Girls Who Travel | Are Interactions with Elephants Truly Ethical?

Are Interactions with Elephants Truly Ethical?

Elephants are one of the world’s most loved animals. You can see why – they are such majestic creatures! Seeing elephants, usually in Thailand, is on most people’s bucket lists. Most people are aware that elephant riding is not ethical, but there seems to be a grey area on bathing/handling and being in close proximity to these elephants. I know we all want that perfect Instagram shot and that amazing memory, but for these elephants this is their life day in and day out. Are these interactions really ethical?

A Little Discussion

Personally, I view any use of a wild animal as unethical. Any sanctuary that offers hands-on experiences with a wild animal makes me question whether they have the animal’s best interest at heart. Wild animals are exactly that – wild! Most wild animals are not naturally comfortable with humans. You would not safely be able to get close enough to an elephant in the wild. What about these nature parks and “sanctuaries” make visitors able to safely approach these animals? 

Let’s look at the bigger picture. We need to think about the reasons behind how these wild animals have become so accustomed to humans and are so willing to do as they’re asked. Unfortunately, the majority have had their spirit broken. They lose their natural instincts, and it’s often beaten out of them. You may think that they have already got accustomed to being with humans so there’s no harm in interacting with elephants. By visiting these places, you’re contributing to the need of elephants in this industry. This keeps the cycle of elephants being mistreated.

How Can We Ethically See Elephants?

World Animal Protection (WAP) carried out a study across Asia regarding the treatment of captive elephants used for animal tourism (this includes elephants that aren’t ridden but have human interaction e.g. patting/washing). More than 3/4 of elephants assessed were in severely cruel conditions! WAP promote that all wild animals should be only observed and not interacted with. WAP has a list of sanctuaries that they’ve given their seal of approval to. These sanctuaries feature a hands-off approach to elephants where guests can safely observe them from a distance and they are free to exhibit their normal behavior. 

The most rewarding experience is seeing these animals in the wild – in their natural habitat where they belong. I had the most amazing experience while working on a game reserve in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. I was sitting in the truck counting blesbok when a herd of elephants passed just steps from me! Seeing them in their natural habitat just being animals was the most amazing experience. I got to watch their normal behavior and observe how they interacted with each other. It was truly magical.

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