Animal Tourism in Asia: Abused for Cheap Tricks

Sep 25, 2019 | 360, Asia, Thailand, Vietnam

by Kari Amarnani

Elephants Accepting Tips from Tourists, Thailand ©Funky Chickens

Do animals deserve to be chained to a life of suffering for a few bucks?

Animal cruelty comes in many forms. What is considered to be abuse could mean something different in another setting, depending on a country’s culture and history. This makes it possible for its definition to get blurred in the lines of what is right and wrong. But it shouldn’t be. If an animal, any animal, is forced to do something that it should not be doing, that is animal cruelty. It is as simple as that.

Asia’s Deadly Industry:

Animals in Asia are considered to be the most abused animals in the world. From cats and dogs being slaughtered for their meat to bears being locked in cages for the collection of their bile, the ill-treatment of animals has become widespread and almost acceptable. This is especially true in the tourism industry. People travel from all over to visit Asia and immerse themselves in the diverse simplicity of its culture. Unfortunately, this leads to the exploitation of its animals.

The most abused animal in Asia is the elephant. Cruelty in the elephant industry is rampant but hidden as most tourists do not recognize the brutality of their treatment. You plan a vacation to Thailand and the thought of riding an elephant as one of your tourist experiences— they go hand in hand. What visitors fail to see is how overworked and mistreated these elephants are, having to endure carrying heavy weights in the burning sun. There have been many reports in Vietnam of elephants dying due to being overworked.

What makes it more heartbreaking is that elephants are deep and complex creatures that form bonds with their peers. Elephants experience the same loneliness and grief that people do. They are wise and sociable. Elephants in the wild spend their time playing in the water, socializing with their families and exploring their surroundings. They don’t carry people on their backs for forced labor. The stress, deprivation and lack of appropriate facilities for these elephants cause chronic and painful health issues. As a result, they often die young.

Thailand and Vietnam hold the record for the most cases of mistreatment of zoo animals in Asia. An exposé was released by PETA Asia showing a baby elephant being abused and stabbed to make it perform and disturbing tricks. Other animals were also abused. The employees hit crocodiles with bamboo sticks and wailing tigers were harassed into letting tourists take pictures with them. This happened in Thailand’s Samutprakan Crocodile Farm and Zoo. The elephants were chained to the walls and stored in a room with concrete floors which cause them to develop joint problems. They often swayed from side to side, a sign of serious mental distress.

In Thailand’s Tiger Park, people pay to get pictures with isolated baby cubs. When baby tigers are taken from the wild, their parents are usually killed in the process. Imagine having to endure that heartache just for a simple, unnecessary photo.

Vietnam’s animal tourism industry is deeply ingrained in its economy, making it a more complicated issue. According to Dave Neale, an Animal Welfare Director:

“Vietnam’s animal cruelty problem isn’t purely domestic. It is a global business and a lot of the customers are foreigners behaving badly abroad. But the ultimate responsibility must fall on Vietnam for allowing their country to become an animal cruelty playground.”

Footage from Orchid Island, a popular Vietnamese attraction, surfaced online depicting a little boy happily posing for a picture with a baby moon bear while it wears a leather mask and leather gloves. Moon bears are a protected species under the Vietnamese Law and should not be subjected to mistreatment.

They Deserve Better: What Can We Do?

Thailand is taking conducive steps in improving conditions for its elephants. The Thai government has arranged for a database that strengthens the regulations and policing of its border with Myanmar— where most of Thailand’s elephants come from.

As people, we sometimes have little control over the large and inhumane facets of the world. But we have more command than we think. First and foremost, paying to see and engage in these acts support the abuse. There is no ethical reason that these animals be bothered by the frivolous desires of man. We can fight the problem by steering clear of elephants unless they are in the wild or a nature reserve.