The number of deaths attributed to elephant tourism is on the rise, for humans and elephants alike. After years of abuse from elephant handlers, the animals have mentally and/or physically suffered enough and this is causing more elephants to rampage and more elephants are collapsing while working than ever before. In April, an elephant called Sambo died in Angkor Wat from sheer exhaustion after being overworked in extremely hot Cambodian temperatures: her heart simply could not bear any more stress. Sambo was in her forties when she collapsed. A healthy elephant could be expected to live another 30 years. Sambo’s death is symptomatic of a wider problem, with Southeast Asia now experiencing its worst heat wave in over six decades. Meanwhile, earlier this year a Scottish tourist on holiday in Thailand was killed when the male elephant he was riding shook him from his back. Obviously animals can be unpredictable, especially ones that should be in the wild, however there has been a direct correlation between the rise in popularity in elephant riding, and the increase in sudden death of perfectly healthy elephants. These animals are forced to work in inhumane temperatures for hours without adequate food, water, shelter or rest. To make matters worse, saddles are often left on the elephants all day.
What is being done to make a change? Sites such as Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai allow the animals to exhibit natural behaviors in a sanctuary setting as natural and wild an elephant habitat as possible. Tourists may still engage and interact with the elephants but in a setting that protects both the animal and the tourist. In Addition, Save Elephant Foundation’s (SEF) is creating more of a safari experience, with a hands-off program, allowing visitors to fully experience elephants in the wild from a safe distance. With more than 100 tour companies boycotting elephant rides, and campaigns by organizations such as World Animal Protection that expose the cruelty behind such animal attractions, the world is creating a better and safer way to experience the elephant.