I thought that we were there supporting a place that was doing the right thing. And I thought that those elephants had a lovely life and they were being fed and they were comfortable. With the tiger temple we kind of knew straight away. It’s never okay to ride and elephant. If you go to a venue where they offer elephant rides, they offer you the ability to say hold an orangutan, to ride a dolphin you’re much guaranteed that those animals have
been treated cruelly. It’s a win, win situation for the elephants, because they need the exercise and the rides give them that exercise. I kept asking him, “Is it hurting the animal, are we causing them any pain?” I didn’t even want to put my feet on them. It’s like you have a dog in your house, and he has an elephant in house. I don’t know. Sharon Graham’s fur family is a big part of her life and home. I am definitely an animal lover, have been my whole life. We have got 3 dogs, 9 chickens now, and 9 cats. All of our animals are rescue animals. In her 20s, Sharon’s love of animals took her overseas to Thailand where she rode an elephant and visited the now infamous Tiger Temple. We just thought they were big beautiful, calm animals. And it was encouraged by our travel company that sent us over there. They told us to come round the back and sit behind. The monk had said to us that they were very lethargic because it was so hot and I remember him moving this tiger’s paw, to put it there to make the picture a little more interesting. I’m sort of even more horrified now looking back because it just looks so unnatural and so wrong. “Animal welfare workers raided and rescued almost 150 tigers.” “At least 40 dead tiger cubs were discovered inside a freezer.” In 2016, the Tiger Temple was shut down off the back of allegations of animal cruelty and wildlife trafficking. But the owners are now planning to open a new tiger attraction, under a different name. And that’s because there’s still demand from tourists. As animal lovers we want to be with them and we want to connect with them and we want to be a part of their life and touch them and feel them. But I think you have to question what’s the animal getting out of it. Each year up to 4 million tourists visit places where they can ride elephants, swim with dolphins and take selfies with tigers and orangutans. We’re seeing tourists visiting the venues through, frankly ignorance and travel companies continuing to promote the venues as well. A report released today by World Animal Protection paints a bleak picture of wildlife tourism venues in one of our favourite travel destinations Bali. Tourists come in, they see what they consider to be happy looking animals playing and being involved in shows. What they don’t see is the enclosures, the concrete floors, the short chains. They don’t see the inadequate diet, the lack of veterinary care. World Animal Protection sent wildlife assessors into 26 venues to inspect conditions. At this popular Bali park, two baby orangutans are being prepared for a day of selfie-taking with tourists. The caretakers say the animals have been adopted. The unidentified wildlife assessor has concerns. They’re being used as photo props in selfies for up to 6 hours a day. And at the end of that day, when they go back to the enclosure, it’s a concrete and metal box, there’s no enrichment in there, there’s nothing positive for them to do. Once the animals mature, they’re often removed from the selfie-circuit. Now obviously he’s older, he’s larger, he’s harder to control. So he’s being, relegated back to his very barren enclosure. In the 26 venues they visited, World Animal Protection’s researchers found nearly all of them failed to meet even the basic needs of the animals. Key concerns were extreme restraint through chains or cages, limited ability for the animals to socialise with each other, and participation in rides and performances that would require harmful training and stressful interaction with the public. For an elephant to be ridden, for a big dangerous wild animal like that to be ridden it has to go through a really cruel breaking-in process that essentially breaks it’s spirit. Now that means those animals are largely traumatized, that’s the only reason they can bare having a human on their back. On the websites of popular Australian brands like Qantas and Flight Centre, wildlife tourism is promoted as one of Bali’s key attractions. Venues often describe themselves as rescue centres, or animal sanctuaries. It’s an attractive sell to tourists. We did a lot of research about the park and how the animals are treated and how the elephants are like maintained in the park I guess. They sounded ethical and turned out that it is, seems that way. We have 27 rescued elephants here which came from Sumatra, consequently since they’ve been here we’ve had four elephants born, so we had four babies over the years. Nigel Mason is the Australian owner of one of the parks criticised by World Animal Protection. His elephants were brought here from government holding camps in Sumatra. They were chained up 24 hours a day, not much food, not much medication and most of these elephants died within three to six years in these camps. At Nigel’s park, tourists can bathe with the elephants, watch them perform tricks and ride them. In fact he says the riding is good for them. They need to do those walks, for their metabolism, their muscle density, their bone density, for their stomach to keep it well and absolutely for their feet. Where are you guys from? Belgium! Okay. He rejects claims that his animals have endured harmful training. We do not use any brutality, it’s purely a reward and kindness system, and… the elephants are not brutalised and that’s very evident when you walk around here. We build up a genuine relationship between the mahout and the elephant. -Why is she moving like this?
-Just like exercising. Ah she’s exercising. But she comes off the chain for walking? Yeah or during the day they have free time. World Animal Protection’s other criticisms of this park include the animals being restrained. We saw a situation where before a show started animals were kept on a large concrete pad in chains without any respite from the sun and without any water provided. The enclosures that they were kept in at night involved very short chains. The elephants are tethered at night because we have a problem with elephants stealing each others’ food. Through the daytime they are tethered for very, very, short periods. For instance, if their mahout needs to have lunch. Nigel Mason does concede that the success of his park has led other, possibly less scrupulous operators, to open up their own elephant attractions to chase the tourist dollar. The elephants are not in very good condition. At one company, the owner of the park, only a matter of 6 months ago, he was killed by one of his elephants. What we’d like to see is a situation where we could work with the venues, to be ones where there’s not that direct human interaction with the animals and instead people can just go there and see them in something at least approximating their natural habitat. Just having the elephants here to look at, it would possibly put us to a point where the park couldn’t sustain itself any longer financially. People are not going to come up here if they’re just going to look at elephants walking around in a field. Do you think you’d come to a place like this if you couldn’t ride them? If you could just look at them? Yes, 100%. Yes. We didn’t even think we were going to be riding elephants. We came to see the elephants, these beautiful rescued elephants, that have been taken out of a dangerous situation and put into a sanctuary.