone else’s), he seemed to have found a way to channel his constant need for stimulation or adventure, into something we couldn’t get enough of. He was raw and unapologetic, but still extremely charismatic, open, and non-judgmental. Or maybe he was judgmental. I don’t know. I don’t know him. All I know is that he had the life I want. And that, for me, begs the question – if that life couldn’t cure him, is there any hope for me?

 

Lately I’ve been “adventure seeking,” if you want to call it that. Really just putting myself out there in creative ways to see what sticks – performing, mainly. I’m doing it because the 9-5 life is not for me. I wish it was, I really do. But I feel more alive when I’m doing something out of the ordinary, and I’m tired of trying to fit myself into a box that wasn’t built for me. I’m wondering if Mr. Bourdain did the same thing, and then outgrew the adventures he was having. What if all of his adventures were in search of something, or running from something, and he got tired of running? And what if that’s what I’m doing? Will it be the case that, at some point, no matter what I’m doing, it won’t be enough?

 

 

ADTWO49alt

 

I don’t think that’s the case for me. I don’t know what kind of demons he was battling, but I have to assume they were more powerful than mine.

 

 

Elephants need advocates because they can’t speak for themselves. They can’t form non-profits and dress up in suits and go meet with elected officials, and explain, “Hey, um, we’re being murdered by the thousands. Could someone maybe help us out?”

elephant-in-a-suit
Can you imagine

 

We have to do that for them. But in different way, victims of mental illness are also unable to advocate for themselves. Depression sends your thoughts into a constant tornado of negativity, anxiety, what if, and then – blank. It’s hard to even explain to a friend what’s going on with you, much less put together a task force to fix the problem. Plus, who wants to bring it up? “Hey, I see you’re having a good day. Wanna talk about how I can’t stop crying?”

 

IMG_2063
Yeah, I drew this. We’ve come a long way from the Endangered Species Act.

 

Nobody wants to be that person. That’s why it sometimes falls to friends and family to ask for help for help on their behalf. Friends and family don’t always know you need help when you seem to have your shit together, I’m guessing. (Never had my shit together, so I can’t say for sure).

 

 

Anyway, there are a lot of topics I want to cover in the next few months, and mental health is joining elephants at the top of the list. If we don’t take care of ourselves, how will we save elephants?