Inside the Dark World of Captive Wildlife Tourism | National Geographic

Inside the Dark World of Captive Wildlife Tourism | National Geographic

– (sighs) Jesus. We came behind the stadium
where the elephants perform and we found this juvenile elephant. He had gaping red wounds at his temple. He also has a broken leg. The other one is chained up. He looks totally emaciated. Skin and bones. And this is the worst shape I’ve seen an elephant in in Thailand. (mellow music) All in the name of entertainment. (mellow music) (crowd cheering)
(intense orchestral music) Wildlife tourism is a massive industry accounting for 10-20% of
the global tourism industry. People go on vacation and
pay money to either view or interact with animals. I don’t think we can ignore the role that social media plays. The sheer number of people now
not only posting their travel experiences, but consuming
others’ travel experiences means that these things
are spread in an instant with the click of a button. But the issue with wildlife tourism is most people have absolutely no idea of what goes on behind the scenes. (crowd chattering) I reported this story on wildlife tourism with photographer Kirsten Luce for a year. And we set out knowing that
we really had to sort of narrow our focus and
go to kind of hot spots around the world where this
industry is a massive part of the local economy. But there was nothing that prepared me for what I actually saw in the field. Especially when we went to Thailand. (mellow woodwind music) (tires scraping against road) (cage clanging) This is a place that puts on monkey shows and as you can see behind me, this monkey is in a small metal cage and you can see he’s jumping over and over and this is called zoochosis and animals that are kept in captivity do this when they’re in
psychological distress. (cage clanging)
(woodwind music) I’m here at a zoo on the top floor of a shopping mall in Bangkok. This kind of place, animals
are living in conditions that no living being should be living in. The only gorilla in Thailand
is apparently in this zoo. The gorilla was reaching
its hand through the cage onto a puddle on the concrete floor scooping up fingerfuls of water. It seemed to be the only way this gorilla could access water. (somber music) We just finished watching
the crocodile show which was pretty
disturbing and consisted of two trainers dragging crocodiles
around by their tails, smacking them on the head with sticks, and then everyone would laugh. It was like all designed
as a comedy routine. On most people’s bucket
lists for going to Thailand, you’re gonna want to see an elephant. So we went to dozens
of elephant experiences all over Thailand. Mahouts, trainers that
care for their elephants, used their bull hooks on the
elephants to get them to pose to allow tourists to
take photos with them. A bull hook is a stick and at
the end of the wooden stick is a metal prong or hook. And this is the instrument
used to control an elephant. (crowd chattering) I’m here at Maetaman
Elephant Camp in Chiang Mai. (elephant trumpeting) I think the most shocking thing
was during the actual show. Some of the bull hooks
had nails on the end. I witnessed a couple of
mahouts that had nails in their hands and they were poking behind the elephant’s ear to get them to perform and do the painting. (crowd chattering) A young elephant named Meena, she’s four years old and
she performed in the show. She painted a picture. So she did have a nail in her ear. And after the show we walked over to where she was being kept. (broom scraping against ground) There was a chain around her
leg that had spikes in it. The spikes were all the way
around, pressing into her skin. She was kind of hovering it in the air, because obviously it
hurt to put weight on it and I asked her mahout why and he said it’s because she likes to kick. Her mahout said that he puts
it on for a little while to teach her and then he
takes it off at night. I decided that I wanted to come back later to see if she actually
was on a different chain. With permission of the facility we ended up coming back six hours later and I feel like before I
got to her I just knew. (rain hitting structure) It’s about 7:30 PM and you
can see it’s getting dark and it’s pouring rain. Meena has had a spiked
chain around her ankle since we last left her and her mahout, he told us that at night he removes it. But he hasn’t and it was a lie. So I don’t know how she’s gonna sleep and it’s really, really
upsetting to watch. It was the first time I
sort of witnessed deception that sort of runs through this industry and I wanted to see for myself
where these animals are born, how they’re trained, the
economics behind this industry. And if you wanna go to
ground zero basically of the elephant industry in Thailand, you have to go to Ban Ta Klang. (mellow music) There are 3,500 captive
elephants in the country and half of them are actually
sourced to Ban Ta Klang. It’s a place where
elephants are bred, trained, and then when they are ready, they’re sold down south to
camps around the country. (mellow music) The Thai government
actually offers a subsidy to mahouts who care for elephants there. The elephant tourism industry
is a massive source of income for the country so they actively fund it, ensuring that the elephant
entertainment industry is healthy and that there
are always new babies being funneled in and that it is thriving. (motorcycle engine revving) Most people in the town are mahouts, meaning they work with
elephants for a living. A young man was happy to be honest with me about how they train their elephants and what tourists don’t realize is that in order for an elephant
to be docile enough to stand there and let
you touch him safely, that elephant has to be
trained in the same way that an elephant throwing
darts at a show is trained as a young baby going through
abusive fear based training. What usually happens is
when a elephant is about two years old the baby is confined and over several days and weeks the baby is slowly trained. This young elephant… he’s kinda freaking out. The first thing they teach
the baby is how to sit. He said they use a hook at the back and someone pulls down and then someone uses another hook at the front and the baby’s legs are tied together and they pull the legs front and they do this over and over until the baby learns how to do it. He said to me we have to use the bull hook so the baby will know. (crowd chattering) Knowing that Meena was four years old and elephants live 80 years. They live as old as people do. She was at the beginning of what could be another 60, 65, 70 years of this life. Was very overwhelming
to sort of grapple with. So it’s been three days since
we were last at Maetaman Camp. We’re returning today just
to see what the situation is. And we’ll of course check on Meena and see how she’s being held in her stall when she’s not performing. It’s the spiked chain. Watch her foot, it’s her right foot. (somber music) She was just out posing with tourists. Then her mahout just brought
her back to her (mumbles) and put the spiked chain
back around her foot and I’m realizing now
that this is her chain. This isn’t a chain that he uses
sometimes to discipline her. This is her chain. She’s been in it every
time we’ve seen her. There’s no other chain in sight that he could possibly be switching out. It’s tethered to the pole. If any tourist sort of
thinks, “Is this okay?” “Is this hurting the animal?” Most places are very quick
with a response to say, “Oh no, they’re fine.” “It’s just the way the way it is.” “Don’t worry about it.” And that satisfies most people and they say, “Oh okay, they
must know what they’re doing.” “They care for the animal.” The system is actually
designed to be confusing. Most tourists I really do believe kinda wanna do the right thing. They love animals and they
wanna get close to them. It’s simple. It’s understandable. And since 2014 the
number of animal selfies that people have posted
has grown almost 300%. Part of what often inspires
people to go on this trip is because they saw someone else do it and they want that
experience for themself. However, social media
really does go both ways. I wanted to actually
visit a couple of good elephant experiences in Thailand just to see for myself
what that looked like and how it differed from
places that may call themselves a sanctuary but offer
a lot of interaction. So we went to Elephant Valley
in Chiang Rai, Thailand. They have elephants that have been rescued from the traditional industry and tourists are not allowed
to get close to the elephants. This is probably the only
interaction that tourists will get while they’re here. It’s snack time so they’re able to feed each of the elephants some bananas and you can see this barrier is there mostly to prevent people from going into the elephant grounds. It’s totally voluntary. The elephants come for snack time and then they can leave
whenever they want. It’s a sustainable option for
elephant tourism in the area. Social media can actually
be harnessed for good. You can go to an ethical place and you can use social
media to sort of educate your own communities on ways that they can be part of the solution. This entire industry is so
incredibly entrepreneurial that it can and does change on a dime. So when people decide that
they no longer want to give their money to a
certain sort of experience, and if enough people do that, then the experiences
themselves will shift. You the viewer and reader and traveler and just citizen are at
the heart of this story just as much as anyone else is. You have tremendous power as
a consumer to change things. (mellow music)

100 thoughts on “Inside the Dark World of Captive Wildlife Tourism | National Geographic

  1. In many cases, captive experiences with exotic animals rely on abusive training or treatment. To learn more, you can read on here:

  2. When i went to Koh Samui in Thailand we found an industry that would let you ride the elephants but they wouldn’t mistreat then

  3. To train an elephant humanly, you just treat them like a toddler, get them interested in the trick by doing it yourself and talking with them, stimulate their brain and let them have fun. You can also teach them like a dog! If they're kicking bring them back to their stable and let them sit there till they're calm and give them a treat, then continue everytime that bad behaviour is done.

  4. A lot of people are saying "release them back to the wild." You can not. It would be completely unethical. They have been fed and chained. There natural instinct is being dulled because it really has never been use. Yes they can go to a sanctuary where they will be constantly monitored but is there enough space of all the elephant where "rehomed?" They should be put in the proper habit and live a happy elephant life but human kind has ripped so much away from everything.

  5. This is so upsetting ? No animal or living being should have to go through that , my heart is broken for those elephants ??

  6. People are monsters sometimes, i hope everyone see this video and realizes that this is wrong, nu heart breaks of i see something like this, i love animals


  8. I can't watch, but i share this video! What does this people think? Making money out of animals is so wrong. But when there's no choice (even i think there's always a choice), you have to give them everything they need. And that's the best treatment there is. Otherwise you don't deserve those animals!!

  9. How can we open up peoples eyes to help them see these animals dont need to be in captivity , and protect these animals. This broke my heart!

  10. I don't know what's worse, the people training the animals or the humans who go to these places just to exploit animals for their selfish pleasure

  11. I was told that when it rains an animal has died and that animals are our reincarnation of our ancestors yet people treat them like their robots, no feelings, no talking just empty shells used for our useless needs.

  12. I live in Thailand and very shocked to see this as Thai people are in general very kind to Animals especially elephants. Did you report your finds to the Police as cruelty to Animals in Thailand is a serious crime and you seem to have plenty of evidence? I will visit the places in your video and see if I can backup your claims and if true report it to the Authorities.

  13. I am so very sad to say that I never got to see these animals in person but I'm even sadder for the people who got to see them in this condition and still be entertained.

  14. If people stopped supporting the businesses things would get better. I bet these animals wished they were dead

  15. Os abusos dos animais e inconcebível! Nós somos superiores?? Eles estavam primeiro que nós!! Um Requiem pelas 250 baleias e golfinhos que foram massacrados de forma cruel nas ilhas Faroé…As vergonhas da humanidade!!

  16. We as a human rase should be ashamed! All of us! And most those who pay for this abuse! Mother Earth remember and one day we will pay for all of this!

  17. this is so distrusting!! elephants are my favorite animal and it disturbs me to see that they are getting treated this way, especially at a young age.

  18. I love the way she put forth the problem while also giving solutions and alternatives. Thanks for spreading the knowledge!

  19. Leave these animals in the wild, and protect their habitat. Don't promote this by participating. Watch these beautiful creatures in their natural habitat via television or other. To be Human, implies we are, and should be Humane… Grossly lacking here, JMO: Cruel and appalling.

  20. What can we do to help? Are there better animal attractions that don’t include hurting them?

  21. The main responsability of this abuse are the tourist who pay to watch this! This type of information videos should be at the clasrooms or even cinema! Shows like Our Erth should be at clasrooms, shows from NatGeo as well…

  22. I guess Like most things. We criticize, but have no solution.
    If they had the knowledge and means to do better they would (majority).

  23. This video should not even need to be made but all of the people in the world made this video have to be show on yt. I am very disappointed with anyone who works at any of the jobs and his along with it. I would rather quit and be homeless.

  24. Lord pleease if you could strike all these people dead who are doing these horrifying deeds to your beautiful majestic creatures i would greatly appreciate that !! Thank You❤

    We should stop going to these shows really lets stop these horrors !!

  25. National Geographic, this has been going on and documented for years, but very little has changed. It is good that you guys showed this, but what are you going to do to change it. Right now in Thailand, very soon they will allow the selling of elephants and their body parts to other countries. If you guys made a stand, I'm sure others would follow.. @nationalgeographic

  26. So sad ,the way they treat these elephants.
    When I read the article from National Geographic ,I was crying ???

  27. you think everything in your mine. why you not ask the reason that they do. you make everythink in youself and don't know the real reason.

  28. I think it should stop but in the way of changing the way of training because to say, the trainers are a human being and they need money(and I like these shows)

  29. It is these humans who need to be trained, they need to be given training on how to be compassionate and respect this biodiversity on earth. Shame on people who make this industry remunerative. Human life was possible even when these kinds of harassments were not there and i believe it is still possible to live a life without torturing these innocent creatures who contribute in their own ways to life on earth.

  30. Thank you sweet?. I woulf like to do somthing. I am in California and fought the 10yr fight against circus's. My children are about grown, dont know what the circus is like as they are smart children and love animals. Bless your heart. I would like to start some type of awareness as well on a George Clooney scale. Each elephant should have a doula to emotionally comfort.

  31. Need to keep sharing these videos and raising awareness as much as possible. It's insane how so many people/tourists are still SO CLUELESS to this reality! Breaks my heart to see!

  32. No no no!! God has a special place for people who hurt those animals!!!! I want to be the gatekeeper to that place! !!###

  33. This wouldn't happen if these animals were from Europe
    We are more educated and would take care of them

  34. If I ever find out anybody I know going to these places I will definitely Slap TF outta them. I hope this gets more attention

  35. If you want to see more about the difference between elephants in performing and trekking businesses in Thailand, and the REAL rescue sanctuaries in Thailand, watch Love And Bananas. You will see more truth.

  36. Shame on them. Before being involved in such cruel acts. This individuals need to imagine themselves as being the elephants. How would they feel if they were the elephants being held in captivity and not having the freedom to live freely

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