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Kuala Gandah elephant tourism needs to change

LETTER | Thanks to social media, mistreatment in archaic elephant tourism and entertainment facilities, including zoos, is now common knowledge. As part of their training, these gentle giants are often exposed to harrowing physical and psychological abuse to prepare them for tourists.

This method of training, which frequently involves the use of bullhooks, is often imposed as elephants need to be forced to fear and respect their keepers so that the animals can be used for unsavoury tourism practices through the physical dominance of the keeper.

With this in mind, it is important that elephant facilities in Malaysia such as at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary evolve and adopt humane elephant tourism practices. Photos show elephants at the sanctuary with wounds and scars on their head.

And unbeknown to tourists, there are elephants at the sanctuary who are chained out of public sight. These facts raise serious questions about how elephants are treated there.

A bullhook is a common tool used in the elephant tourism industry to force compliance by elephants. It is an example of the harmful standard of care and elephants cannot cope with this. But it is a perennial control tool at the sanctuary when not hidden away.

Recently Vietnam’s Yok Don National Park made major changes to its elephant tourism practices. Visitors can now (only) follow, watch and learn how elephants live in their forest home. Even the use of chains has been eliminated.

As they are allowed to roam freely, the elephants will not be subjected to human dominance and mistreatment any longer. Governments are beginning to understand this is what tourists prefer to see - free elephants behaving naturally in wide areas.

What this means is that those elephant facilities which still use elephants for tourism activities such as bathing and shows lead to questionable welfare practices. Evidence of maltreatment and abuse is now widely available on the Internet.

Our new government needs to take action and stop outdated tourism practices including shows and elephant bathing at the Kuala Gandah Elephant Sanctuary. There is more money to be made from ethical elephant tourism as more tourists are demanding this.

Tourism operators will also financially benefit. Elephants can live free and happy. It is a win-win situation for all.

While under the control of the previous government, the sanctuary had also been supplying elephants to dreadful zoos. Unless zoos can provide a chain free environment with tens of acres of forested enclosures to a herd of elephants, the new government must instantly ban all transfer of elephants to zoos.

Most if not all zoos here keep elephants for profit but in poor conditions and this has been proven repeatedly.

In July the wildlife department, Perhilitan, transferred Lasah the elephant to the sanctuary from Langkawi. Perhilitan needs to update the public on the health and welfare of Lasah and what the future plan for him is.

We also ask the members of the public to stop visiting elephant facilities in Malaysia which use elephants for rides, shows, keeps them in small enclosures and chain them until these places adopt ethical elephant tourism practices like at Yok Don National Park.

The views expressed here are those of the author/contributor and do not necessarily represent the views of Malaysiakini.