Change Starts with U

Ok so it actually starts with ‘C’, but give us a chance to explain!

Over the past week, we’ve had people ask us the same question: what can I do to help? The business of animal attractions is a growing one, and it’s hard to stop it because the demand for it is so high. With more and more people traveling, tourists are looking for things to do, and sadly, animal attractions sit at the top of the list.

While it’ll be difficult to shut down these entertainment venues, we’re hoping that raising awareness of the cruelty that animals have suffered to be a part of them will stick in the minds of tourists, and deter them from visiting these places.

So we’re come up with 3 simple things you can do in support of driving down the demand for these cruel animal attractions!

  1. Do your research before you travel

And by research, we don’t mean go to Tripadvisor and do the top 10 ‘things to do’ in the country. Venture out and find out what you can do as an ethical traveller. We’re not saying you can’t go and see elephants in Thailand, but there are ways to do it that don’t cause harm to the animal. Look for sanctuaries which care for animals and let them live in a more natural habitat. The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand is a good example. They’re a rescue and rehab centre for elephants, and instead of offering rides with elephants, they give you the chance to help bathe the gentle giants, which, if you remember from our previous post, elephants love to do because they absolutely love water!

Find out ways that you can still enjoy interacting with animals that doesn’t involve hurting them. It’s more rewarding to see a wild animal in their natural habitats than paying a ticket to pose with one that has been tortured.

  1. Don’t ‘like’ photos that contain cruel animal attractions, even if they’re posted by your friends/family

Many tourists don’t realise that they’re supporting animal cruelty when they ride an elephant, but you know better than that. ‘Liking’ a photo shows your support. The more likes a post receives, the more people think of it favourably. And then before you know it, your friend who uploaded that photo kissing a dolphin has caused her friend to go visit the attraction and get the exact same photo.

It came out 2 years ago that there was a rising trend in men on Tinder using ‘tiger selfies’ as a way to make their dating profiles seem more attractive, but there’s nothing attractive about a man posing next to an animal in pain (am I right, ladies?) so PLEASE, don’t date the idiot with a tiger selfie.

  1. Tell your friends!

Obviously, this issue isn’t one that’s commonly spoken about. It’s definitely not one that regular people would read up about either. But if you do care, tell somebody about what you know! People learn better when they hear it from somebody they know. And who knows, maybe they’ll tell others, who will tell more people, and as the information keeps spreading, more people will be informed about the issue.

Better yet, know somebody who’s traveling overseas soon? Then tell them about what you’ve found out about this animal tourism industry – inform them of what they’re really paying to see when they buy tickets to an animal attraction, and maybe they’ll decide to go and do something else instead, and you would’ve helped prevent a little less pain from a defenseless wild animal.

Why you shouldn’t be smiling in a ‘Tiger Selfie’

Tiger attractions are a rapidly expanding industry. Whilst ‘ride an elephant’ venues are still very much in demand, over the past 5 years, Thailand has seen a 33% increase in captive tigers, with 830 tigers found in captivity at Thai entertainment venues last year. Lion and tiger cubs are also available to pet in Mexico, and lion cubs are considered a ‘specialty’ in South Africa.

So what actually happens to tigers at these attractions? How do they become ‘safe’ enough for us to approach and take a selfie with, even at times allowing us to hug them? Surely it’s not natural – we’re usually running from tigers!

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(Image taken from Pixabay)

The unfortunate reality is that tiger cubs used in these shows are separated from their mothers 2-3 weeks after birth. These young cubs are especially popular at attractions, with visitors thinking, “they’re just so cute and cuddly!” But tigers are no the same as domesticated cats. These young cubs are mishandled by tourists hundreds of times a day, which can lead to stress and injury for them.

‘Wild animals like lions and tigers have inherent natural behaviours, and exposure to unnatural conditions and human crowds and handling exacerbates their stress,’ says manager of the NSPCA Wildlife Protection Unit, Ainsley Hay.

In research conducted by World Animal Protection in Thailand, 1 in 10 tigers were observed showing behavioural problems, such as repetitive pacing or biting their nails. These behaviours are associated to when animals cannot cope in stressful environments, much like elephants when they pace back and forth, showing how nervous and uncomfortable they are.

In order to ‘teach’ tigers to be submissive, they are punished using pain and fear tactics which are used to stop aggressive or unwanted behaviour by their ‘trainers’. WAP reported an incident where starvation was used to punish tigers when they made a ‘mistake’ to deter them from doing it again.

Tigers are also commonly housed in small concrete cages or barren enclosures with limited access to fresh water. WAP reports that 50% of observed tigers in their study were living in cages with less than 20m2 to move around, a vast contrast to the 16-32km they would roam in a single night in their natural, wild habitats.

So the next time you think you want to take a ‘cool’ photo hugging a tiger, or lying down next to it, please think to yourself: is this natural? What made it possible for me to this?

Selfish Selfies

We see animal selfies all the time – some with our pets, and others with more exotic animals, like tigers. Unfortunately, what we don’t see is what goes on behind the lens to these wild animals.

In a survey by World Animal Protection (who we’ve mentioned about a gazillion times here at FAA, they’re basically our heroes), they found that 37% of tourists questioned in Thailand said they wanted to take a ride on an elephant, 25% wanted a tiger selfie, BUT 85% said they wouldn’t want to do anything if it meant the animal had to suffer.

Jan Schmidt-Burbach, a Bangkok-based adviser at WAP, said that the reason for this contradiction in numbers is that tourists only spend on average 15 minutes with the animal, and that “the cruelty is hidden from them”.

He’s absolutely right though. Often times, painful devices such as nails, metal hooks and knives are used to inflict harm onto the animals in order to direct them to perfect tricks, which we’ll go into deeper detail with our next post.

“We see an increase in demand for wildlife entertainment, and there’s limited transparency on what goes on behind the scene and how those venues are profiting from the animals.”

As well as being a risk to wildlife, tourists often put themselves at risk just to take a photo with these wild animals. Before the closure of Tiger Temple earlier this year, the popular tourist attraction were recorded to having up to 60 incidents a year (of varying severity) of captive tigers mauling tourists or volunteers.

Chris Pitt from Care for the Wild International said that, “people want to copy the photos they’ve seen online, which leads to more animal suffering’.

Dolphin Marine Magic? More Like Tragic

While we hear a lot about cases of animal cruelty occurring overseas, we seem to turn a blind eye to what’s happening in our own backyard. As we detailed in our last post, Australia thankfully doesn’t have any killer whales in captivity – but we have dolphins.

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“[The dolphins] are forced to perform in demeaning shows, swim with and kiss strangers, and even give members of the public ‘rides’.”  (Image from Pixabay)

Dolphin Marine Magic is currently listed as the #1 thing to do in Coffs Harbour on Tripadvisor, with 906 mostly positive reviews, hiding the dark side of reality for dolphins. The park offers activities such as swimming, hugging, playing and getting pushed through the pool by a dolphin. They also advertise ‘dolphin kisses’, with a circus style show, where dolphins perform from 2-3 shows a day during peak periods.

Not only are these activities incredibly demanding on the part of dolphins, Australia for Dolphins advocacy director Jordan Sosnowski says that there is strong evidence to suggest that the park’s chlorinated pool is too small to meet NSW standards.

Whilst chlorine may help to keep the pool clean, there has been cases of it being damaging to the health of dolphins, with dolphins at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium in Florida being unable to open their eyes and had their skin peeling off because of the high level of chlorine in their tanks.

For Australia for Dolphins CEO Sarah Lucas, a possible solution for the popular animal attraction would be a Coffs Harbour sea pen – a netted area in the ocean that provides a non-chlorinated natural habitat.

“It could still be more of an education tourism facility, but less about kissing and riding and more about conservation,” she says.

If we can’t shut down an animal attraction, the best way to go about it would be to change the way it’s operated to provide a more animal-friendly environment where they can still go about their lives without being disturbed by humans.

An Elephant Never Forgets

Following on from our post about elephant cruelty, we were made aware of a few recent incidents that highlighted how these harmful acts continue to affect elephants, even after their spirits have been ‘crushed’.

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(Image from Pixabay)

Less than a month ago, there were reports of an incident in Thailand where a mahout (elephant trainer) was attacked and killed by a male elephant at an elephant camp. The elephant apparently went into a rage after being unchained from a wooden post that he was tethered to at the camp.

An elephant never forgets. It’s an age old saying that actually rings true, with research finding that elephants have exceptionally solid memories. We’ll never know what was going on in the elephant’s mind when he attacked his mahout, but maybe it had something to do with the pain he endured while being ‘trained’.

Earlier this year, an elderly female elephant collapsed and died from exhaustion after carrying tourists around the Angkor Wat temple complex in Cambodia. Veterinarians concluded that the death was caused by excessive work in hot temperatures, leading to stress, shock, high blood pressure and a heart attack.

It would be inhumane to work a person to exhaustion in hot climates, so why is it ok that we do it to animals?

For a more in-depth look into elephants within the tourism industry and how they’re treated, you can watch a free documentary online that uncovers the gory details, aptly named An Elephant Never Forgets.

There’s Nothing #SoHipster About ‘Renting’ an Animal

So a couple of days ago, one of our team members was scrolling through Facebook and passing the time, when she happened upon some photos of her friend riding an elephant in Cambodia. Of course, she was horrified. She thought he knew better than to participate in an animal attraction. And then, she was insulted. Insulted because he chose to caption his set of photos with “Why rent a car when you can rent an elephant #DoingItLocal #EcoFriendly #SoHipster”, as seen below.

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Naturally, we here at Fatal Animal Attractions were enraged. Riding an elephant DOES NOT qualify you as being a ‘local’ – there is nothing local or native about mounting these wild animals. It is also definitely NOT #EcoFriendly because riding on the backs of elephants, especially those that have chairs saddled onto them, is not an act of friendship, but rather one of enslavement. According to Elephant Aid International, elephants are not anatomically designed to carry weight on their back. The weight of carrying tourists and mahouts (trainers) on their back has the ability to cause long-term damage on their spine. As well as wearing down the tissue and bones on an elephant’s back, the chairs they carry can also damage their skin and cause painful lesions on the elephant’s body.

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(These screenshots were taken with permission from the original user. The identities of the individuals have been removed for anonymity and privacy concerns.)

So please, don’t be a fool and think that riding an elephant makes you environmentally friendly and #SoHipster with your 52 likes. If you really want to be a local, rent a bike and explore the areas around town. Don’t rent an elephant, because they are not ours to rent!

Update 19/9/16: After speaking to the original user who posted these photos, he has since edited his post to mention that he was unaware of the pain and circumstances that occurred in training the elephant to be ‘tame’ enough to ride.

The Unspoken Cruelty Behind Elephant Attractions

It’s hard to find someone who doesn’t love elephants. There’s just something about these giant, gentle creatures that has us mesmerised. The image of sitting on the back of an animal of such an immense size as they wander through the wild jungle, the ability to say “I rode an elephant” and have the photos to prove it, is what makes many people put going on an “elephant ride” on their to-do list. But elephant rides and attractions do not belong on anybody’s to-do list, or bucket list for that matter.

South-East Asia has always been a popular destination choice for Australians – its proximity, its culture, and the exchange rate are all reasons for choosing the region as your next holiday stop.

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Elephants are ingrained into Thai culture (Image from Pixabay)

Elephants play a huge part of South-East Asian culture, particularly in Thailand. As the country’s national symbol, elephants are essential to Thailand’s tourist trade, and it’s nearly impossible to go on a holiday in Thailand without being exposed to some form of elephant experience being on offer, from treks to shows, all of which allow people to have an up-close interaction with the friendly giants.

We’re shown the glamour of the attractions, but what many don’t realise is the amount of work and torture that has gone into making an elephant ‘safe’ for human interaction.

[WARNING: The following contains graphic descriptions of animal abuse]

Often taken from their families at a young age, elephants are placed in small wooden enclosures, referred to as “the crush” since it’s designed to ‘crush’ their spirit. Diana from D’s Travels Round describes the abused elephants as having their wrists and ankles bound tightly, before being hurt with knives and other sharp objects in their most sensitive bodily areas (ears, eyes, feet, trunk, just to name a few). During the days that this process occurs, the baby elephants are deprived of sleep and water, beaten and bloodied until they learn how to accept human commands. Sadly, many elephants do not survive the process, and at the end of it all, the ones who have survived are ‘trained’, but broken – their ties to their family are gone, and they become slaves for human entertainment.

Elephants belong in the wild, not at an attraction or a camp, for the purpose of making profit.

You can help end the promotion of unfair wildlife venues by filling out Animal Australia’s online form today, asking Flight Centre to stop offering tours that include animal attractions.